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Who needs the Palestinian Authority?

by Ghassan Khatib

Since its assumption of power, this Israeli government has made the Palestinian Authority (PA) its main political and security target. From the start, most Israeli violent activities against the Palestinian side have been directed at Palestinian Authority individuals or buildings. Equally, the PA has been the target of Israeli diplomatic, political and media offensives.

The Palestinian Authority, notably different from the Palestinian leadership, is an administrative bureaucratic body that was designed and agreed upon in the negotiations commenced in Oslo. It was officially born as part of these signed agreements. Its tenure was to be for five years, the same time period of the interim agreement that was to be followed by a final status arrangement negotiated and agreed upon by both sides during the interim period. As such, from a Palestinian perspective, the PA is overdue and connected in Palestinian public thinking with the Oslo agreement, which is becoming less and less popular.

The Palestinian Authority, however, is a political necessity for continuing the peace process and maintaining whatever positive developments were brought to the relationship between the two sides during, and as a result of, the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority is now shielding itself from vicious criticism and attack on the inside and externally. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been very vigorous and vocal in attempting to undermine the role, credibility, and even the existence of the Palestinian Authority. This appears to stem from ideological, dogmatic causes, rather than political and pragmatic ones. The Palestinian Authority and the areas of the occupied territories under Palestinian control are the particular products of the Oslo agreement that Sharon tried hard to prevent as leader of the Israeli opposition. The reason is that these two developments have the potential of developing towards an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian entity, and eventually, a state. These all run contradictory to Sharon's ideology, which considers these territories a part of Eretz Israel.

Internally, and as a result of the failure of the peace process that produced it, the Palestinian Authority is under fire from more than one direction in Palestinian society. Those who have been consistently against the PA and Oslo are using their political failure to suggest that the Palestinian Authority is no longer necessary and that the Palestinian people should either go back to previous bodies of political leadership, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, or come up with new political bodies, like a national unity government or emergency government or other such creation. All these proposals share the component that the concept of the Palestinian Authority be abandoned.

Others, in particular Intifada activists, feel that this Palestinian Authority is a burden and a source of weakness in the confrontational relationship with Israel. Even some of those who have been very loyal to the PA and benefited from it a great deal seem to be trying to jump from the sinking boat.

One cannot ignore the public's experience of the Palestinian Authority's poor performance and abysmal record, whether in human rights, institution building, enforcing law and order or tackling corruption. All of these have contributed very negatively to the public's willingness to continue to support or defend the PA right now, when both its friends and foes seem to be trying to get rid of it.

Ironically, the Arab states, the European states and the United States are those most enthusiastic about keeping the Palestinian Authority alive. This is why, for example, the Arab League has decided to financially rescue the Authority by extending all needed financial support. Recently, the European Union also seems to be agreeing to support the Palestinian Authority's deficit.

It appears, then, that the Palestinian Authority is relevant only in as much as there is a possibility of ending confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis and going back to trying to resuscitate this particular peace process, one restricted by the Oslo agreements. Certainly from the point of view of those Palestinians and Israelis who have no interest in any peace process, or faith in this peace process in particular, the PA has little relevance today.-Published 19/11/01 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.


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