Will the PA Be Forced to Dissolve? The Dangers of Palestinian Recession

The PA cannot guarantee its residents a fair economic subsistence, even under the occupation, due to Israel's prohibitive policies, which in eight years have cost the authority tens of billions of shekels.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Flooding in Hebron, during last week's storms. Such distress, as well as power outages, compounds the PA's economic stagnation.
Flooding in Hebron, during last week's storms. Such distress, as well as power outages, compounds the PA's economic stagnation.Credit: Reuters
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Between the U.S. court decision against the PLO and the cut off of electrical power to the northern West Bank – the warped logic of the continuing existence of the Palestinian Authority, an entity that should have been temporary but became permanent, reached new heights on Monday.

From the day of its founding two decades ago, the PA had responsibilities and duties, but was deprived of authority and resources. The Oslo Accords between an organization (the PLO) and a state (Israel) created this asymmetric reality: In it, the occupied bears legal and financial responsibility toward the occupier and its citizens, and it is punished if it rises up against the foreign ruler. The occupier is free to keep ruling and to harm the occupied.

Monday was a day of bad economic news for Palestinian society. In the background lies an acute recession, added to five years of chronic economic stagnation. Israel continues to freeze the transfer of Palestinian taxes that it collects, so since January 170,000 public service workers have received only 60 percent of their salaries, which are insufficient to begin with.

The results include a slowdown in commerce in the West Bank, belated payments to institutions and private businesses, and reduction of municipal projects, and therefore a further loss of revenue for the PA, workers who can’t even afford to commute to work, and mounting incidences of burglary.

Compounding the economic recession and stagnation are the hundreds of millions of dollars that jurors in an American court this week ordered the PLO and PA to pay compensation to Israeli-American victims of Palestinian armed attacks; the danger that the Israel Electric Corporation will continue to cut off electricity intermittently; and the flooding in Palestinian neighborhoods in Hebron and the Gaza Strip due to recent storms. All this comes on top of the emotional and physical destruction in Gaza, whose reconstruction seems farther away than ever.

Establishment of the PA relieved Israel of fulfilling its obligation to look after the needs and well-being of the residents of the occupied territories. Israel was not, however, relieved of its obligation according to international law, because the Israel Defense Forces constitutes the sole sovereign authority in the West Bank until today, and effective control over Gaza has remained in the hands of Israel since 2005. At the same time, since the creation of the PA, Israel has blocked its access to resources that would allow it to fulfill, as a subcontractor, the duty of the occupier to look after the needs of the occupied.

This is an entity that has to function without 62 percent of its territory, without control of water resources and the electromagnetic spectrum, without any control at borders and over population registry and citizenship rights, without freedom of movement, and without any control over the fate of existing and potential revenues – from customs duties, exports, mining, fishing, expanding industry or agriculture.

The World Bank has already determined that the Palestinians are losing billions of dollars annually because of Israeli control over Area C (there was a loss of $3.4 billion in 2011 alone), control that prevents growth and development. And that does not even include losses from Israel’s policy to strangulate manufacture and other productive activity in Gaza, by means of forbidding marketing and exports.

If the PA could guarantee its residents a fair economic subsistence, even under Israeli occupation – it would be able to demand that they and the local and municipal councils pay their electricity bills. But the enormous debts to the IEC and the PA’s difficulties in meeting other payments, like to suppliers, hospitals and universities, are the direct and natural result of restrictions on the freedom of movement and development that Israel has forced upon the authority: The two million shekels the PA owes the IEC are dwarfed by the tens of billions that the Palestinian economy has lost just in the past eight years because of Israel’s restrictive and prohibitive policies.

Is the dissolution of the PA a solution? A member of Islamic Jihad told Haaretz last week, “I detest the PA. Its existence is a disaster, but its dismantlement would be a greater disaster.”

For all their shortcomings, the Palestinian security apparatuses, he added, “maintain internal security within Palestinian society. They restrain and quash conflicts between clans and other groups, which tend to proliferate in times of crisis and of a loss if faith in the political system.” It is sufficient to look at the difference between Area B, in which it is forbidden for Palestinian police to operate, and Area A (which is under full Palestinian control): The Palestinian police cannot enforce laws in Area B (in locales including A-Ram, Abu Dis or Kafr Aqab), where illegal construction that violates safety regulations and rules runs rampant and criminals find refuge.

If because of the economic blows it is suffering the PA would dismantle itself – along with it the police and internal security apparatuses – rival armed militias representing opposing clan interests would fill the vacuum. Like the sewage in Gaza, which goes untreated because of Israeli restrictions and ends up on Israeli beaches, so would the deterioration of internal Palestinian security not stop at the borders of Area A enclaves.

There must be some Israeli politicians in Jerusalem who get that.

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