By: Ahmed Abu Artema*
The Palestinian Authority is helping Israel’s military occupation once again.
The step was taken, according to senior PA representative Hussein al-Sheikh, after commitments were received from Israel that it will respect previous agreements.
Why has the decision to stop “security cooperation” and other interactions with Israel made six months ago now been overturned?
One major factor is that life has become markedly harder for Palestinians.
Because of the decision, the PA stopped accepting customs duties and other tax revenues collected by Israel.
Those revenues constitute approximately two-thirds of the PA’s budget. Without them, public sector employees cannot be – and have not been – paid.
The victory of Joe Biden in the US presidential election is another factor.
After being shunned by Donald Trump, the PA is hoping that Biden will be less hostile.
The New York Times has reported that the PA is prepared to make concessions so that it can enter negotiations with Israel – facilitated by the US.
The PA – if press stories are to be believed – stands ready to change its law on assistance to prisoners.
By doing so, the PA would capitulate to Israeli demands that it stop providing many prisoners with allowances. While those allowances are essential toward ensuring that prisoners and their families survive, Israel and its lobbying network have long portrayed them as rewards for “terrorism.”
“Terrorism” is the term used by Israel to describe a wide range of resistance activities against the occupation and apartheid system it inflicts on Palestinians.
There is also speculation that the PA would be willing to cease joining international bodies or signing up to international accords. Another possible step is that the PA would alter school textbooks so that they please Israel and its lobbyists – who allege that the education of Palestinian boys and girls involves incitement to hatred.
These steps may be presented by the PA as “goodwill” gestures to Biden and the administration he is now assembling. But they would widely be seen by ordinary Palestinians as another case of the PA bending over backwards to try and placate our oppressor – Israel.
The PA’s decision to resume helping Israel shows that it does not have any means to exert real pressure. The only choice it can make is over whether it agrees or refuses to cooperate with Israel.
Mohammed Shtayyeh, the PA’s prime minister, has been at pains to argue that only peace with Palestinians will “comfort” Israelis – regardless of what deals Israel makes with others. He was referring to how the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Bahrain have all normalized relations with Israel since the PA announced a halt to its cooperation.
That message shows what really lies behind the decision to begin helping Israel again.
The PA is concerned that Arab states have leapfrogged it and left it behind.
The PA doesn’t seem to have a problem with the normalization as a matter of principle. Rather, the PA objects to how the normalization has taken place behind its back.
It is true that the PA struck an angry note over the normalization spree. It even took some symbolic action by recalling the PA’s ambassadors from the UAE and Bahrain.
The anger did not last long. At the same time as announcing it was resuming cooperation with Israel, the PA apparently returned its ambassadors to Bahrain and the UAE.
Since it was established in 1994, the PA has worked closely with Arab governments.
True, there have been exceptions.
The most notable exception was in the early years of this century, when Yasser Arafat was the PA president.
Arafat was directly targeted by the Israeli military, which bombed his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The US backed Israel’s brutality, with Arab leaders offering no real opposition.
Arafat was marginalized by those leaders.
When George W. Bush, then the US president, effectively called for Arafat’s removal in 2002, Arab governments responded with just a token defense of his leadership. Their relations with Arafat remained tense until his death – more than likely by poisoning – in 2004.
The second notable disagreement between the PA and Arab countries related to the conference that the Trump administration held in Bahrain last year.
The event was billed as the launch of a new initiative to pump prime the Palestinian economy. In reality, it was shaped by a pro-Israel agenda and Palestinian rights were dismissed.
While several Arab governments attended, the PA boycotted the event.
Before Trump became president, successive US governments had at least conveyed the impression that they were treating the PA as an important player – despite how the Washington establishment is clearly biased in favor of Israel.
Trump changed that.
During his time in the White House, the US disregarded the PA. It sought to foster close relations between Israel and Arab governments, without Israel being obliged to make any gestures toward justice for Palestinians.
The PA felt increasingly marginalized over the past four years. Its leadership probably feared that alternatives to the existence of the PA were being discussed.
Easing Israel’s burdens
The fears were not irrational.
Israel, after all, has formalized relations with the UAE. In recent years the UAE’s rulers have been advised by Muhammad Dahlan, a Palestinian “strongman” – as he is often called – known to please the West for his willingness to behave violently toward his own people. Dahlan has become the greatest adversary to Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president.
To properly understand the PA’s conduct, it is necessary to examine the circumstances surrounding its establishment.
The PA was spawned by the Oslo accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s. It is the product of an arrangement that has enabled Israel’s theft of Palestinian land to go ahead without encountering any effective challenge.
The PA lacks any political, economic or popular basis to confront Israel. Indeed, the consequence of “security coordination” has been that the PA has repressed those Palestinians who confront Israel directly.
The PA has never been able to exercise genuine sovereignty over any part of Palestine.
It has, therefore, been unable to establish a viable state. Claims by its diplomats that they represent the “state of Palestine” are deceptive.
Under the Oslo accords, the PA has been given responsibility for administering 18 percent of the occupied West Bank. That means that the PA’s authority extends over just four percent of historic Palestine.
In theory, the PA is in charge of security matters in a few West Bank cities and towns. In reality, the PA has always been subservient to Israel.
Palestinians living in the area where the PA is nominally responsible for security often witness raids by Israeli forces.
Putting heavily populated areas of the West Bank under the PA’s jurisdiction benefited Israel. It was able to shed some of the burdens of ruling directly over Palestinians.
At the same time, Israel was allowed to retain complete control over around 60 percent of the West Bank. The construction of settlements – all illegal under international law – has continued in that area.
Israel has given the PA limited control over natural resources and farmland, while keeping control over boundary crossings.
The 1994 Paris Protocol established that Israel collects custom duties and taxes on goods imported to the West Bank and Gaza via Israel. These revenues are then passed on to the PA, which relies on them heavily.
As a result, the Palestinian economy has stayed hostage to the Israeli occupation. Israel has, by extension, been able to exploit the PA for political gain.
The arrangements on security cooperation were a particularly large gift for Israel. Through this setup, the PA gives information to Israel about Palestinians resisting the occupation.
PA forces have boasted that large numbers of operations against Israel have been thwarted due to the cooperation. The planners of the operations have been imprisoned.
It is important to underscore, too, that the “security cooperation” was not really paused six months ago. As soon as the PA announced it was formally suspending that cooperation, it sent out signals to say that the cooperation would actually continue.
Following the PA’s establishment, many of its leading figures got involved in economic ventures. They were paid high salaries and Israel often gave them special treatment – for example by issuing them travel permits swiftly.
In the early years of this century, a major scandal involving high-level PA figures was exposed. The PA figures were involved in importing cement from Egypt so that Israel could use it while building its massive wall in the West Bank.
Mahmoud Abbas’ own family has seized opportunities to get rich. Two of his sons run highly profitable companies that are active in the West Bank and several Arab countries.
Tied to a Palestinian elite doing well out of its interactions with Israel, the PA has shown an eagerness for a certain stability to be maintained so that elite interests are preserved. The PA’s ability to say “no” to Israel has been diminished as a result.
Israeli political, military and economic dominance – coupled with the PA’s desires to protect an elite’s interests – have rid the PA of any revolutionary willpower it may once have possessed.
The PA’s structure has helped Israel continue the occupation, including the building and expansion of settlements. Key issues relating to Palestinian rights – such as the right of return for Palestine’s refugees and the status of Jerusalem – have been shoved aside.
During the first intifada, Israel found itself facing mass popular resistance in the West Bank. Through “security cooperation,” the PA is now teaming up with Israel to suppress resistance.
Compared to the late 1980s and early 1990s, Israel is now enjoying a golden age. The PA is helping it to keep the costs of occupation down.
*Ahmed Abu Artema is a writer who lives in Gaza and a researcher at the Center for Political and Development Studies. He is one of the organizers of the Great March of Return.