Thinking Aloud: A Checkpoint on the Road to Peace

Apr. 23, 2014 by Darius 

It’s not news that negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians are in dire straits and likely to soon fail.  Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, recently renewed a previous threat: if negotiations break down, he will dissolve the Palestinian Authority, reverting the West Bank back to direct Israeli control.

That would put Israel in charge of providing for the health, the security, the education, and the economy of the West Bank.  Abbas pointed out that Israel has labored to make sure the Palestinian Authority has no real power anyway, so why not just turn the day-to-day operations back over to Israel?

After all, Abbas can’t have an easy time of it as leader of the Palestinians.  It’s easy to see why he might not want his job anymore. 🙂

Despite the fact that some prominent Israeli politicians have mocked Abbas’s threat to dissolve the PA, it’s not an outcome Israel wants.  The Palestinian Authority was created by the Oslo Accords as a predecessor to a full Palestinian government.  If the Palestinian Authority dissolves, it would mark the final death knell of Oslo – something the Israeli government wants desperately to avoid, given that Israel has spent much of the last decade, at minimum, trying to convince the world that it actually cares about finishing what started in Oslo and reaching a real peace deal.  No PA, no fig leaf.  Moreover, without the Palestinian Authority, there would be no entity Israel would have leverage over by threatening to withhold tax remittances, and Hamas and others more extreme than the PA’s old guard would almost certainly become more influential in the West Bank.

Dissolving the PA isn’t popular in senior Palestinian circles, either.  If nothing else, it would mean an end to the privileges enjoyed by the top tier of the PA government, including the perks  of corruption (51% of Palestinians reported paying a bribe in 2010).  Additionally, the rump of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party controls the Palestinian Authority and doesn’t want to lose the West Bank to Hamas any more than it wanted to lose Gaza to Hamas seven years ago.

That said, a few hours ago, Fatah and Hamas announced unprecedented plans for unified government, putting more pressure on Israel and the US to deal with the interests and circumstances of Fatah and Hamas, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in short all of Palestine.  Reconciliation attempts between Fatah and Hamas have been tripped up before, but announcing unification plans again now, as peace negotiations teeter precariously, seems a strategic miscalculation by Abbas, especially as Hamas has never recognized Israel and neither Israel nor the US will hold direct talks with Hamas.  What was intended as a show of unity may instead be a nail in a coffin.

Events of the last few days suggest enormous political courage will be necessary if  this rare opening to resolve the decades-old question of Palestine is to be salvaged.

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