Is the Palestinian Authority on the verge of collapse?

  • Murat Sofuoglu
  • 6 Feb 2020

The ‘deal of the century’ presents an existential crisis for the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he delivers a speech following the announcement by the US President Donald Trump of the Mideast peace plan, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, January 28, 2020. ( Reuters )

US President Donald Trump's widely rejected Middle East Peace Plan exposed the weaknesses of the Palestinian Authority (PA), an organisation reduced to being Israel's security partner in the occupied territories. 

While the PA President Mahmoud Abbas called for mass protests against the deal in the occupied territories, he has been unable to mobilise Palestinians. 

"The 'deal of the century' has unmasked the PA's duplicity and the toll it has taken on Palestinian mass mobilisation," wrote Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian-American writer based in Ramallah.

Barghouti and others argue that the PA has lost its relevance, particularly after Trump's deal, but it can survive as long as Israel and its allies keep it alive to advance their interests. 

"I don't think its collapse is in the interest of Israel and the US and therefore, they will make sure it doesn't collapse, but at the same time, it doesn't have the power to resist their colonialist deal," said Abir Kopty, a Palestinian writer and academic. 

According to Kopty, the PA was created within the framework of the Oslo Accords, signed in the 1990s between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel, to serve "Israel's interest".  

"The PA has been repressing any dissent, not only against its policies but also against Israel," Kopty told TRT World

"The US, Israel and European countries want the PA to continue because for their position it serves their agenda: namely being the policeman of the occupation," says Antony Loewenstein, an independent, Jerusalem-based journalist and author.  

"This happens 20 years or so after Oslo. The PA has been willing to be Israel's policeman across the West Bank, suppressing opposition. It runs a police state. That's the reality of what the PA is. There have been no elections for many years," Loewenstein concludes. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrives for an emergency meeting with the Arab League's foreign ministers after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his Middle East peace plan, in Cairo, Egypt, February 1, 2020.(Reuters)

Since the death of Yasser Arafat, one of the founders of the PLO and its lifelong leader, the PA has been led by the now 85-year-old Mahmoud Abbas. The US and Israeli leadership consider Abbas a more suitable negotiator for peace than Arafat, who died in suspicious circumstances in 2004, followed a year later by the end of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising.  

Abbas has been heavily criticised for institutionalising and facilitating the Israeli occupation and pacifying a Palestinian resistance which previously launched two powerful intifadas.

Under Abbas’s leadership, the Palestinian resistance became polarised and all but disappeared. Hamas has emerged as a powerful alternative to the PLO since the 2000s, and a weakening Abbas leadership could tip Hamas’s rise across Palestine. 

“Abbas has no prospect for the future, and therefore, he keeps sending hollow messages that [show he] has no strategic policy or plan behind them. He reached a dead end with his ‘negotiation’ strategy, and from there he has nowhere to go,” Kopty said.  

US President George W. Bush stands with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Annapolis, the US, November 27, 2007, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO).(Reuters Archive)

“If you have a strategic shift in the Arab world towards more popular movements and more let’s say religious movements, then Hamas will take a leading role in leading the Palestinian people,” says Sami al Arian, a Palestinian-American professor, who is the director of the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (GIGA) at Sabahattin Zaim University in Istanbul. 

Hamas is originally the Palestinian faction of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), a religiously-minded political movement, but in 2017 they claimed to drop their association with the MB. Fatah, a nationalist secularist movement, mainly led the PLO. 

Now threatened by the ‘deal of the century’ — which does not offer much to the Palestinians except financial aid in exchange for conceding Palestinian land and rights to the Israeli occupation — Abbas is cornered.  

“He calls people to protest in the streets, but it’s his rule that has led Palestinians to divisions, frustration and hopelessness. He calls people to protest, but he made Palestinians lose the will to sacrifice for him to stay in power and claim their sacrifices,” Kopty said. 

Other Palestinians agree with her. 

“The spirit of the Palestinian street is alive, but it can no longer be conjured by duplicitous political forces. It will only come out in defence of the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people,” Barghouti wrote.  

While Abbas and his leadership do not inspire Palestinians, they have made quite an impression on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and other Gulf countries, who are all implicitly (some more openly now) aligning with Israel. 

They all advise that the PA sit down with the Israelis to negotiate Trump’s deal. 

Arian told TRT World that if counterrevolutionary forces like the Emiratis, Saudis, Bahrainis and Egyptians have the upper hand across the Middle East, then, these forces could prolong the PLO’s lifespan. 

“So part of the internal scene in the Palestinian territories is pretty much tied to the strategic situation throughout the region,” Arian concluded.