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Is the Palestinian Authority self destructing?


The Palestinian Authority (or Palestine National Authority - PNA) was created as a temporary "representative" governing body as a result of the Oslo Interim peace agreements. It had two major missions: to create a forerunner of a Palestinian state and to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. Essentially, the PNA was a different name for the PLO, and most of its functionaries are PLO operatives who came with Arafat from Tunis.

Even before 2000, the PNA was not doing very well. Auto theft and counterfeit CDs were staples of the new Palestinian economy, the Palestinian Parliament met rarely, the economy and the ability of the PNA to maintain law and order was questionable. Arguably, when the PNA elected to begin violence in September 2000 rather than to continue negotiating, they had made a decision to self-destruct.

The authority that was created to negotiate a peace treaty based on abandonment of terror lost its legitimacy as far as the Israeli government was concerned when it undertook to subsidize terror rather than to negotiate, whatever the sins of the Barak and Sharon governments. The violence that began in 2000 brought to power Ariel Sharon, who began a policy of "politicide" as Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling calls it, designed to delegitimize and isolate Arafat and other PNA leaders, and Israeli raids, particularly Operation Defensive Wall in the spring of 2002, helped to destroy whatever infrastructure the PNA had developed.

We may blame the downfall of the PNA on the Israelis, on the Palestinian leadership or on the way in which the Oslo accords were structured, but it is evident that it has ceased to exist for quite a while in everything but name, as I outlined earlier. In January, Bassam Eid wrote in Ha'aretz:

Nablus is ruled by two armed illiterate thugs. These two people are feared by the population and control the civil life of the city.

This is an example of a further unacceptable situation where a city is governed by ignorant people who are experts only in spreading fear among civilians. Thus, the question is, who will be the loyal watchman of the Palestinians' welfare?

To the Israelis, the PLO promissed an end to terror, and they didn't deliver. To their own people, they promised prosperity, democracy, a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and in Arabic only, return to Haifa and Beersheba and Beit-She'an, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. The PNA didn't deliver to the Palestinians either. They could not even deliver order.

Soon after Bassam Eid wrote his article, Ghassan Shaka, the Mayor of Nablus (ruled by two armed illiterate thugs according to Eid) whose brother had been killed, resigned. In his letter of resignation, Shaka wrote:

"Nablus is going through a state of chaos and accelerated deterioration, resulting in confusion and the interruption of the daily lives of citizens. I personally paid dearly for this with the loss of my dear brother.

"In the face of this huge deterioration, I find it impossible to discharge my duties and responsibilities, which I have taken upon myself by accepting the post of mayor.

"But now that chaos has become the normal attitude, the lack of security and order the daily practice, and the law of jungle a point of view, preserving my integrity has become a sublime goal that transcends all else."

This week, a series of attacks on Palestinian journalists culminated in the murder of Khalil Zaban, a journalist, Arafat adviser and human rights advocate. His daughter said: "These are gangs, a Mafia... "

Zaban's widow said, "My husband is the victim of anarchy..." Zaban was apparently caught in a mafia-style struggle inside the Fatah movement, between supporters of Arafat and young people who think it is long past time for a change.

An article in the Washington Post, published before the assassination of Zaban noted that the Palestinian authority is broke and in disarray. Palestinian analyst Dr. Khalil Shikaki notes that the PNA has remained in business because it is the largest employer in the Palestinian economy, paying 140,000 each month. But donors have become increasingly reluctant to pour funds into the PNA, which has so far failed to reform its finances and achieve transparency. Aid donated to the PNA disappears in $100,000 a month subsidies to Arafat's wife Suha, who lives in Paris (when the going got tough, the tough got going) and near billion dollar personal Swiss bank accounts. Again, Arafat is considered the chief obstacle to reform.

The New York Times noted

In Gaza City, the streets are patrolled by Palestinian security forces, but neither they nor the legal system inspires confidence.

On Monday, several thousand Palestinians staged a protest to demand the death penalty for four men arrested on suspicion of raping and killing a 15-year-old schoolgirl last year.

In the past week in Gaza, masked men burst into the Palestinian broadcasting offices and demanded jobs. Another group of gunmen entered the Land Authority, insisting that property be transferred to their names.

Those incidents ended without bloodshed. But last month, gunmen entered a police station and opened fire, killing a policeman and wounding 10 while also roughing up a senior police chief. The act was seen as part of a continuing feud among rival branches of the security forces.

These are only a few of the documented incidents that have occurred. There are also widespread and persistent rumors of traffic in children, arbitrary confiscation of property for "the state" (PLO cronies) and other evils.

Yasser Arafat, as usual, knows who to blame. According to the Washington Post, Edward G. Abington, a former State Department official who is not a PNA consultant, told Arafat the PNA is about to collapse. According to Abington, Arafat said "Let it collapse. It will be the fault of the Americans and the Israelis."

However, other Palestinians aren't buying the "blame Israel" line any more. Many blame the situation on Yasser Arafat, who has refused to clamp down on thugs and unify security measures, and are beginning to question Arafat's one-man show rule, as well as PNA organization. Ziad Abu Amr, a Palestinian legislator, said:

"Israel bears a great deal of responsibility, but I blame the Palestinian Authority for not doing what it should. We see almost daily violations of public order, and the authority does nothing. There is no accountability."

Hafez Barghouti, editor of the Palestinian daily al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, said,

"The time has come to say enough. The homeland is not the property of one person, and the PA is not a private monopoly. We must support efforts to enforce law and order. The occupation is not always the reason for the disasters. It is the [internal] deterioration that is to blame."

Ragdah Azzah, 24, a Bethlehem University student said, "I think the presence of the PA is not justified -- I think it should dissolve itself and leave us to confront the Israelis alone." He added, "I would say the PA is not even legitimate."

Birzeit University professor Ali Jerbawi said, "I think the Palestinian Authority should push the button" [and disband itself].

However, the PNA without Arafat may not survive, and Palestinian territories without any government at all may be much worse for Israel as well as for the Palestinians. The split between young and old is not the only potential split in the PNA. Arafat was the glue that managed to put together the separate Palestinian factions into the PLO organization and keep them more or less united, and he may be the only glue that is holding the PNA together. A struggle is looming between moderate Fatah people and the more radical Al-Aqsah brigade, and between Fatah/PLO and the Hamas-Islamic Jihad Islamist factions. Very likely there will also be divisions between "native" Palestinian leaders who lived in the West Bank and Gaza before 1992 and led the first Intifadah, and the PLO operatives who supplanted them. Gazans will probably refuse to be ruled by West Bankers and vice versa, and there are different clan loyalties. In addition to fighting each other, all of these groups will be competing with each other for the loyalty of Palestinians and trying to prove their "patriotism" by demonstrating who can kill the most Israelis in the most spectacular terror attacks.

A bigger Israeli nightmare is control of Palestinian society by various foreign countries or terrorist groups. Even with the PNA in place, Iraqi agents of Saddam Hussein had gained a firm foothold in the PNA while Saddam was in power. The Islamic Jihad group is probably financed and controlled from Iran. Several other groups train in Syria. There is now also evidence that the PNA is being infiltrated by the Hizbollah.

Ramallah banker Omar Ibrahim Karsou wants to remove Arafat and the entire PNA leadership. He says, "Arafat's brutal dictatorship, corrupt rule, and use of terror and incitment have prevented a democratic Palestinian state from emerging." Karsou reflects one of the forces pulling the PNA apart: "native" West Bank leadership with ties to Jordan who want to oust the PLO-Tunis people who supplanted them in 1994. Karsou and others want Israel to help the PNA with some magnanimous gestures that will calm Palestinians. This could include withdrawal perhaps, but it is doubtful that Ariel Sharon will negotiate withdrawal with Arafat, or with anyone else, as long as the PNA refuses to break up terror groups like Arafat's Al-Aqsa brigades. One of the purposes of Sharon's unilateral withdrawal plan is apparently to make the PNA totally irrelevant, and deny them credit for Israeli concessions.

Though the Washington Post noted that no analysts predicted an imminent break up of the PNA, the situation is becoming increasingly difficult. The majority (59% according to a JMCC poll) of Palestinians believe the PNA is not actually functioning now, and many believe they are better off without it. Two events could hasten dissolution of the PNA: Unitlateral Israeli withdrawal and the erection of the fence, and the death of Arafat, who is 75 years old and in ill health. Unilateral withdrawal would give the Palestinians a more substantial territory to rule, but they haven't the tools to rule it with. It would also encourage a power grab by the Islamists as well as opening Palestinian areas to foreign infiltration.

The IDF has recently done some exercises rehearsing the consquences of Arafat's death and has started thinking of the military consequences of dissolution of the PNA, but Israel has no real political strategy to cope with total collapse of the Palestinian National Authority. Home grown moderates like Karsou may have many silent friends, but they have no military or political power, and could not control the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and various PLO factions and splinter groups. That means that an outside force would be needed to restore order. Nobody wants to assume the responsibily of restoring order and rebuilding the Palestinian economy, and that task would probably be impossible if, like the reconstruction of Iraq, it is viewed as "occupation" and sabotaged by "resistance." There has been talk of an international force, but the Americans have demonstrated in Iraq that outsiders are totally incompetent to govern a Middle East country or restore order to it.

It is reasonable to assume that right wing elements in the Israeli government are hoping that the collapse of the Palestinian authority and ensuing chaos will result in mass migration of Palestinians out of the occupied territories. However, this is unlikely, since the richer and more educated and mobile Palestinians have already left the territories, and most of the remainder have no place to go at all. It seems that a collapse of the PNA can only lead to further disasters for both Palestinians and Israelis.

PM Ariel Sharon has intimated many times that his goal is to eliminate Arafat and the PNA. The gods often grant the wishes of those whom they hate.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000216.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 3 comments

An apt heading indeed for a very painful subject for both Israelis and Palestinians. The reasons are quite well known. The Palestinian Authority was never able to come to terms with making peace with Israel in a practical manner which could inspire confidence in the Israeli camp.

The reasons are well known. One main reason is their failure to recognize Israel's right to exist. The occupation of territory, as morally repulsive as it is with the deligitimization of the Palestinian nation as a result - is really a poor reason, but a reason nonetheless, to unite a very fragmented Palestinian society which would, in the eyes of its incompetent and corrupt Palestinian Authority, mark time in not finding a peaceful and just solution to this conflict. One must understand that the promulgation of the situation as it is would keep Arafat and his fellow rulers in power.

The moment that there is law and order, which would hopefully be conducive to serious peace negotiations, would not serve the interests of the Palestinian Authority which can only survive (even in name only) in total anarchy. Hate of Israel and its axiom - the occupation - is a factor that unites Palestinians. It is in the interests of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Brigades and the Fatah movement (the latter of which the Palestinian Authority is an essential part) that this bizare sense of unity is maintained. This of course results in the self destruction so aptly put in the above article. The fact that it drives the Palestinians to support terror and thus reap much suffering on themselves does not seem to make a dent towards a better and more stable Palestinian Society.

The self destruction of Palestinian Society will also result in the self destruction of Israeli Society as constant violence and suffering on both sides continues.

Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 03/06/2004 10:37 PM CST

As the PNA moves to internal annihilation, both Israel and the Palestinians must be prepared for the aftermath. It would be regrettable if the internecine struggle were continued.

There are many ways in which adjacent societies can live in peace with one another. One example that may be worth emulating is the relative independence that the Kurds enjoyed while still being
an influential member of the Iraqi regime.This is an arrangenment that is ideal for a situation in which a dominant nation and a forceful minority can coexist. Can Israel and the Palestinians get together in such a manner?

Posted by Elchanan @ 03/07/2004 12:09 AM CST

I pray to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob each day that He will bring about confusion in the minds of those who seek to destroy His Land, given in Covenant to His Children. So, if anarchy reigns in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, G-d is truly answering my prayer.

G-d has a Plan; He picked a Land (we call it the Holy Land); He chose a people (called the Children of Israel); He gave His Word. This Plan is moving inexorably towards fulfillment.

a messianic gentile

Posted by Moll @ 03/07/2004 12:32 AM CST

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