Dismantle the Palestinian Authority? Not likely

Despite his repeated threat, Abbas knows that chaos, violence and economic catastrophe would follow such a drastic move

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, April 1, 2014. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, April 1, 2014. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

At least three Palestinian threats have become a recurrent ritual, repeating themselves every few months: (1) the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas from the presidency of the Palestinian Authority; (2) the resignation of top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat from his post (a step he has already taken countless times throughout his illustrious career, and yet there he remains); and (3) the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.

So first it should be made clear: A scenario in which the Palestinian Authority is dissolved is possible, but its probability is low, very low. The discussion in recent days over the possibility of the PA being dismantled has been held mainly in the Israeli media, with little to no presence in the discourse of the Palestinian media and among PA leaders.

A story did appear Sunday night in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, which of course referenced the original Yedioth Ahronoth article on the issue at the start of this week. The Ma’an report quoted anonymous Palestinian officials who vehemently asserted that the dissolution idea was being “seriously” considered by the Palestinian leadership in the event that negotiations are not extended. The same officials claimed that “these are not empty threats or hollow talk.” But it is just insistent statements that make it clear that these are in fact only fanciful statements, at least at this stage.

It is hard to say where the latest threats originated. Israeli officials who seek to alarm the Israeli public over the possibility of negotiations failing could have been behind them, or it could have been Abbas’s emissaries.

PA Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud al-Habash, a confidant of Abbas, hinted several days ago during a conversation with Israeli journalists in Ramallah that the option of disbanding the PA was under consideration and could even take place by the end of 2014.

And yet, this is not a realistic option. Yes, it is a step that practically begs to be taken by Abbas in the face of stalled negotiations and in light of the economic woes faced by the Palestinian government. And yes, this threat will be used repeatedly in the coming days as we approach the end of the nine-month negotiations timeframe (April 29 is only a week away). It is almost a “doomsday weapon” against Israel, a clear threat that creates deterrence in Israeli public opinion.

But there are many more steps that would be considered by the Palestinians before they entertain such an extreme option. The Ma’an news agency itself noted in its report that there are many in the PA who oppose such a plan of action. And there are quite a few reasons for this.

Abbas, during all the years of the Second Intifada and afterwards, made it clear that he is opposed to violent action. Abbas understands that dismantling the PA would lead to chaos that would cause countless acts of violence, not only against Israel but also within Palestinian society itself. For Abbas, dissolving the Palestinian Authority’s mechanisms is not an option, because Hamas is a far more severe threat than Israel. The absence of a functioning PA security apparatus would increase Hamas’s power and severely imperil the life of every PA and Fatah official, without exception.

In addition, it is impossible to ignore the economic considerations. PA officials benefit financially from the existence of the PA and, in addition to their salary, enjoy many economic bonuses that come with their jobs — via connections with Israel, involvement in economic projects, and so on. Another equally important consideration that totally prevents deliberations on the real possibility of dismantling the Authority is the impact this would have on the future of the 150,000 PA workers and Fatah members, in the West Bank and in Gaza, who receive salaries each month and drive the Palestinian economy.

Getting rid of the PA would condemn close to a million people not only to unemployment, but also to poverty and potentially hunger. Abbas doesn’t wish to bring chaos to the territories, and it is clear to him that an act such as dismantling the PA would put Palestinian cities back a decade — something no one on the Palestinian side wants.

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