“Unilateral actions will be met with unilateral actions,” warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed Palestine onto 15 of 63 international agreements.
On Wednesday, after blocking cellular carrier Wataniya, run by Mahmoud Abbas’ son, from spreading its network to the Gaza Strip, the prime minister ordered senior government officials not to hold meetings with their Palestinian counterparts.
Next, the prime minister is expected to flex his muscles by revoking the VIP credentials of senior PA officials and leading businessmen, who foster cooperation with Israeli businesses. Checkpoints may also return to roads that have been without them for years, and of course, Israel can continue to tighten the financial noose by withholding the roughly $100 million per month it collects in taxes for the Palestinian Authority. The new sanctions have yet to affect the Defense Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service or Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who holds in her hands the life support tube for the negotiations, blocked as it is.
This is not the first time Netanyahu has amused himself by leveling sanctions against the PA. Even though this time, the sanctions could blow up in his face, many voices in the PA are calling for Abbas to dismantle the Palestinian Authority. Some of Abbas’ associates are even talking about the possibility that he could call elections in the West Bank and Gaza and not present himself as a candidate. Though he has threatened to resign in the past, this time, due to the arguments raging within Fatah and the failure of the negotiations, Abbas no longer has an attainable goal to keep him in office.
A last act?
Alternatively, Abbas could push for reconciliation with Hamas, the leaders of which have recently expressed public support for Abbas’ “steadfastness” in facing Israel. Abbas knows that reconciliation with Hamas would prove the claim that there is no partner on the Palestinian side, but seeing as the negotiations have stopped anyway, uniting Palestine under a single leadership within the Palestine Liberation Organization could be his only achievement in office, after Hamas snatched Gaza out of his hands.
Reconciliation seems like a far-off possibility at the moment, but there is no overlooking the fact that Hamas, especially its foreign leadership, is looking for a new home and suffering from serious financial difficulties, which could easily force it to make political concessions, though not diplomatic or ideological ones.
Reconciling with Hamas and bringing it into the PLO fold is not necessarily an alternative to dismantling the PA. In either case, the onus of managing the territories will fall to Israel. Israel will be forced to take care of healthcare, education, infrastructure and other essential services that the PA currently provide and funds. The sanctions leveled by Netanyahu will become meaningless if Israeli ministries will have to scramble to find Palestinian partners to help run the territories.
Needless to say, the donations to the PA from the European Union, the United States and other Arab states will not be transferred to Israel to help it govern the territories, as it did prior to the Oslo Accords. Abbas, who went to Cairo Wednesday to talk with Arab League foreign ministers, asked them for diplomatic support and a financial commitment of $100 million per month to allay the damage that the Israeli sanctions are likely to cause.
How to make a bad situation worse
Such a decision has yet to be made, but the fact that the request was made shows that Abbas is not particularly excited about dismantling the PA, as doing so would ruin efforts to gain international recognition of the state of Palestine and to join international treaties, primarily the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which Abbas sees as the ultimate weapon against Israel.
Israel’s new sanctions against the PA, along with Kerry’s blaming Israel for the deterioration of the talks, actually play right into Abbas’ hands in the international arena. Abbas apparently wants to play things out until the end of the month, assuming that by then, the negotiations will be dead and buried.
The Israeli sanctions, and those yet to come, meant to show that Israel’s words are not empty, are nothing more than shots fired from the hip, out of anger and arrogance. All they do is endanger Israel’s relations with the PA, the U.S. and Europe.
The actual goal of the sanctions is unclear. If Netanyahu pressures Abbas to retract Palestine’s signatures from the UN treaties, he is likely to see Abbas sign the Rome Statute as well. If Netanyahu is trying to prove how strong Israel is, the sanctions actually show Israel’s weakness, as the Palestinians have already shown they are not scared of a more brutal occupation.
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