Middle East Eye / February 23, 2023
Renewed US confidence in the PA as the main force to subdue resisting Palestinians is not based on its substandard performance, but rather on the lack of available options.
Much excitement surrounded a recent UN Security Council vote on a draft resolution introduced by the United Arab Emirates, with the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), against Israel’s ongoing Jewish settler-colonial plans in the occupied Palestinian territories.
On Monday, however, the UAE, the Arab League’s representative on the UN Security Council, and the PA withdrew the resolution under US orders issued by the Biden administration.
The US had urged Security Council members not to bring the resolution to a vote, and proposed instead that they adopt a symbolic joint statement “which Washington could get behind”.
The resolution would have condemned last week’s Israeli cabinet decision to legalize nine Jewish settlements in the West Bank and build 10,000 new Jewish settlement homes in East Jerusalem.
Two days before the expected vote, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken personally called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and ordered him to withdraw the resolution.
The PA duly obeyed the orders. The UAE, with PA backing, substituted for the resolution a non-binding presidential statement, as per US orders.
A desperate attempt
This is the most recent PA manoeuvre to avoid its much-predicted demise by Israeli and Arab observers.
Indeed, all PA public relations protestations against the Netanyahu government notwithstanding, PA officials, following orders from their handlers in the White House, had pleaded with Netanyahu before he even assumed office, to open a secret backchannel of talks and offered more of their services to the Israelis, in the hope of ensuring PA survival.
Netanyahu, who spurned the PA for almost a decade, suspending the so-called “peace process”, readily accepted the offer under US pressure.
It was Palestinian Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh who passed the message to Netanyahu’s office through the Biden administration, a message which was sent a second time after Netanyahu’s government was sworn in.
Sheikh, who also serves as the secretary general of the PLO executive committee, is “the point person for Palestinian relations with the US and Israel”.
Netanyahu appointed National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi to conduct the secret talks.
It was during these talks, held in person and over the phone, that Hanegby and Sheikh reached the agreement that led to the PA and the UAE withdrawing the Security Council resolution.
The Israelis demanded that the PA stop legal procedures at the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
For their part, “the Palestinians asked Israel to stop unilateral steps like incursions into the Palestinian cities”, Hangeby told the Conference of Presidents of the Jewish Organizations in North America.
He added that he told the Palestinians that Israel does not “want to send the Israeli military to the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus but does it because Palestinian Authority security forces ‘don’t do it themselves'”.
Israel generously offered to provide “help” to PA forces to quash the resistance in West Bank cities.
The most recent Israeli massacre of 11 Palestinians in Nablus, which also injured at least 102 people, indicates that despite Israeli help, PA forces have proven incapable of repressing the rising tide of Palestinian resistance themselves.
Secretary Blinken, who visited Abbas a few weeks ago, ordered him to implement “a US security plan aimed at re-establishing Palestinian Authority control over the cities of Jenin and Nablus, which have become centres of unrest”.
The security plan was drafted by US Security Coordinator Lt. Gen. Michael Fenzel.
The plan “includes the training of a special Palestinian force that would be deployed to this area to counter” Palestinian resistance. Fenzel has served as the US security coordinator of the Israel-Palestinian Authority since November 2021.
Fenzel is hardly a minor figure and is quite experienced in strategies to put down resistance by Arabs and Muslims to US military occupation.
He has previously served in the Gulf War of 1990-91, in the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, as well as the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
He was brigadier general in the US Army and served as senior military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the founder of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs (CENSA).
Fenzel is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former director on the National Security Council staff in the White House.
He served as the senior military advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation in the United States Department of State and is the author of a book on Soviet military strategy in Afghanistan.
Before Blinken’s visit, and on US orders issued to them, the Egyptian and Jordanian chiefs of intelligence also visited Abbas to pressure the PA to increase its repression of Palestinian resistance.
According to recently reported leaks, the US is subcontracting the training of 12,000 PA security forces on how to better quash Palestinian resistance to its Egyptian and Jordanian allies.
This is not the first time the two countries have been subcontracted for the task.
They have been involved in training PA security officers for the past two decades, especially during the preparation for the PA coup against the Hamas-elected government in 2006-2007.
Lack of options
During his visit, Blinken also ordered Abbas to resume security coordination with the Israelis.
Abbas, who claimed to have stopped PA security “coordination” with Israel last month, after the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Jenin, has assured visiting CIA Director William Burns that “parts” of the coordination, including “intelligence sharing”, continue unhampered by ongoing Israeli massacres.
In fact, Abbas assured Burns that: “PA security forces will continue arresting terror suspects and that the security coordination would be fully reinstated once calm is restored.”
The PA’s concern continues to be motivated by the US and Israeli view that it is increasingly irrelevant, especially because of its inability to eliminate Palestinian resistance to Israel’s military occupation – the very raison d’être for which it was created – and it has not been as effective as the either state had hoped.
A former Israeli general in military intelligence has recently warned of the impending collapse of the PA.
That most of the right-wing members of the Netanyahu coalition government have also repeatedly called for the dissolution of the PA has not been comforting news.
Interestingly, it seems that Netanyahu did not inform his coalition partners of the recent secret talks, lest they oppose them.
This renewed US confidence, and that of Israel’s Arab allies, in the PA’s role as the main force to be tasked with the repression of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation is not based on the PA’s substandard performance, but rather on the lack of available options for the US to maintain the status quo.
The US, like Israel and its Arab allies, has been invested with maintaining the status quo for at least the last decade and is concerned that the new Israeli government might effect change, which would constitute an uncalculated risk for the future survival of Israel and its military occupation.
As the PA was created in 1993 to ensure Israel’s continued survival as a Jewish settler colony and permanent occupier of the land of the Palestinians under different guises, the US and its allies are at a loss as to where to turn.
This dearth of options is what has revived interest in the role of the failing PA.
The renewed US trust in the PA’s abilities to subdue the resisting Palestinians, however, is arguably misplaced.
The rising tide of Palestinian resistance across the West Bank, and the steady readiness of the Gaza-based resistance, not to mention that of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, promise to disappoint US expectations and those of its Arab allies.
Despite their willingness to use the PA and negotiate with it, the Israelis seem to be the only party that appreciates the strength of the resistance and the danger it poses, and they continue to act and plan their military strategies accordingly.
Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, New York