Time to disband the Palestinian Authority

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a session of the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah (AFP)

Asa Winstanley

Middle East Monitor  /  June 27, 2020

Since 1993, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has policed Palestinians in the West Bank and, until 2007, the Gaza Strip. Under Israel’s apartheid regime, the PA has no authority to police the Israeli settlers who illegally occupy the West Bank – quite the opposite.

In fact, the PA protects them.

Many people, even in the Palestine solidarity movement, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the PA.

The PA, veritably, has no real authority – it is fundamentally misnamed. Israeli occupation forces have full veto power over everything it does. Neither does it truly belong to the Palestinians, or act in the interests of their liberation.

The PA is in truth a subcontractor for Israeli occupation, and it always has been. There is nothing else it can ever be.

It is structurally intended to serve the interests of Israel, and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It has been unstintingly loyal in serving this role for the best part of 30 years.

Hamas, Palestine’s Islamic liberation movement, briefly attempted to change the PA from within, by winning free and fair elections in 2006. This effort was soon aborted by a coup. The Central Intelligence Agency, Israel, Jordan and other powers all acted together to remove Hamas, successfully confining them to Gaza.

The entire central function of the PA since its establishment, has been to repress Palestinians in the assistance of the Israeli occupation. In this manner, the PA performs a useful colonial service to Israel.

The PA is a native subcontractor for Israeli occupation.

The central, and often unacknowledged, reality of the PA’s armed forces is what is euphemistically termed “security coordination” – collaboration with Israel.

Under this arrangement, PA armed forces arrest Palestinian resistance fighters and prevent the Palestinian population from demonstrating against Israeli occupation, crushing free speech and other forms of dissent against Israel and its PA subcontractor.

Expired PA “President” Mahmoud Abbas years ago infamously declared that this policy of collaboration was “sacred” to him. Nothing could have been a clearer signal: that is the PA’s only real role.

The PA is also riddled with corruption, brutality and petty oppression.

A particularly stunning example of this came earlier this month. PA forces arrested Palestinian journalist Sami Al-Sai over a Facebook post.

What was his crime? Perhaps he called for the armed overthrow of the PA? Maybe he encouraged demonstrations against them? Did he perhaps expose PA corruption? No – he posted an entirely apolitical video showing Palestinians selling watermelons.

But according to Human Rights Watch, a Palestinian community Facebook page local to Tulkarm – the West Bank city where the video was shot – also posted the same video. On that same Facebook page, local residents had posted complaints about alleged corruption and other scandals in the city, some critical of PA officials.

Al-Sai remains in detention as of Thursday, according to Human Rights Watch.

The whole affair looks like a transparent pretext to arrest a journalist and stop him from doing his job. Al-Sai has been repeatedly detained and harassed by both the PA and Israeli occupation forces over the years.

The PA has a long record of jailing and harassing Palestinian journalists whose reporting it doesn’t like.

In 2012, I reported on several Palestinian journalists in the West Bank who had been jailed and interrogated by the PA, simply for doing their jobs.

Yousef Al-Shayab had reported on an alleged scandal involving attempted PA control of Palestinian student groups in France. Tariq Khamis was similarly arrested following a piece he wrote about a group of young Palestinians who had called for the end of negotiations with Israel.

“If the PA had trust in themselves, they would let journalists get on with their work,” Khamis told me. “But because of their mistakes and corruption, they fear the work of journalists.”

Over and above protecting their own petty fiefdoms, the primary function of the PA is to protect Israel.

It is set up that way structurally. It is written into the Oslo Accords and the series of resulting agreements that followed.

Leading Palestinian intellectuals like Joseph Massad, and the late lamented Edward Said, recognised this right away. Said memorably called Oslo: “An instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles.” Controversial at the time, Said’s view was objectively correct, and has stood the test of time.

As Massad explains: “The PA promised to end anti-colonial resistance and international solidarity with the Palestinian people as part of its capitulation to Israeli settler-colonialism, in return for an increase not a decrease in Israeli colonisation, coupled with business privileges for the PA functionaries and Palestinian businessmen who claim that their profits are a kind of ‘victory’ over the Israelis, rather than the price for surrendering the rights of their people.”

The PA cannot be “reformed” because its subservience to Israel is not a result of its corruption, rather the other way around. It was designed to service Israel from the start, and has carried out this function well.

It is time for the PA to be disbanded.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East