Many of Israel’s political and military leaders believe that we are witnessing the near-inevitable, albeit protracted, demise of Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. And while some of the country’s security chiefs have been urging the government to adopt policies and take actions that might just avert that process, the political leadership is disinclined to do so.
The secular Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is an increasing anomaly in a region where last month’s presidential victory by Mohammed Morsi in Egypt underlines the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its various incarnations and allies.
And while many Palestinians appreciate the relative stability and economic improvement of life in the West Bank, the absence of significant progress en route to Palestinian statehood is eating away at Abbas’s popularity.
As the September 2012 UN General Assembly looms, Abbas — who last year appealed dramatically to the Security Council seeking recognition for a Palestinian state — has nothing to show for another year wasted. He has no shortage of options to ostensibly advance the Palestinian cause. It’s just that none of them are good.
While many Palestinians appreciate the relative stability and economic improvement of life in the West Bank, the absence of significant progress en route to Palestinian statehood is eating away at Abbas’s popularity
He may have looked like a defiant leader rebuffing the US last year by going to the Security Council, but the gambit got him nowhere because “Palestine” lacked the votes to even force a US veto. Some of those around him are encouraging him to take the General Assembly route this time — to gain the elevated status that, at the very least, could enable the International Criminal Court to assert jurisdiction over matters Palestinian and thus deeply discomfit Israel with a legal assault on the occupation. The trouble with this path is that the US government is pressing him hard not to take it, and threatening a potentially catastrophic withdrawal of funding, and of access.
Alternatively, Abbas could subtly or unsubtly foster a campaign of civil disobedience against Israel — a potentially effective tool for galvanizing international support. The difficulty with that approach, as the ongoing Middle East upheaval makes plain, is that public displays of frustration can get badly out of hand — and in his case might boomerang.
He could dismantle the PA himself — as he has threatened frequently to do if Israel is not more forthcoming in its dealings with him. Indeed, he vowed he might do just that in the earlier, nastier drafts of his recent letter to Benjamin Netanyahu — a missive that was received in the prime minister’s inner circle with something not far removed from derision. But tearing down the PA, of course, would simply be a case of cutting off the very branch that he sits upon.
He could push ahead for Fatah-Hamas unity, as several reports in recent weeks have claimed is happening. But that, too, would be a case of accelerating his own downfall. The strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood means, by extension, the strengthening of Hamas. The Islamists are in no hurry to complete what they regard as their unstoppable Palestinian takeover, and thus Fatah has little leverage to achieve advantageous terms for bringing the snake into the house.
Or, finally, he could try to restart negotiations with Israel. But Netanyahu will not meet his demands for talks on the basis of the ’67 lines and amid a settlement freeze. Resuming negotiations on any other terms would constitute the deepest of humiliations.
Many Israeli leaders recognize that the fall of Abbas, no matter how problematic he may be…is deeply disadvantageous
Many Israeli leaders recognize that the fall of Abbas, no matter how problematic he may be, and the rise of Hamas — already the majority in the Palestinian parliament, the controller of many West Bank municipalities, and the cemented ruler of Gaza — is deeply disadvantageous. Many of Israel’s security chiefs are urging the political echelon to help save the secular nationalists. Come to the aid of Salam Fayyad, some of them urge. He needs money, urgently — so get him a loan, guaranteed against future tax revenues. Reduce the army’s incursions into PA-controlled Area A sections of the West Bank. Liberate some of the numerous West Bank development projects from the strangling constraints of bureaucratic red tape.
The government did indeed approach the International Monetary Fund recently to request a $1 billion bridging loan for the PA. (The Palestinians couldn’t apply themselves because they are not a state.) But despite the credibility of Fayyad and his sometime-mentor Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, the request was turned down.
Beyond that, Netanyahu seems disinclined to come to lift his fingers to save the PA. Three years ago, he was speaking of his vision of Palestinian statehood. Two years ago, he was repeatedly calling Abbas his partner. This week, he was commending the late Yitzhak Shamir for his assessment of Arab intransigence regarding Israel: “The Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea.”
Shamir, said Netanyahu, had “access to fundamental truths and did not let the trends of the day sway him.” Has Netanyahu concluded that, when all is said and done, Abbas and Hamas are “the same Arabs”?