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How the Palestinian Authority became a sub-contractor for Israeli security

July 13, 2023 at 8:05 am

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (C-R) and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (C-L) arrive to lay a wreath of flowers by the graves of Palestinians killed in recent Israeli military raids on the Jenin camp, north of the occupied West Bank on July 12, 2023 [ZAIN JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images]

Founded in 1994 as a result of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian National Authority, or PA for short, was envisioned as an administrative temporary vehicle to administer some Palestinian areas from which Israel was to withdraw. That arrangement was supposed to prepare the Palestinians for some form of self rule which would lead, after five years interim period, to the creation of a Palestinian State in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Oslo Accords were signed between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel after long and secret negotiations facilitated by Norway. The entire process of negotiations and the subsequent agreement called Declaration of Principles, including the signing ceremony, were completed in secret. Norway’s involvement in the peace process peaked during the late Foreign Minister, Johan Jørgen Holst’s tenure.

The interim period of five years was a crucial test of the Declaration of Principles as, during that time, both PLO and Israel were supposed to negotiate what is called the final status to settle more complicated aspects of conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, the refugees’ issues, the water sources and borders. The idea was that the PA would need such time to become an effective administrative force on the ground, while Israel needed the time to prepare to hand over power from its military and civil administrations to the newly created PA.

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At the end of the interim period, the two sides should have finished laying down the foundations for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. However, that five year period has been on-going for the last quarter of a century with no end in sight, during which time Israel has been busy making sure that no Palestinian state will ever be created and the final status negotiations never actually started, let alone concluded.

Now the PA has ended up as a mere security contractor to protect Israel, the oppressor, while oppressing the Palestinian people it claims to have come into existence to protect and lead towards full independence. While Israel continues its apartheid policies in the West Bank, Jerusalem and its siege of the Gaza Strip, the ever expanding Israeli settlements continue to be the biggest obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian State. As more settlements are built on Palestinian land, the idea of the two state solution, supported by the majority of the world community including Israel’s strong allies like the United States, becomes impractical and nearly impossible to implement.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Office, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, jumped from 520,000 in 2012 to over 700,000 in 2022. These settlers live in some 279 settlements across the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem which is supposed to be the capital of the envisioned future Palestinian State. The big irony here is the fact that some of these settlements are outposts, on hills and strategic locations, which are not only illegal under international law, but also illegal under the occupation state’s own laws.

The current Israeli government is continuing the same policy of expanding the settlements by protecting settlers while they grab more Palestinian land. The PA now controls, in theory, less than 40 per cent of the West Bank while, practically, Israel is still in overall control.

By May, 2023, Israel has given the go-ahead to some 158,407 housing units, beating even its own target of approving 125,000 units. All of the new construction is taking place within already established settlements or on newly stolen land, which means more Palestinians are being forced from their land and more of their homes are being demolished.

The Oslo Accords, hailed as a historic breakthrough, ended up creating more difficult living conditions for the Palestinians. Under the Accords, Palestinians were supposed to get better economically, as more jobs would have been created as more investments are made by the private sector. Instead, the Palestinians are now worse off than they were before the deal was signed. According to some independent statistics, the average unemployment rate across the Occupied Palestinian Territories is around 25.20 per cent. In the Gaza Strip, some sources estimate the rate to be around 50 per cent.

The late Palestinian philosopher, Edward Said (1935-2003), in an October 1993 article, accurately,  predicated that Palestinians will remain economically dependent on Israel, and future Israeli policies will use the Oslo Accords benefits as a “Springboard to break into Arab markets, which it will also exploit and is likely to dominate”. Last February, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said his top priority is Arab peace, not Palestinian peace. As the normalisation with many Arab countries continues, more economic exchanges between the two sides are rising at the expense of the Palestinians.

Oslo Accords, the 25th Anniversary - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Oslo Accords, the 25th Anniversary – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The worst side of the Oslo Accords is its lack of any references to any sort of Palestinian sovereignty; besides, it does not have any clear obligation on Israel towards the Palestinian refugees, including those recently displaced inside Palestine itself. Recent Palestinian statistics show that the global Palestinian population is estimated to be 14.3 million, but only 5.35 million actually live in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, while the rest are refugees and descendents of refugees. The Accords hardly say anything specific about the reparations or repatriations of those people.

READ: PA has ‘lost its credibility,’ Biden tells CNN

The other disastrous side of the Accords is the fact that it does not use the word “occupation” in describing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. This made the land subject to “dispute” instead of being occupied by Israel. Also, the entire Accords are grounded in the United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, which do not have a word about the Palestinians or Palestine specifically.  This only adds emphasis to the Israeli claim that Palestine was a land without people taken by people without land.

Israel now has a great interest in making sure that the PA survives. On 9 July, the Israeli security cabinet decided to work to “prevent the collapse” of the PA simply because having the PA with all its corruption, failed leadership, oppression of the Palestinians and security collaboration is more important for Israel than achieving peace with the Palestinian people.

With President Mahmoud Abbas at the age of 87 and no serious debate about future leadership, let alone lack of any clear mechanism for any succession, the PA has all but run its course as an “instrument of Palestinian surrender”, as late Said described it decades ago.

The recent Israeli invasion of Jenin highlighted the gap between the people and PA. Palestinians in the destroyed refugee camp kicked out PA officials who came to pay their condolences while mourners buried their dead.

It might be a little harsh to describe the PA as a security sub-contractor for Israel, but the reality is far worse. The longer the PA continues in its current set up, the worse it will be for Palestinians and the better for Israel.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.