What is in store for the Palestinian Authority?

While the Palestinian self-governing body insists on resuming talks with Israel, experts say its days are numbered.

Mahmoud Abbas
The Oslo deals gifted Israel complete control of the Palestinian economy, civil and security matters in over 60 percent of the West Bank [File: EPA]

As the Palestinian Authority (PA) fights to save its role as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, experts say its days are numbered, now that the Oslo Accords have proved to be a “total failure”.

Amid the latest political developments that saw the United States withdraw millions in aid to Palestinians and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the outcomes of a 25-year-old agreement based on a framework of “peace” bring into question the very existence of the PA.

“It [Oslo Accords] has been used as a smoke screen to entrench the occupation and for further Israeli colonisation,” Yara Hawari, a fellow at the Palestinian policy network, Al Shabaka, told Al Jazeera.

“Many Palestinians have been questioning the PA’s role for quite some time now. Much of the criticism stems from their involvement in security coordination with Israel, which portrays them as native enforcers of the occupation,” she said from the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

Oslo and the entrenching of occupation

After officially recognising Israel’s existence in 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995, which meant to lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state through the establishment of an interim Palestinian government – the Palestinian Authority.

The Oslo deals also gifted Israel complete control of the Palestinian economy, civil and security matters in more than 60 percent of the West Bank, and introduced the controversial security coordination between Israel and the PA.

Since then, the PA has done little to improve the economic situation for Palestinians, many of whom have resorted to working in Israel as low-skilled workers.

Analysts Al Jazeera spoke to suggested that Oslo has been effectively dead as far back as the start of the second Intifada, nearly two decades ago.

As such, the PA has always been under scrutiny for the lack of economic prosperity, and, in particular, for its security coordination with Israel that has repeatedly silenced dissent – whether it was against the occupation or the PA and its policies.

The accords were meant to kick-start peace talks brokered by the US, with a two-state solution as the desired objective of negotiations.

But efforts to strike a deal over the years have been fruitless, leaving the Palestinians with the provisional self-governing authority that has been unable to prevent Israeli occupation from expanding.

From Israel’s illegal settlement expansion project to home demolition orders and forced arrests, Palestinians in the occupied territories lack adequate leadership that could act as a viable alternative to the PA.

Hawari noted that Trump‘s announcement provided a much-needed opportunity for the PA to gain back some legitimacy and “sense of dignity as the representative of the Palestinian people”, but has instead reaffirmed that it will continue with the peace process without US mediation.

“The disappointment and disbelief in the PA’s reaction to Trump are tangible on the ground here in Palestine,” she explained.

The PA claims to have legitimacy through its position as a partner in the Palestinian negotiations, but Hawari says the authority uses this rhetoric to justify their leadership position.

The PA and Israel’s ‘tacit support’

The recent move by the US to cut $65m – more than half of its planned funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) – has incensed many Palestinians.

For nearly 70 years, UNRWA has been the lifeline to the more than five million registered Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories and Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, offering support in food supply, education, healthcare, social services and employment.

Apart from UNRWA aid, the US is also one of the largest foreign contributors to the PA’s Ministry of Finance, providing it with $477m in the period between January 2012 and May 2016, according to a study by Aid Watch Palestine.

Jeremy Wildeman, an academic at the University of Bath and one of the authors of the Aid Watch report, said the PA is dependent on both international donors and Israel for funding to exist, “from the donors in the form of aid, and Israel from returned tax revenues.

“It [PA] is an undemocratic government selected, backed and kept in power by Western donors who have been intimately involved in constructing it under occupation,” Wilderman told Al Jazeera.

“The PA … relies on the government of Israel’s tacit support to operate and to retain ‘freedoms’ they have gotten used to under that rule,” he added.

‘New lease of life’

Some believe that the PA, in light of the latest US move, may have been given a “new lease of life”.

Salim Tamari, director of the Institute of Palestine Studies, believes that the PA was able to mobilise people in favour of defiance on the question of Jerusalem.

“In terms of long-term options, the ability of the PA to survive depends very much on the negotiations with Hamas in Gaza and the ability to form a national unity government,” Tamari explained, referring to a reconciliation deal made in October that seeks to form a unity government between Fatah and Hamas – the movement governing the Gaza Strip.

“And, in addition, the ability to mobilise resources to survive as an authority,” he added.

Simultaneously, a considerable chunk of the population depends on the public sector and the PA’s salaries.

“They [people] rely on the PA’s continued relationship with Israel and the survival of the bureaucracy of the PA – regardless of the type of ideology it has,” Tamari said.

He also pointed out that many Palestinians fear the rise of what he described as “warlords”, referencing Mohammed Dahlan – the 55-year-old, exiled, former Fatah official – as an alternative to the PA.

According to Tamari, the question of a two-state solution is not dominating the “daily discussion” in Palestine. Rather, people question how they can resist the continued occupation, which is not being articulated as a political vision.

This is the case for several reasons. Tamari noted that “opposition” is expressed by intellectuals, opposition press, and non-governmental organisations among Palestinians, and not by a grassroots movement – while other, existing parties continue to maintain relationships with the PA to guarantee “pieces of the pie”.

But even if the existing opposition manages to unify into a “legitimate polity and representative institutions”, dissolving the PA will not be an easy, straightforward, or quick process, according to Alaa Tartir, director of Al Shabaka.

“Over the last quarter of a century, complex structures, dynamics, and institutions emerged and solidified in the West Bank and Gaza, and dismantling this complexity will not occur by speeches, announcements, or declarations,” Tartir explained.

“A phasing-out process requires serious actions, concrete and clear steps, and a national action and rescue plan for a transition towards a post two-states formula and a post-Oslo Accords framework,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera