Economic peace makes the Palestinian Authority superfluous.

Half a year since the so-called “government of change” launched Operation Breakwater in the northern West Bank, and given the increase of shooting incidents between Palestinian militants and the army, Israeli Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has issued an exceptional statement accusing the Palestinian Authority (PA) of lacking in governance: “Part of the increase in terrorism stems from incompetence of the Palestinian security forces, which leads to a lack of governance in certain areas of the Palestinian Authority, and these constitute fertile ground for the growth of terrorism.”

The government of change wanted to restore a sense of security to Israelis following the wave of attacks that hit their cities in March and April this year. Accordingly, it began acting in the areas of Nablus and Jenin. Although the attacks inside Israel have since stopped, shooting incidents between the army and Palestinian militants in the West Bank have increased. Additionally, Palestinian security forces have stopped buffering the Israeli army from Palestinian militants. The result is not only a “lack of governance” by the PA, and rapid deterioration into chaos, but a lack of governance by the Israeli army, which considers itself entrusted with overall security in the region.

However, Operation Breakwater is not Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s sole response to the increasing wave of shooting incidents in the West Bank. Israel has realized that the stick alone will not yield results and must be accompanied by carrots. The goal is to separate the peaceful Palestinian population (the silent majority who want only to provide for their families, go to work in Israel and return home safely) from the armed groups. Both systems operate simultaneously. The Israeli army operates inside the cities and refugee camps, exacting from the Palestinians a daily dose of blood. The Palestinian armed groups, in turn, feel more challenged to confront the army. At the same time, this battle between the most powerful army in the Middle East and the militants does not stop hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from going through the crossings every day to earn a living in Israel. The separation is absolute: the workers do not cooperate with the militants, because they are preoccupied with earning a living.

This is the formula used by the government of change to avoid political negotiations with the PA and reduce the conflict to a minimum. “Economic peace” has become a substitute for political peace, and it has been strengthened by the “regional peace” between Israel and the Gulf states (an achievement of the Netanyahu government). However, that same “economic peace” is also the prime contributor to the PA’s “lack of governance.” Why? Because the PA has become irrelevant to most West Bankers. Israeli economic control is absolute. Israel issues Palestinian ID numbers; it ordains the shekel as the currency; it collects Palestinian customs, which it may pass to the PA or withhold. Above all, the Israeli economy has become the main source of income for the Palestinians of the occupied territories.

The PA is seen by its residents as a parasitic and corrupt entity, whose entire function is to maintain itself and its privileges at their expense. The fact that a Palestinian construction worker can earn a monthly minimum wage of NIS 6,000 in Israel, while a Palestinian teacher earns NIS 2,500 in the PA, tells the whole story. No one wants to work for a salary paid by a Palestinian employer, which amounts to a third of that in Israel. The economic peace eliminates what remains of the enslaved Palestinian economy. When Palestinians consider the free hand of the Israeli army in West Bank cities, and the PA’s zero contribution to the well-being of its people, the question arises: “Why do we need the PA security forces, which employ tens of thousands of police officers, in addition to hundreds of thousands of idle bureaucrats?”

Elections were last held in the PA 16 years ago. Since then, the successive governments have all been appointed by President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), who has remained in office since January 2005 after being elected for a four-year term. The absence of any democratic process has helped disconnect the PA from its people. Judges are appointed by Abu Mazen, so there is no law or justice, while members of the security apparatus take bribes and extort business owners. Appointments to PA positions go to family members, as do franchises and business licenses. One word of criticism on social media is met by arrest without trial. This is how governance disappeared. On top of all that, the economic peace is another blow to what remains of the PA.

Towards the end of August, a call went out on social media for Palestinian construction workers employed in Israel to strike on Sunday the 21st of the month. The reason was to reject an Israeli government decision that employers must transfer salaries directly to the workers’ personal accounts held in Palestinian banks instead of paying them in cash. The decision would normally benefit the workers, for it guarantees the payment of their salaries according to law. It would obstruct the rampant trade in work permits (fictional companies that receive the permits sell them to workers for cash). Indeed, the main claims of the workers are not against Israel in this case.

Why then do the workers protest the decision? Their anger is against the PA, which they believe will exploit the bank transfers to impose additional taxes and take control of their funds. Their lack of trust is so complete that they also firmly refuse to allow the PA to manage their pensions, preferring that Israel do it. Palestinians believe in an old folk proverb: “The injustice of relatives is crueler than a sword over the head.”

The Palestinian social activist who quoted that proverb (and prefers to remain anonymous) expressed his thoughts after the Israeli decision to add another layer to the economic peace by opening the Ramon Airport near Eilat to Palestinian passengers. As a result, they will no longer have to cross into Jordan to fly abroad. As soon as the decision was made, the PA and Jordan objected. They dubbed those using Ramon Airport “traitors” who are prepared to “normalize” relations with the occupier, as if Jordan and the PA have not been normalizing the occupation for decades.

To the astonishment of the said social activist, “the use of the airport sparked a huge wave of controversy on social network sites and in small gatherings.” This is how the activist describes the phenomenon: “We are standing in front of a huge and politically significant popular wave, which starts in response to Israeli gestures. The occupier’s Civil Administration rides this wave and encourages it, that is, to live with Israel according to the economic peace plan.” Hence, while Operation Breakwater addressed the wave of attacks by armed militants, a “huge popular wave” has been developing that is interested in the economic peace maintained by the occupation itself.

The conclusion of this activist is clear: “It follows from economic peace that the Palestinian state will have no existence, that the PA which organizes civil affairs is undesirable, and that people are ready to live indirectly within a one-state solution.” These are the words of an activist who still believes in the vision of a Palestinian state but is watching it vanish between the economic peace of Gantz and the corruption, not to say utter dysfunction, of Abu Mazen. The Palestinian workers are voting with their feet, they do not believe in Abu Mazen or Hamas, nor in the possibility of a Palestinian state, and they understand very well that their fate is inextricably linked to Israel.

Economic peace may be able to separate the armed militant groups of despairing Palestinian youth from the majority of the population, but it will not be able to separate economic rights from the civil rights of the Palestinian people. The time of those rights will come. Economic peace unites the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean into one economic unit, but in its wake, Israel will have to deal with the Palestinian demand to become one political unit, shared by Israelis and Palestinians alike.

About Yacov Ben Efrat