Israel would sorely miss the PA should it be dismantled

Outlandish and amoral policies feature even more prominently in the new Israeli coalition than they did in the country’s previous governments.

It is the most extreme in Israel’s history by some distance. It may not do much that is new against Palestinians, but it will act as a dangerous accelerant to existing policies, such as settlement building, land confiscation, demolitions and expulsions.

In other words, violations and abuses against Palestinians are being ratcheted up to unprecedented levels, this time with a government spelling out in clear terms the racist basis of Jewish supremacy that motivates it.

Most of these policies one can expect, though never excuse, emanating from a government that believes as part of its DNA in a “Greater Israel,” with as limited a Palestinian presence as possible. Palestinians must be coerced into accepting the lesser status of temporary residents on exclusively Jewish land. For those on the extreme right, Arabs are just “guests,” and only for now.

Which Israeli minister does not wish to dominate and Judaize the entirety of the city of Jerusalem and indeed the center of Hebron?

Yet, the same cannot be said for those Israeli politicians who sign up to one of the more barmy proposals from the far right: The removal or disintegration of the Palestinian Authority. Is that really what they want?

Itamar Ben-Gvir, now Israel’s minister for national security, was clear during the election campaign.

He said of the Palestinians: “I’m against autonomy. I’ll dismantle the Palestinian Authority … They won’t vote in Israeli elections.”

And new Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich declared he had “no interest for it (the PA) to continue to exist.” He backed this up by imposing sanctions on the PA within days of assuming office.

This was to punish the PA for daring to push for the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion on the legality of the occupation.

Palestinians are not permitted to resort to the rule of law. These sanctions will hurt the PA’s finances, which are already threadbare, as it is unable to pay full salaries to its 140,000 employees.

One wonders if these Israeli leaders have any idea just how much the PA, which runs the day-to-day lives of almost 2.5 million Palestinians under its effective municipal control, has saved Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably does and he has always kept the PA going for Israel’s benefit. However, his coalition partners think differently.

The number of Israeli soldiers deployed in the West Bank is not that high. Imagine how many forces a foreign military occupying power would typically require to control millions of people under occupation, who object to your very presence on their land? Then add in the Israeli army’s requirement to keep more than 700,000 Israeli settlers safe.

An Israeli think tank estimated that about 80 percent of the Israeli soldiers in the West Bank are there on settlement guard duty. Even so, between half and two-thirds of Israel’s armed forces are deployed in the West Bank at any one time. In most situations of military occupation, the force deployment would have to be much higher. That would place a much greater human and financial cost on the Israeli public. The occupation would no longer be low-cost.

Israeli fatalities are also incredibly low, all things considered. It is one of the stunning successes, from an Israeli military and settler point of view, to maintain such an occupation, with such low levels of military deployment, and keep the fatality count so low. Over the last 15 years, 122 Israeli soldiers and 148 civilians have been killed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem — an average of just over 11 fatalities a year. In the same period, Israeli forces and settlers have killed about 6,000 Palestinians.

The PA and its forces maintain security within Palestinian cities such as Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron. Just consider how many additional Israeli soldiers would be required if Tel Aviv were to redeploy its forces inside these cities and towns on a medium-term basis. They would also have to patrol crowded refugee camps again. Many on the Israeli right would like Israeli forces to go back to the densely populated Gaza Strip too — a nightmare security operation.

Many Palestinians have also been arguing for this. Why should the PA act as Israel’s security arm in Palestinian cities? Palestinian security forces cannot protect them from the main threat to Palestinians — the Israeli army and settlers. The PA stands accused of arresting Palestinians on Israeli demand, even torturing them. This is one reason why the PA can increasingly no longer control the situation in the northern West Bank, in cities like Jenin and Nablus.

Donor states have promoted this security role for the PA. Rather than prioritize Palestinian development, health and education, they funnel most of their resources into building up and training PA security forces. The donors have enabled a process that has delegitimized the PA in front of many Palestinians.

In fairness to the PA, the original promise was always that, if it kept control and Israeli security was maintained, then there would be further Israeli redeployments from occupied territory. Israeli leaders never rewarded the PA when the security cooperation was effective. At times, the Palestinian president has threatened to withdraw security cooperation, but has so far never followed through with the threat.

The Israeli military and the Shin Bet have often openly praised the levels of security cooperation with the PA. So too have international leaders, even overtly anti-Palestine ones. In 2017, then-President Donald Trump stated: “I … applaud the Palestinian Authority’s continued security coordination with Israel. They get along unbelievably well. I had meetings, and at these meetings I was actually very impressed and somewhat surprised at how well they get along. They work together beautifully.”

All this points to the inherent conflict between the Palestine Liberation Organization as a liberation movement and the PA as an authority that is attempting to carry out state-building while under occupation and therefore not liberated.

Palestinians on the ground would mount what would become a major civil rights movement demanding equal rights for all.

Chris Doyle

Should Smotrich and Ben-Gvir get their way, the PA would be removed. All pretense at Palestinian state-building would vanish and the so-called national institutions in occupied territory would collapse. The PLO would revert to being a liberation movement and Palestinians on the ground would mount what would become a major civil rights movement demanding equal rights for all.

All this might happen even without the assistance of the Israeli far right. The PA looks weak. It is widely seen as corrupt, ineffective and devoid of a coherent strategy to end the 55-year-old Israeli occupation.

It could collapse of its own accord, maybe even in 2023. Israelis will soon discover just how much they have benefited from this much-disparaged security cooperation.

  • Chris Doyle

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