States of denial: Israel and the impending collapse of the Palestinian Authority

The current wave of terrorism is a ‘promo’ of what will happen after the Palestinian Authority (PA) collapses. Most scenarios that deal with the day after its President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) leaves office predict a lack of orderly succession, an internal succession struggle, anarchy and the breakup of the PA. Israeli citizens, especially [settlers] in Judea and Samaria, will pay the price for anarchy in the PA. We must prepare for more difficult attacks. The collapse of the Authority is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.” These are the words of the Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Ze’ev Elkin, the man with the highest IQ in the Knesset. The conclusion is almost banal. Elkin sees a direct link between the “stabbing intifada” and the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, and rightly so. Although the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are not interested in a confrontation with Israel, they are unable to stop the wave of attacks. This is a clear sign that the PA is losing what is left of its control over the Palestinian public.

To understand the full picture, you need to factor in the teachers’ strike in the West Bank, which has lasted two weeks, leaving 700,000 students outside the classroom. The strike shows a lack of confidence in the PA and suggests that Palestinian patience has reached the boiling point. The teachers’ demands are simple: Dismiss the heads of the Fatah-dominated teachers’ union, then raise teachers’ salaries to the level of PA officials and the security forces. The Palestinian government headed by Rami Hamdallah is threatening to take measures against the teachers. Masked Fatah gunmen have threatened the striking teachers with weapons drawn, accusing them of collaborating with an “Israeli plot” against Abu Mazen. Until now, these threats have been in vain: the strike continues.

The collapse of the PA is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ because there is no justification for its existence. The message of young Palestinians going to their deaths clutching knives or scissors is clear: There is no way that Abu Mazen is going to liberate them from occupation, and the continued survival of the PA only represents their unending humiliation. In contrast, striking teachers are sending a message unrelated to the occupation but aimed at the conduct of the Authority. In their eyes, Abu Mazen is not seeking to end the occupation, and his corrupt management of the territories is equivalent to that of the illegitimate Arab regimes. Palestinian citizens are angry at Israel because of the occupation, but they are even more outraged at Abu Mazen because he is cooperating with the occupation and looking out for his cronies at the expense of the majority of citizens.

Zeev Elkin is right – there is no one to replace Abu Mazen, and Hamas is the only alternative. The reason is simple. Fatah is split, and not only because of doctrine, but because its share of the pie is shrinking. Thus Hamas stands to win every election in the foreseeable future. It’s obvious that no leader is acceptable to everyone, and an internal struggle is underway between vying factions in Fatah, as well as a highly-publicized struggle between Abbas and former Gaza strongman, Mohammed Dahlan. Israel must confront the fact that Abbas’s days are numbered. The PA is collapsing because it has ceased to function, it is corrupt, and it is providing no political horizon for improving the situation.

Elkin’s assessment strengthens the position of the Labor Party, which decided at its last convention to distance itself from the idea of two states. It now calls for unilateral action that would bring about separation from the Palestinians. The conviction that the two-state solution is no longer possible has become bon tonamong most parties in the Knesset, and what’s left is to figure out what to do with the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians. Separation from the Palestinians is actually an across-the-board Zionist dream. The Right is willing to accept some of the population while annexing land, while the Left is ready to give up land in order to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority and to escape the fate of a binational state.

But it is not only the Zionist parties who believe that a two-state solution is no longer feasible. This assessment is shared by many Palestinians. The vast majority of them believe the Oslo agreements failed to serve as a road map to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite the huge gap between the occupier and the occupied, both parties must recognize certain facts that have been created during 48 years of occupation, and especially during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords, facts that render the two-state solution irrelevant. Since the international community has exhausted its efforts to reach this end and is now occupied with urgent issues like the Syrian crisis and waves of refugees banging on Europe’s doors, the establishment of a Palestinian state has fallen off the global agenda.

Elkin is also correct in his assessment that when the PA collapses, anarchy will spread throughout the occupied territories. The few services still under PA responsibility, especially education, health, and law enforcement, will collapse. Chaos will reign as gangs fight each other for succession, Fatah against Hamas, Fatah against Fatah according to regional divisions by clan or religion.

The solution proposed by Elkin is simple and ingenious: “We need to prepare in advance.” On the one hand, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon thaws out $125 million in tax dollars collected on behalf of the PA as ordained by Oslo (dollars Netanyahu had frozen) and delivers them at last; in much the same spirit, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon issues more permits enabling Palestinians to work in Israel; and the head of Military Intelligence talks about the need to build a seaport in Gaza. On the other hand, Elkin, the level-headed genius, tells them that all such remedies amount to aspirin for a corpse. The time for economic stimulus is long gone, he says. The current wave of attacks proves that ameliorative measures are not effective and it is time to pass the reins to the army, which will have to cope with the chaos of the PA’s collapse.

It would be a mistake to believe that we can go back two decades to the occupation as it used to be and to the old ways of resisting it. History has shown that both negotiations and the Palestinian armed struggle only fueled the settlement enterprise, exacerbating destruction and violence. The future collapse of the PA and the consequent chaos will leave only one possible scenario: civil struggle to end the occupation, followed by the establishment of a single non-Zionist state on the territory comprising Israel and Palestine.

Two and a half million Palestinians well understand that the way to realize their rights is by demanding the same rights that Israelis enjoy, the very Israelis who have ruled over them for 48 years. The collapse of the PA will mark the end of the two-state era and, with it, the end of the concept of a Jewish and democratic state as conceived by the founders of Israel. Ironically, it is the Israeli right wing that is bringing about the end of the Jewish state.

It is not clear whether Elkin understands this, but, in his own way, he sets the stage for a pluralistic state on the ruins of the Jewish one. According to his vision, this future state will not be democratic, but that will come. It might take a long time, and its coming will be marked with anarchy and blood, but ultimately Israel will have to integrate into the region as a democratic state living in peace with its neighbors.

Anarchy has taken over large parts of the Middle East, but here we are talking about a revolutionary kind. The environment is changing despite the efforts of the Arab regimes to prevent it. The youth of the Arab world are ushering in a springtime that will transform racist, colonial Israel into an anachronism. Young Palestinians will also demand their share in a changing world – freedom, democracy, and social justice. No power on earth can stop them from realizing these desires. This is a possibility that Israeli society will have to prepare for… and tanks will be of no use.

  • Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman

About Da'am Workers Party

The Da’am Workers Party (DWP) here sets forth a program for revolutionary change in Israeli society, based on the principles of integration, equality, and social justice