Could we soon begin to see the end of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a coherent Palestinian national movement? There is much evidence that appears to point in that direction.
To begin with, it is apparent that there is a deep contradiction in the stance of Fatah and the PA. As Avi Issacharoff notes, they feel a need to glorify terrorists such as Dalal Mughrabi, who was one of the perpetrators of a massacre in 1978 that killed 37 Israelis.
At the same time, the security forces maintained by the Fatah-led PA continue their successful and close working relationship with the IDF, begun in the summer of 2007, to prevent the same sort of militant operations that have been idealized in Palestinian media and culture in the West Bank as much as in Gaza.
In a similar vein, the Fatah and PA leadership promises the population an inalienable “right of return” to Israel proper, but disclosures like the “Palestine Papers” show that in private discussions with Israeli government officials, Palestinian negotiators have declared willingness to compromise on these issues.
For how long can these essentially absurd positions be maintained? Issacharoff further points out: “Quite a lot of Israeli security officials are warning that without a political horizon, the Palestinian security forces would eventually collapse.”
This scenario — together with the demise of Fatah and the PA — is hardly implausible when one considers other pressures weighing down on the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.
As Salam Fayyad indicated to Donald Macintyre in a recent interview for the Independent, one of the consequences of the wider regional unrest has been the increasing marginalization of the Palestinian cause, such that the Palestinian leadership is traveling on a “path of growing untenability.”
Indeed, the PA Prime Minister made his anxieties clear, declaring that “when you cease to become a source of credible and convincing answers to your people… that is really a danger zone. I don’t have to speculate whether we will have an intifada today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow…because sooner or later you [will] become completely politically untenable.”
The talk of an “intifada” here is not one of an armed struggle against Israel, but against the PA itself. In fact, National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported on a minor protest at the Kalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the West Bank, but the target of the demonstrators’ anger was PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
As an anonymous protester who attended the rally put it, “I think there will be an intifada, or uprising, not against the Israelis, but against Abbas and the corrupt people around him.”
Commentators like Michael Weiss have hailed the state-building program spearheaded by Fayyad, and have drawn attention to the economic benefits experienced in Ramallah, which currently hosts a growing communications technology industry that now accounts for more than 5% of the Palestinian economy.
A more sobering picture is offered by the Palestinian academic Bashir Rayes, who told NPR that unemployment in the West Bank currently stands at 24 or 25 percent. Meanwhile, the PA is currently facing a financial crisis since it is unable to pay in full government employee salaries that amount to $200 million on a monthly basis.
Coming back to the interview conducted by Macintyre, it should be noted that the financial crisis is referred to as a “function of a distracted international community.”
This highlights a central problem with the PA’s economy: namely, a massive dependence on foreign aid. It is therefore no surprise that Rayes also pointed out to NPR that the PA lacks a real economic plan to stimulate growth and is simply creating government jobs it cannot afford.
Yes, as a World Bank report notes, Israeli restrictions do hinder Palestinian private sector growth significantly, but it is clear that there has been a good degree of mismanagement on the part of the Palestinian leadership, and a growing number of Palestinians in the West Bank are becoming aware of this fact.
A Palestinian uprising directed at Fatah and the PA in the West Bank — rather than Israel — is a significant possibility in the near future. Since such a development could lead to the collapse of the Palestinian security forces, a “third intifada” poses a security risk to Israel, even if Israelis are not the primary targets of protestors’ grievances.
At the minimum, one could expect the fragmentation of Fatah and the PA, with the emergence of factions that are more overtly rejectionist and hostile to Israel.
Since, as Jonathan Spyer notes, the “Arab Spring” is effectively leading to the demise of Arab nationalist regimes, and Fatah represents an Arab nationalist outlook, the new factions could well take on a more pan-Islamist flavor, hoping to secure the support of the likes of Qatar, which has been undeniably pursuing a pro-Sunni Islamist agenda, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which has been cementing ties with Hamas in Gaza, with the result that restrictions on the border crossing at Rafah have been eased.
Indeed, according to one Hamas official, Gaza could soon become connected to Egypt’s electricity grid and natural gas pipeline. This illustrates an ever-growing divide between the West Bank and Gaza in contrast to the agreement on paper for a unity government between Hamas and Fatah. While Hamas has consolidated its power in Gaza, Fatah and the PA find themselves on increasingly shaky foundations. In short, the traditional Palestinian national movement looks set to become moribund.