The Palestinian Authority, initially hailed as the harbinger of an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, is on the chopping block.  

Significant elements in both Israeli and Palestinian political circles believe, if not for the same reasons, that the PA is long past its sell-by date, and that plans must be made to prepare for, or, among the more activist sectors, to create, a successor to the moribund PA and the era of nominal Palestinian self-rule that it represents.

The debate has moved to the centre stage of Israel's political agenda in recent weeks, highlighted by a recent report in Haaretz that quoted the prime minister remarking that Israel "must prevent the Palestinian Authority from collapsing if possible, but at the same time, we must prepare in case it happens".

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The lame-duck Obama administration has acknowledged that it is "out of ideas" on how to address the festering wound that is occupation - marking an end to decades of pre-eminent US stewardship of a negotiated agreement and adding urgency to the contest to decide who will frame the agenda for the future.

Jerusalem Intifada

The Jerusalem Intifada has brought into stark relief for Israelis the failure of the current system to square the circle by producing a new generation of Palestinians prepared to endure permanent occupation peacefully.

Palestinians, for their part, long ago despaired of the PA's ability to be the midwife of sovereignty and independence.


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"[Palestinian] leaders are incapable of satisfying their [young Palestinians'] political and economic demands," said former PA minister Ghassan Khatib.

The PA, whatever its many shortcomings in the eyes of both Israelis and Palestinians, was initially established as a reflection of what Israel and the Palestinians believed to be their essential interests.

 

Palestinian politics "is at an impasse and incapable of reinventing itself".

Israelis such as Naftali Bennett, the minister of education, who favour a dramatic departure are framing the debate, keeping supporters of the status quo on the defensive. As a first step to annexing the West Bank, Bennett wants Israel to extend Israeli law and administration to settlement areas north and south of Jerusalem.

"The time has come to say Israel is ours," he explained. "To go from strategic defence to a process of initiating the implementation of Israeli sovereignty over the territories under Israeli control in Judea and Samaria."

Advocates of such a radical departure remain a minority, however vocal. After all, the PA, whatever its many shortcomings in the eyes of both Israelis and Palestinians, was initially established as a reflection of what Israel and the Palestinians believed to be their essential interests. Statesmen and politicians of all stripes are understandably hesitant to repudiate their own handiwork, however soiled and dysfunctional.

The Oslo system 

Israel continues to be the most important factor in this equation, as it has been for many decades. Palestinian dissatisfaction with the PA has been constant since its inception.

After all, measured against the standard promoted by all Palestinians - independence and sovereignty - the PA, indeed the entire Palestinian system for political representation and mobilisation in the modern era, has been a failure.

The late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in 1970 [Getty]

The Oslo understandings offered Israel clear and immediate advantages that it remained eager to preserve in a post-PA era - advantages that continuing support for the Oslo system may ironically imperil rather than promote.

Then as now, Israel bases its policies on its ability to preserve its wide-ranging security and insatiable settlement requirements. Oslo also offered Israel unprecedented international legitimacy - with the signature of PLO leader Yasser Arafat - for the system that it created to reflect these interests.

These arrangements have produced a resounding success for Israel's security and settlement agenda in the decades since their creation, but this very success has created an ever-expanding foundation for ever-insistent demands - like those of Bennett that address the growing importance of a settlement community numbering more than half a million - and exposed shortcomings, principally in the security realm, that some proponents argue can best be addressed by ditching the PLO as a junior partner in the rule of the West Bank.


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Gaza is a central if infrequently acknowledged factor invoked by Israelis demanding a change in the status quo. In the eyes of leaders such as Yitzhak Rabin, a deal with Arafat promised an end to Israel's security troubles in the Gaza Strip, which exploded during the first Intifada and persist to this day.

Gaza however, has been divorced from the Oslo system since at least the routing of Fatah forces there in June 2007. The creation of a new system for managing Gaza which is independent of the PA/Oslo framework has removed an important pillar of Israel's support for the PA in the West Bank.

Loss of Gaza

If Arafat once offered Israel a legitimate and authoritative address for its demands, Abu Mazen's loss of Gaza has left the PA administering only a shrinking rump of Palestine. Abbas also rules without a popular mandate. In addition, the diplomatic dead end and Abbas' increasing willingness to confront Israel in international forums undermine, in Israel's eyes at least, the original rationale that made Rabin's deal with Arafat desirable. 

Abbas' advancing age - the Palestinian leader is 80 - is a far more prosaic factor in the current alignment of forces, but it may be the most important cause of the current Israeli rethink of its interest in the PA's sustainability. The PA has proved no better than other Arab institutions in creating mechanisms for peaceful political succession. Arafat's departure and Abbas' elevation were exceptions to this general rule.

Jerusalem and Washington, which engineered Arafat's peaceful ouster, are far less interested in Abbas' unknown successor than they were when the reliable and trusted Abbas himself was the recognised heir apparent.

More than a quarter-century after the Oslo agreement established the partnership between Israel and the PLO, and after almost half a century of occupation and settlement throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is clear that neither party believes any more that the PA is the best agency for the promotion of its conflicting interests. In this environment, it would surprising if policymakers, as they seek advantage for their opposing policies, decide not to revise their view of the best path to victory.

Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle East affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera