By: Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh.
In the year that followed the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian National Authority (PA) was established on parts of the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS). Yasir ‘Arafat entered the GS in early July 1994 and headed the PA, backed by the Fatah movement, which had been leading the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Despite the broad opposition to the Oslo Accords from Ten Palestinian Factions and others, there were hopes within the Palestinian leadership that the PA would evolve into an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty over WB and GS. As years passed, it was clear that these calculations were misled and misleading, and now, 20 years later, we find ourselves a deformed Palestinian entity that has a “functional role” of serving the Occupation more than achieving the dream of a Palestinian state.
It doesn’t seem that the Palestinian scholar Edward Said was exaggerating when he told al-Hayat newspaper, on 21/8/1995 that ‘Arafat involved his people in an inescapable trap, and that he had thrown himself to the Israelis and the Americans. ‘Arafat himself realized a few years later the “absurdity” of the peace process, and supported the “al-Aqsa Intifadah.” For this, the Israeli occupation placed him under siege, and ultimately, many believe that he was assassinated by poison, for rebelling against the path drawn for the Oslo Accords.
So are twenty years not enough for us to understand the lesson, and reconsider the current path and future of the PA?
The first and main problem lies in the foundation upon which the PA was built. It was based on an agreement that did not contain any guarantees that would compel the Israel side to honor it. There is nothing to compel Israel to establish a Palestinian state in accordance with the Palestinian vision, or even in accordance with “the international legitimacy.” The agreement does not even include the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, does not compel Israel to withdraw fully from the WB and the GS including East Jerusalem, does not commit to the right of return of the refugees, and does not commit to the dismantlement of Israeli settlements, and so on.
At the same time, the PLO committed itself to ending all forms of armed resistance, sticking only to nonviolent methods in seeking to attain Palestinian rights. Furthermore, the agreement lacked an international reference framework that would bind Israel to implement UN resolutions or even what it agrees to with the Palestinians. In other words, the Palestinian side found itself practically dependent on the good will of its Israeli enemy. This made the peace process an endless process, cementing rather than removing the Occupation.
This has created a major problem, as the PA gave practical cover to the Israeli side to evade its commitments as a colonial occupation power, practically allowing Israel to press ahead with its program of Judaization and imposing facts on the ground, with no ability to stop or resist this because of the commitment to the peace process.
The PA thus found itself having an ad-hoc functional role in the service of the occupation, while the project of the state and the project for liberation withered and eroded. The Occupation turned into “clean colonialism,” or as Israeli writer Meron Benvenisti and Israeli army intelligence chief Shlomo Gazit said, into a luxurious colonization.
This anomalous situation allowed the Israeli side to step up and expand the enormous Judaization and settlement activity in WB, doubling the number of Jews from about 250 thousand in 1993 to about 700 thousand now. Israel is still controlling administratively and militarily around 60% of the WB territory, and has built a Separation Wall absorbing 12% of WB surface area. Israeli continues to control land, air, and sea borders.
In the past 20 years, Jerusalem was the subject of an active and methodological scheme for Judaization, with a view to efface its Arab and Islamic identity, and replace it with an artificial Zionist Jewish identity. The same period saw escalating attacks on al-Aqsa mosque, with attempts to partition it physically as well as temporally, while dozens of tunnels have been dug underneath it, and Muslims were denied entry except under harsh conditions.
The third problem is that the Oslo Accords and PA’s path have complicated the Palestinian national action, driving a wedge in the national project, while perpetuating a state of polarization and division in Palestine. The most important manifestation of this problem is the fact that many Palestinian factions, were and still opposed to the Oslo Accords and the resulting obligations, and that most of the factions have substantial or serious objections to the peace process. However, Fatah is still determined to proceed with leading the PLO and the PA along this track.
This problem also manifested itself in that the armed resistance path seemed inconsistent with the PA’s path and its potential evolution into a Palestinian state. So it seemed to the PA and the PLO leadership that it was necessary to suppress the resistance and silence it to achieve the dream of a state. Thus, turning, the right of armed resistance against the Occupation into a “criminal” offense, for violating the laws of the PA and obligations.
The resistance forces saw that armed struggle must continue to stop the series of concessions ceding Palestinian rights, and upgrade Palestinian national action, because the Israeli side does not understand any language other than “force.” On the other hand, the path of the PA has marginalized the role of Palestinians in the diaspora, and limited the PA and the PLO’s concerns to Palestinians in WB and GS (38% of all Palestinians). This created a huge imbalance in national action from a demographic and geopolitical perspective.
A fourth problem is linked to the previous one, having to do with the inflation and overbearing nature of the PA, in parallel with the decline of the PLO. The PLO started appearing more like a department of the PA, although it is the PA that should have been under the supervision of the PLO and one of the instruments of Palestinian action that the PLO uses in liberation project.
The PLO almost became defunct abroad, and most of its departments and institutions collapsed or became paralyzed, while its budget was eroded to nearly nothing compared to that of the PA. In the meantime, the PA had ministries, institutions, and security agencies, and around 175 thousand employees depending on the salaries it pays, as well as international recognition. Subsequently, with the decline of the role of the PLO, and its failure to accommodate many factions and broad segments of the Palestinian people, the Palestinians lost the umbrella that brought them together, whether they are abroad or at home, or are factions or national figures.
The fifth problem is linked to the political institutions of the PA, which are subject to the standards of the Oslo Accords and the peace process. In other words, the PA’s “democratic” structure is subject to the ceiling determined by the Occupation and the prior commitments of the PLO. This makes the PA democratic only in form with its legislative and presidential elections, while it is not possible for parties that oppose the peace agreements to win and take power, even if they obtain a popular majority, as these parties would be thwarted and disrupted, boycotted, and besieged with the closure of crossings and the withholding of aid and financial transfers, as happened with Hamas since 2006. What this means is that this political regime can only accommodate a segment of the Palestinians, namely, those who agree or conform to the Oslo ceiling and its obligations.
Freedoms and human rights were also linked in one way or the other to the Occupation’s ceilings and those of the agreements signed. Groups and institutions, who shared the same stance or understanding with the resistance factions, are often shut down and banned, while individuals who support resistance are blocked from public jobs and are persecuted by the PA’s security forces.
The sixth issue is the economic agreements and arrangements, including the Paris Protocol, which have cemented the Occupation’s dominance over the PA and made the latter hostage to the Israeli side. These were not real economic agreements, as much as they were financial-tax arrangements linking the Palestinian economy in WB and GS to the Israeli economy. Thus, these agreements were not an outlet for the Palestinian economy to become independent and begin its growth, and did not create real bases that can be used for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
A quick examination and calculation shows that the PA after nearly 20 years (based on 2013 PA official figures) still sends more than 87% of its exports to Israel, and around 72% of imports also come from Israel. Furthermore, the Israeli Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is about 22 times more the PA GDP, and the GDP per capita in Israel is 12 times more the GDP per capita in WB and GS.
The PA also faces the problem of reliance on political money and foreign grant, most of which come from Western countries that condition their aid on commitments related to the peace process.
The PA also fell into the trap of building a consumer economy, rather than a productive economy or a “resistance” economy that may back a coup against the occupation.
The PA also had structural and chronic imbalances in employment and expenditures, which, for example, made the PA employ a large number of people to the tune of 65 thousand or 37% of total employees in 2011 for the security forces.
The PA spent up to 31% of its budget on security, while the salaries of security personnel accounted for around 42% of PA’s total spending on wages for the same year.
This miserable situation created a clique of clients whose lives and livelihood depend on the Occupation, its dictates, its ceilings, and its criteria. This complicated any serious national action against the Occupation towards forcing it to withdraw or to make it prohibitively costly. In other words, this clique’s survival now depended on “stability and calm,” which is what the Occupation needs for to stay rather than to leave.
As for financial and administrative corruption that is endemic in the PA and its institutions, this is the seventh problem that Palestinians in the WB and GS have suffered from. Among the most prominent manifestations of this corruption is the appointment based on cronyism rather than competence, and factional, partisan, and family- and clan-based affiliation, in addition to disguised unemployment, and various aspects of financial waste and so on.
This kind of corruption has led to purchasing loyalties, amid weakness in the PA’s structure, deteriorating services, and the exploitation and extortion of people over their needs, while the infrastructure and development projects stalled. It also created an environment that corrupts “yesterday’s resistance cadres” and their revolutionary ethos, not to mention their ability to challenge the occupation and sacrifice for the cause.
It seems that we, after 20 years of the establishment of the PA, need a serious pause to review the experience and performance of this institution. This review must be within a critical scholarly approach that would take into account primarily the priorities of the Palestinian national project, how to get rid of the occupation, ending the functional role of the PA which serves the occupation, and how to seek to turn the PA into an institution that reflects the aspirations of the Palestinian people to freedom and independence.
The PA must be part of the PLO institutions not to dominate it. The PLO must also rebuild itself in a way that would guarantee its proper representation of various segments of the Palestinian people and its factions at home and abroad. The PA must deal with the resistance as leverage for national action, rather than a hindrance or obstacle. It must guarantee real active partnership with all Palestinian trends, with the criteria for this having a Palestinian national accord, and restructuring and strengthening the internal Palestinian home, rather than seeking Israeli or Western approval.
In short, a PA that does not focus its efforts on strengthening the Palestinian people and their steadfastness and ending the occupation, does not deserve to stay.