Last Friday saw a spate of rumors that Mahmoud Abbas had suffered a stroke or other serious health crisis. On Tuesday it was announced that he would make a “major speech” Wednesday. There was speculation that he would say that he plans to step down, which would immediately set off a possibly violent struggle to be his successor. He finally made the speech, and said nothing interesting.
There are warnings of serious instability in the PA. What about the possibility, raised by PM Netanyahu on Monday, that the Palestinian Authority might “collapse?” What should Israel do if Abbas were really to die or become incapacitated?
Netanyahu and IDF officials seem to think a PA collapse would be bad for Israel. Suddenly, Israel would be responsible for seeing to it that Arabs living in Areas A and B – populous urban areas in Judea and Samaria – continue to receive services like health care and garbage collection, that they don’t engage in riot and insurrection, and that Hamas or even the Islamic State don’t take over. The US and the EU together fund most of the PA budget. Would they be prepared to continue to do so if Israel were running it? The PA’s massive ‘security’ establishment would have to be disarmed or somehow controlled. If the PA falls, there will be an immediate struggle for power between the various factions.
Netanyahu understands that there will be no two-state solution because a sovereign Arab state in Judea and Samaria would render Israel impossible to defend. He also understands that raising the percentage of Arab citizens of Israel by simply annexing the territories would be destabilizing for an Israel that already has a population that is 21% Arab. And he is not prepared to annex the territories and encourage (coercively or not) most of the Arabs to leave, in some ways the best solution of all.
It appears that they are taking another approach: to somehow turn the PA into a good neighbor. What’s needed is something less than a sovereign state which could maintain an army or invite neighboring armies into it. The ideal PA would be as Rabin envisaged it in his last Knesset speech, an entity that could police its citizens, manage its economy and build infrastructure, without being a threat to the Jewish state. Thus we would try to keep the PA alive and encourage it to evolve into such an autonomous entity.
For this reason, Israel’s moderate leaders support the PA and advise Western allies to continue to fund it, despite the fact that huge amounts of money are stolen or diverted to terrorism against Israel, and despite the PA’s refusal to stop the vicious incitement that has led directly to the present situation in which Israeli Jews (and some Arabs) are stabbed, shot and run over in the streets.
This strategy cannot work as long as the PA is the PLO. The PA as it is constituted will never be the good neighbor Bibi would like to have. Its ideology has not changed significantly since it was formed in 1964, and that ideology calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and its replacement by an Arab state. Despite pressure from the US and Israel and repeated promises, the offensive parts of the PLO charter were never removed. The comprehensive system of education for hate and violence established by Arafat, which the PLO also promised to change, has remained. And the incitement in PA media, schools, mosques, and more continues as well.
Abbas, while he is careful not to explicitly call for violence, nevertheless doesn’t hide his (and the PLO’s) intention to reverse the nakba of 1948. There is no room in PLO ideology for a Jewish state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
The PLO-constituted PA is a hostile entity which, if it is too weak to confront Israel militarily, will nevertheless do so via diplomatic maneuvers, lawfare, plausibly deniable terrorism and subversion. It is not evolving in the direction of becoming a peaceful neighbor; rather, with the help of the EU it is trying to become a confrontation state. Indeed, it’s probably correct that the EU wants to prop up the PA for the opposite reason from that of Netanyahu: they want to use it as a weapon against Israel.
But time may be running out. The popular insurrection that was started by PA incitement has taken on a life of its own and may not be controllable by the PA. Israel cannot be expected to sit still while its citizens are murdered. The financial problems caused by the theft of funds intended for development and infrastructure are becoming acute, and the struggling West may not be able to continue to pump Euros and dollars into the failing enterprise. Finally, Mahmoud Abbas is 81, and even if he turns out to be in good health, the pretenders to his throne won’t wait much longer. The PA’s crisis is imminent.
What should Israel do?
I think the policy of propping up a PLO-based PA and waiting for the moderation beam from the planet Venus to come along and make an ally out of it has proven to be a failure, just like its father, the Oslo accords. But I also understand why Israel would prefer not to take over full control of all the territories in the near future, particularly because it would then have to replace much of the millions presently paid by the US and EU to support the welfare-based ‘Palestinian economy’.
I would like to see Israel present the PA with an ultimatum:
“The PLO is a terrorist organization whose reason for being is to destroy our state.”
“We are not interested in governing or controlling the lives of Palestinians. Hence we support the existence of a Palestinian Authority. But we do not support its control by the PLO, or any group that does not accept the legitimacy of the state of Israel. This is our bottom line.”
“Therefore we will support the continuation of the Palestinian Authority on the condition that the President of the PA and other top officials be replaced by non-members of terrorist organizations. We demand an end to incitement and support for terrorism and terrorists. We demand that the PA ‘security’ forces give allegiance to the new non-terrorist leadership of the PA. In return, we will commit to supporting such a PA administration militarily, as well as transferring customs funds as usual.”
“If the PA does not reconfigure itself according to our demand, we will consider it a hostile entity. We will not cooperate with it in any way, will not participate in funding it, and will intervene militarily when necessary. This might include arresting PA officials, disarming PA security forces or even engaging them in combat.”
Naturally the PA/PLO will reject the ultimatum, which will probably lead to violent clashes. But if the PLO leadership is arrested or exiled, perhaps cooler heads will choose cooperation over chaos. Israel’s official position toward the international community should be that it favors self-government for the Palestinian Arabs, but does not accept their leadership by a terrorist group like the PLO.
The greatest single mistake made by any Israeli government since 1948 was signing the Oslo Accords, and by far the most damaging part of Oslo was to accept the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian Arabs and to permit it to establish the PA. The PLO is no less a terrorist organization than Hamas, and should not be granted legitimacy.
It’s rare that one gets the opportunity to unmake a historic mistake. Perhaps the collapse of the PA will be such an opportunity.