The collapse of the PA may already be here
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AnalysisThe Obama administration will leave office with the Middle East in ruins

The collapse of the PA may already be here

It’s a short path from a single member of the security forces carrying out an attack, as occured Thursday, to all-out chaos in which Israel is forced to recapture West Bank cities

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.

Israeli security forces and forensics transport the body of Mazen Aribe, who was shot following an attack at the Hizme checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Israeli security forces and forensics transport the body of Mazen Aribe, who was shot following an attack at the Hizme checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s scenario outlining a potential collapse of the Palestinian Authority, laid out Saturday at the Saban Forum in Washington, DC, sounds more than realistic.

For a change, the US administration, an expert at making fatal mistakes in the Middle East, seems to read the state of Palestinian affairs correctly, though the secretary errs in using the word “collapse.”

Instead, it should be substituted with the term “disintegration,” which in some ways has already begun.

The shooting attack on Thursday, in which Preventive Security Services member Mazen Aribe opened fire on Israel Defense Forces soldiers near the Hizme checkpoint, marks a crossroads.

Aribe was killed by fire from soldiers at the scene. The Palestinian Authority, instead of condemning or at least not supporting the action, sent head Palestine Liberation Organization negotiator Saeb Erekat and the mayor of Jericho to visit the home of the attacker’s family.

Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), speaks during an interview with AFP at his office in Ramallah on November 23, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI / AFP / ABBAS MOMANI)
Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), speaks during an interview with AFP at his office in Ramallah on November 23, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI / AFP / ABBAS MOMANI)

The implicit message was that the PA and PLO support such actions. Has the PA come to a point where it has decided not to oppose homegrown attacks?

For the time being, the Palestinian security services are maintaining relatively high discipline and continuing the exceptional security coordination with Israel. Officials in the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) speak almost daily with their Palestinian counterparts, and a number of high-level security meetings are being held even in these difficult days.

Still, it is clear to all involved that there is a big question mark concerning how long this security coordination, and the Palestinian forces maintaining discipline, can be maintained.

Israel’s nightmare scenario

What, exactly, will a PA disintegration look like? At the start, probably the way things happened Thursday. Maybe an isolated incident, with a Palestinian police officer or two who decide to attack Israeli targets and cause many Israeli casualties.

From there, an Israeli response will follow. Or maybe an Israeli retaliatory shooting will bring a high number of Palestinian casualties.

And then will come a grass-roots demand by members of the security services to act against soldiers and settlers.

And as happened at the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, we will see more and more Palestinian soldiers and police joining the demonstrations and attacks against Israelis.

The path from here to an Israeli decision to impose sanctions on the PA, ending security coordination, would be short.

And then would come a halt on the transfer of tax monies to the PA — used to pay salaries — a demand that is already being heard on the Israeli right.

Another few days would pass, and more Palestinian police who are not getting paid would decide to carry out attacks. Meanwhile, government clerks would not come to work, and of course, above all of these steps hovers the possibility that PA President Mahmoud Abbas would announce, at any point, that he is “returning the keys” to Israel and dissolving the PA: If there must be occupation, then let’s have a full occupation.

Another, shorter scenario may materialize if the PLO decides to renege on its recognition of the State of Israel. This could be met with Israeli sanctions such as the halting of tax transfers, and here, too, the path to a complete collapse may be short.

And then what? A considerable amount of chaos, a heavy presence of Hamas and other terror groups as in the First Intifada. And, in all likelihood, Israel will have to recapture the Palestinian cities and reinstate military rule.

The security and economic burden on Israel will be heavy. And, of course, in the longer term there will be a departure from the vision of two states, or — as they will call it on the right — a sobering up. Welcome to the binational state.

On the White House and Kerry

 

If this is the shape of things to come, Kerry may have his own boss’s administration to blame.

Kerry invested significantly in attempts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he was stymied by a White House that showed amateurism and maybe even ignorance in dealing with the region’s problems.

In the Palestinian context, this started with US President Barack Obama’s almost-obsessive focus on pushing a building freeze in the settlements.

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, meets with veterans and Gold Star Mothers to discuss the Iran Nuclear deal, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, meets with veterans and Gold Star Mothers to discuss the Iran Nuclear deal, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

When he decided to back off on this issue, he discovered that it was already too late, and Abbas refused to enter talks without a construction moratorium.

On the Palestinian question, Kerry acted reasonably, logically and full of motivation, at least until recent months. But problems in our neck of the woods are nothing compared to mistakes in Syria, Iraq and, of course, Iran.

For whatever reason, Washington still insists on seeing the Iran nuclear deal as a glorious achievement for the US, even though it is far from being so.

The White House and the US administration do not have anything to be proud of regarding the Middle East, including the Iran deal.

The nuclear reckoning may be delayed, but the Iranian monster is stronger than ever and will harmfully influence the region.

This administration, which prides itself on Obama’s “Cairo Speech” and on the fact that it abandoned former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and advanced democratic ideals, will leave Washington with the Middle East in ruins.

The worst is most likely still ahead of us.

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