Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets Palestinian Authority executives in Ramallah, West Bank. [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
This resulted in a dichotomy. While, early on, some PA officials criticised Israel strongly, others did so more guardedly. The likes of Mahmoud Al-Habbash, a close adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, actually blamed Hamas for the 7 October operation, speaking bizarrely about the PA’s intention to hold the Resistance accountable, to the delight of Israeli media, of course.
These indecisive positions, however, became stronger over time, although certainly not to the extent where the PA outright supported the Resistance. But the events on the ground, the sheer number of Palestinians killed and wounded and the catastrophic destruction resulting from the Israeli offensive, gave the PA some political space to manoeuvre, and to present itself as the official and trusted Palestinian representative to the world.
The PA sprang into action, not to meet any kind of historical responsibility in defence of Gaza, but to fight back against Benjamin Netanyahu’s direct insinuation that the PA is no longer relevant. The Israeli prime minister and others within his government have insisted that the PA and its dominant Fatah party will have no future role in Gaza on the “day after” the genocide.
“Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan,” said Netanyahu in December, resorting to his old school orientalist and condescending language. “After the great sacrifice of our civilians and our soldiers, I will not allow the entry into Gaza of those who educate for terrorism, support terrorism and finance terrorism.”
However, if the Fatah movement — which is, more or less, the PA — is “terrorist” according to Netanyahu’s own definition, why does he allow it to operate freely in the occupied West Bank?
Typically, of course, Netanyahu is lying.
In June last year, the Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu had told lawmakers that Israel “needs the Palestinian Authority”. The occupation state “has an interest in seeing that the PA continues to function” and is “prepared to assist it economically.” The article conveyed Netanyahu’s comments, citing the original report by the Kan public broadcaster.
“Where it’s operating successfully, it does our job for us,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying. Doing “our job for us” was a reference to the PA’s cracking down on Palestinian Resistance throughout the West Bank, part of its “sacred” — Abbas’s description — security collaboration with the Israeli occupation forces.
Thus, it makes little sense for the PA, from an Israeli viewpoint, to be trusted in fighting Palestinian Resistance in the West Bank while “supporting terrorism”, meaning legitimate Resistance to the military occupation, in Gaza.
Netanyahu, though, had other reasons to reach such a conclusion. For a start, Israel knows that if the entire Israeli army has failed to defeat, let alone “crush”, the Resistance in the Strip, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his band of poorly trained officers will be routed in a matter of days, if not hours.
The Fatah-Hamas fighting in the summer of 2007 was a perfect case in point. A much weaker Hamas defeated a large number of PA security cadres in the Strip faster than the latter’s ability to flee the area; some of them actually sought refuge at Israel’s Eretz military checkpoint.
Moreover, Netanyahu is unable to determine his “next step” in Gaza, and those who will supposedly run it, because he holds no cards. His military campaign has not only carried out a genocide, but has also been a total military and strategic failure.
The Israeli leader is heavily criticized by many for failing to talk about the “day after” the war scenario. But he ought not to be, because the question of “what do we do with Gaza?” is not a question he, or any other Israeli leader, is able to answer.
The question assumes that the Palestinians have no agency of their own. If 7 October was of any value, it at least proved that Palestinians are active participants in shaping the events that will determine their own future. In fact, that will also determine the future of Israel.
A more appropriate question should be, “What do we do with the Israeli occupation?” Another is, “What do we do with the Palestinian Authority, which is helping Israel manage its occupation?”
The PA is, after all, an authority with no authority. It is only relevant insofar as it carries out whatever task is allocated to it by Washington and permitted by Israel. This role, however, is likely to be even more marginal in the future, since the Palestinian Resistance remains strong, and a new resistance campaign is taking shape in the West Bank.
In the case of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza without achieving Netanyahu’s lofty goal of destroying or even dismantling the Resistance, Hamas and all others will emerge stronger, both in terms of their military weight and their political influence. Recent opinion polls have shown that support for Hamas among Palestinians in the West Bank has grown significantly, suggesting that the new Resistance model, starting in Jenin and Nablus, will most likely spread to the rest of the region in the coming months.
The Israeli occupation operates in the West Bank without the least degree of respect for the “authority” of the so-called Palestinian Authority. Even Palestinians in many parts of the West Bank are living and resisting with complete disregard for the PA. It is, therefore, difficult to imagine a workable scenario in which the PA can be fixed or reformed to fit the expectations of the Palestinian people.
Indeed, reform of the PA is not possible because the very political premise that established it was moulded by Washington and its western allies. After the Second Palestinian Uprising (2000-2005), the PA was “reformed” by US generals to fully facilitate and accommodate Israel’s “security”.
The PA is working for Israel, not against it
Since then, the PA has fulfilled its part of the deal and, as admitted by Netanyahu himself, it is working for Israel, not against it. This is why it continues to function.
Another reason why the PA cannot be expected to serve the role of a truly representative Palestinian political institution is that, throughout its history, it has fought every attempt at enacting any degree of democratic process.
Abbas thwarted the result of the “free and fair” 2006 democratic election; has prevented any return to the democratic process ever since; and has championed a truly repressive political system. His own mandate expired in 2009, and yet he continues to rule. He imprisons, tortures and kills his own people whenever it serves his personal interest to do so. His legacy is that of subservience to Israel, financial corruption and violence against Palestinians who resist Israel or question his behaviour.
For 30 years, the PA has learned to co-exist with the Israeli occupation and apartheid. However, it has also proven to be incapable of co-existing in a pluralistic and democratic Palestinian political space. Hence, the PA must be as worried about the outcome of the military offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza as Israel is, albeit for different reasons.
For Israel an end to the war without crushing the Resistance will be the dawn of a new era of the empowered and resisting Palestinians. For the PA, a victory for Hamas and the Resistance will be the end of an era as well. How the new era will be defined depends on the PA’s willingness to accept the new reality, and to simply let Palestinians manage their own lives, mould their own leadership and wage their own struggle. Anything less than this will mean that a clash will be inevitable. And that would be a tragedy.
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