Today’s 2016 crisis isn’t as acute as yesterdays crises, and it’s a bit of a long-shot, but it’s potentially pretty big: if you’re a fan of the Palestinian Authority, you may need to start preparing yourself for a future in which it no longer exists. Don’t take it from me; take it from the guy who’s done more than just about anybody else to hasten the PA’s collapse:
Israel must prepare for the possibility that the Palestinian Authority will collapse, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of the diplomatic-security cabinet Monday.
“We must prevent the Palestinian Authority from collapsing if possible, but at the same time, we must prepare in case it happens,” he said, according to two senior officials briefed on the meeting.
Or, if you prefer, take it from John Kerry, a month ago:
Secretary of State John F. Kerry warned Israel on Saturday against allowing — or even promoting, as some have urged — the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, saying that it would leave the Israelis with unbearable financial and strategic costs and undermine the security of the Jewish state now and in the future.
In a strongly worded speech at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, Kerry asked whether Israelis were “ready to accept the heightened risk [of] chaos, lawlessness and desperation” that would result. Not only would Israel have to take over the provision of all basic services and welfare for the population, Kerry said, but the end of the current modicum of Palestinian self-rule also would cut off international assistance to the West Bank.
Or the IDF, from the month before that:
The IDF has recommended the government take a series of steps to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and its security forces, which the defense establishment perceives as a moderating influence, as a way to help prevent further deterioration of the security situation in the West Bank and Israel.
Recommendations included enabling PA security forces to acquire more firearms and armored vehicles and releasing Palestinian prisoners with light security offenses.
Additional suggestions include increasing the number of Israeli work visas for West Bank Palestinians, to bolster the Palestinian economy and to moderate the ongoing terrorism against Israelis.
According to assessments, the IDF has been concerned about the potential future disintegration of the PA for the last two months, a scenario that could occur if violence spikes and spreads anarchy across the West Bank.
The PA has been in constant danger of collapsing for a while now (and every new outbreak of West Bank violence only makes its position more precarious), but there is a real turning point that’s looming ever larger on the horizon: the day when PA President Mahmoud Abbas finally departs this mortal world. Abbas, who would be considered a dictator if he had even a shred of actual authority (the PA, ostensibly democratic, hasn’t had a presidential election since 2005), may be all that’s holding the PA together at this point, since it shows no real cohesion as even a potential governmental or bureaucratic entity. And he’s 80 years old. Abbas’s likely successors include Marwan Barghouti, currently spending forever in an Israeli prison, and Majid Faraj, the head of Palestinian intelligence. Haaretz suggests Mohammed Dahlan (former head of Fatah in Gaza) as another possibility, but Dahlan has been tried on corruption charges and is suspected of working as an Israeli agent, so I have a hard time imagining he could win an election. On the other hand, if someone like Dahlan were to contest the succession with somebody like Faraj, that could spell a quick end to the PA amid some kind of PLO civil war.
Let’s be real for a second: the Palestinian Authority sucks. It’s corrupt, it’s ineffective (though Israeli policy helps keep it that way), its leaders have very little popular support, and it’s charted an astoundingly unproductive course through the peace process, whereby it’s managed neither to stand up in defense of any Palestinian interests nor to cave to enough Israeli demands to finally end the occupation. But it may be that the only thing worse than the Palestinian Authority is a world in which the Palestinian Authority no longer exists. Because as lousy as the PA has been, its collapse means in all likelihood that Israel will either assume direct control over the West Bank or turn it into Gaza 2.0:
In other words, without the PA, much of the West Bank would suddenly be without a government, including security forces. This would be a disaster for Palestinians in many ways, but the one concern that I heard Israelis raise over and over is that there would be no one to keep a lid on unrest or violence.
I heard two ways that people thought this could play out; both sounded very bad for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Either Israel would feel compelled to retake Palestinian cities and institute direct military rule over the West Bank or Israel would withdraw completely — perhaps even leading it to seal off the West Bank as it did with Gaza.
In the latter scenario, people I spoke to expected that a security vacuum in the West Bank would allow Hamas to take over there. Israel would likely respond as it did to Hamas’s takeover in Gaza, by sealing off the territory and putting it under a full blockade. In Gaza, this has been followed by a decade-long humanitarian crisis, sent unemployment as high as 43 percent, and contributed to periodic and deadly violence between Israel and Gaza.
Either of these outcomes means more violence in the West Bank. And any chance of Israel-Palestine peace, which isn’t looking all that hot under present conditions, declines precipitously if the PA ceases to exist. That would set the whole process, such as it is, back to square one.
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