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The Palestinian Authority: Unsettling status quo scenarios (Part II)

Oct. 7, 2016 11:30 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 7, 2016 3:20 P.M.)
(MaanImages/Charlie Hoyle, File)
By: Al-Shabaka

Al-Shabaka is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.

Is one state the only alternative to an unrealized two-state solution? Al-Shabaka Policy Member Asem Khalil discusses the minimal changes in governance the PA has made post-Oslo and forecasts a “status quo ,” an institutionalized system of apartheid and a no-state solution. He also foresees three states – but argues none of this would be sustainable over time. The first part of this brief was published on Thursday.

Likely Scenarios for the PA’s Future: More (and More) of the Same

The PA has not been governing the Gaza Strip since 2007. One can argue that it also has not been governing the West Bank. The PA remains simply to maintain the security apparatus and civil administration, and it will remain as long as it can preserve its codependent relationship with the international donor community and with Israel’s security apparatus.

The PA’s tenure will probably continue for the short and medium term, due to the likely perpetuation of the status quo, which is in part dependent on the continued fragmentation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This separation is not contingent on the divide between Fatah and Hamas, as it is older than the 2007 coup. It can be traced back to the West Bank and Gaza Strip that in 1948 fell under Jordanian and Egyptian control, respectively. Israel’s policy in the OPT since 1967 has intensified this fragmentation, which will presumably continue even if reconciliation occurs due to deep-rooted social, economic, and political differences.

Hamas in the Gaza Strip rather than Fatah in the West Bank may be a less sustainable entity. Egypt’s 2013 regime change brought a president who is more sympathetic to the PA and is focused on cracking down on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist movements more generally. This change in circumstances indirectly benefits the PA and will in all probability help it to continue to survive. In contrast, the change may help bring about the demise of Hamas.

But even with Hamas remaining in power -- and without an official agreement between Hamas and Israel -- it is more likely that a temporary “solution” for the Gaza Strip could be reached. This kind of solution would not be far away from the logic that was used to justify Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. It would probably see only limited (though possible) movement of goods and people to and from Gaza via secured borders with Israel. Such an agreement could only be accomplished with the support and guarantee of the Egyptian government and army, as Israel has no control over the Rafah crossing -- the only official passage from Gaza to Egypt. This is one element of what would constitute a situation of “status quo plus” -- hereafter StatusQuo .

The StatusQuo is the term I am using for a state of Palestine that is a non-sovereign entity and completely dependent on the international donor community and Israel. This means that current Israeli policies that aim to increase the areas under its control, and the creation of a dual system in the West Bank -- one for settlers and Israeli citizens, and the other for the local population -- would intensify with time. The PA would stay in charge of the local Palestinian population, without any authority vis-a-vis the Israelis. Its coordination with Israel would be necessary to continue to keep the local population under control. Such a system has all the necessary prerequisites to institutionalize apartheid.

The PA would only serve as an intermediary to the Palestinian population under this apartheid regime. It would not take the form of a centralized national authority, but would consist of a group of political and economic elites as well as the security apparatus and civil administration, which could be termed the “Palestinian Bureaucracy.” This group would become more complicit with time in regard to the structure of West Bank apartheid.

These political and economic elites would profit from ongoing privileges of the occupation authority. Israel would continue to build new settlements, and the Separation Wall, which divides East Jerusalem from the rest of the OPT and de facto annexes parts of the Palestinian territories beyond the Green Line, would even further fragment the populated areas of the West Bank in order to incorporate most of Israel’s settlements and the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian Bureaucracy, through profits from the newly admitted “State of Palestine,” would in time likely be separated from the PLO (or from the agency purporting to represent the Palestinian population of the Diaspora).

StatusQuo would mean that the West Bank PA must look for sources for the extension of its “sovereignty” outside of territorial continuity or the unified control of the population. The United Nations General Assembly’s formal recognition of Palestine as a non-member state in 2012, as well as the ratification of international treaties, would serve to help accelerate the process of looking for post-statehood scenarios, even before real statehood is achieved.

The PA would need to increase cooperation with Jordanian authorities for this reason. Its aim to increase ties with Jordan would likely include past plans, including the confederation option before real statehood is achieved. Yet Jordan would presumably work to avoid an increase in its Palestinian population. This situation could be a satisfactory one for both Israel and Jordan. Israel would continue to control most of the West Bank without real resistance and with borders secured, while Jordan would block any transfer of population and could start (or intensify) a denationalization process for some of its own citizens of Palestinian origin, due to the establishment of a Palestinian state -- however nominal.

This StatusQuo system would be unsustainable with the passing of time because it would not satisfy the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Many rightly believe that this future reality would lead to the demise of the two-state solution. However, contrary to conventional knowledge, the alternative would not be the one-state solution, but rather the no-state solution. Such a “solution” would mean maintaining and intensifying self-government authorities for the local Palestinian population -- but in domains proscribed by Israeli authorities. This would apply for the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip, although separately. It could even apply separately to different West Bank regions.

In the medium term, this no-state solution could lead to an (at least) three-state solution. Besides Israel, which would maintain territory obtained in 1948, plus the expanded route of the Separation Wall, Palestinians would establish a mini-state in the Gaza Strip. This state would be demilitarized and under the protection and support of the Egyptian government. The third state would be established in the West Bank, minus East Jerusalem. This state would have the appearance of an ethnically federal structure: an area for settler Jews, and another for the local Palestinian population -- but in reality it would be an apartheid regime that with time would become a binational state. With more time it could be incorporated into Israel proper, or perhaps take its own route and simply become a more and more Jewish state.

In case this binational/apartheid “state” remains separate from Israel, it would not be recognized by states other than Israel. Israel would maintain a relationship with that state that is, mutatis mutandis, similar to the way Turkey maintains ties to Turkish Cyprus. The (settler) “State of the West Bank” -- or, perhaps, “The State of Judea and Samaria” -- would serve Israel by keeping its borders secured. The very existence of a Palestinian population in that state would also help Israel to increase and ameliorate ties with regional Arab countries, aiding Israel’s integration in the Middle East. Further, the state might even help Israel to denationalize its own Palestinian citizens. Though these individuals would remain within the state of Israel proper to avoid a reaction from the international community, which would not look kindly on a forcible transfer of population, they would become citizens of this new binational state. Denationalization in this sense would consist of a legal and political process through which Palestinians would be excluded from the Israeli body politic -- albeit short of physical displacement.

The Failure of the Two-State Solution and Revolutionary Possibilities

There is no doubt that the two-state solution has failed. There are many reasons for this failure. For one, the separation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the OPT has become increasingly irreversible as a result of Israel’s withdrawal in 2005 and the Hamas coup in 2007. The PA’s dependency on Israel as the occupation authority is undeniable, and it has not been affected by the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution that recognized Palestine as a non-member state. The West Bank has been further fragmented by the construction of byroads for settlers, the building of new settlements and the growth of existing ones, and the erection of the Separation Wall. All of these sobering developments have rendered a two-state solution impossible.

The one-state solution is not necessarily the only available alternative. The current status quo is indeed a strong candidate for longevity, although with some changes that would lead to a StatusQuo system. This may further lead in the medium term to the no-state solution for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which could progress to a three-state solution: one Palestinian, another Jewish, and another formally binational or ethnically federal, but in reality a substantially updated apartheid regime with the elites of the Palestinian Bureaucracy serving as interlocutors with the local population.

The first two scenarios would likely lead to “stability” in the short and medium term, and the third scenario would result in further fragmentation of the Palestinian body politic. Yet the stability that these potential scenarios would bring is not real. It would only be the result of the domestication and containment of the local population, and of the management of regional and international pressures. Such arrangements are unsustainable in the long term as they are based on an illegitimate body using force to control an unconsenting population. As history has shown, this kind of regime may stay in place for a period of time, but it cannot last indefinitely.

Indeed, with time, and in the case of a more amenable regional and international atmosphere, a fourth scenario -- revolutionary in nature -- may become the alternative to the current status quo, StatusQuo , and three-state solution. This revolutionary option is by definition unpredictable. Yet if -- or when -- it happens, no one will be able to explain how the other options remained in place for so long.

Originally published in full on Al-Shabaka's website on Oct. 5, 2016.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
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