The halting of civil coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel doesn’t harm Israel but it does harm the Palestinians. The move was supposed to strengthen the PA’s standing in the eyes of the Palestinians. Instead, it yet again exposes the PA as an entity that only reacts and doesn’t plan, one that demands sacrifices from the people without sharing its decisions with them and without any ability to defend them.
Take the 13 residents of the West Bank who, at the beginning of last week, made their way to the Karameh crossing into Jordan (the Allenby Bridge); Israeli border officials didn’t let them leave – and not for security reasons.
Their problem is small compared to that of seriously ill patients – especially in the Gaza Strip – whose exit for medical care in East Jerusalem or the West Bank has been delayed because the PA has stopped handling their applications for exit permits through the Erez checkpoint.
By now an alternative coordination mechanism was supposed to be in place between the World Health Organization and the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration, but this has been delayed. In the meantime, out of concern for the patients, Physicians for Human Rights Israel is passing the applications along to the Israeli liaison office and is monitoring the progress, even though it doesn’t have sufficient staffing for this task. In the West Bank, Israel’s Civil Administration is receiving medical-related applications directly from Palestinians who need to be treated in East Jerusalem or Israel.
The problem of exiting via the Karameh crossing is also dwarfed by the economic decline that’s now afflicting everyone and is seen in the smaller paychecks going belatedly to about 134,000 public sector employees and about 80,000 recipients of various allowances.
The reason for the cut isn’t just the pandemic but also the PA’s decision not to accept tax and customs revenues collected by Israel for goods to be delivered to the West Bank and Gaza. Thus, since May, every month about $200 million is missing from the PA coffers – about two-thirds of its total revenue.
But the prevention of exits through the Karameh crossing and the background to it reflect the illusion the PA has sold to its people and apparently also to itself.
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The Karameh crossing has been closed since March 11, as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. To be allowed through it to go abroad – which happens in exceptional cases and after a long, enforced wait in the West Bank – requires special coordination between the Palestinian and Jordanian authorities. It’s easy to imagine the 13 travelers’ disappointment when they were told their documents didn’t match what appeared in the Israeli computer, so they weren’t allowed to leave the West Bank.
As reported in the Palestinian media, these people include two mothers who in recent months registered their babies in the Palestinian population registry. This is a common practice: Palestinians who live abroad make a point of returning for visits to the West Bank to register their young children at the Palestinian Interior Ministry.
The others are Palestinian U.S. residents who had come for a visit, extended their stay because of the closure of the border crossings and in the meantime had to renew their Palestinian passports.
The great muddle
The official Palestinian condemnations, including those by the Foreign Ministry and top PLO officials, weren’t slow in coming: a provocation, immoral treatment of the mothers and their babies, collective punishment.
But this was precisely one of the expected results of halting civil coordination: mismatches between the real personal-status details and those with the Israeli authorities. Either the condemners are hypocrites or they were carelessly unaware that data entries by the Palestinian Interior Ministry, which have not been approved by the Israelis, are good only within the Palestinian enclaves and not upon leaving them.
The Oslo Accords prohibit the PA from granting residency in the West Bank and Gaza to citizens of other countries (including Palestinians who were born in the West Bank or Gaza or whose families live there). This remains an Israeli monopoly, and since 2000 Israel has suspended the process that enabled the granting of residency status to several thousand people annually.
However, the accords did let the PA manage the Palestinian population registry, issue its own laissez passer documents, issue new ID cards to 16-year-olds, and register changes in personal status: newborns and their ID numbers, deaths, marriages, divorces and address changes. Any exit from a Palestinian enclave, which entails the examination of an ID card, can become a great muddle if the details don’t match what’s on the soldier’s or police officer’s computer screen.
Therefore, ever since civil responsibilities were handed to the Palestinians in 1994, and even at the height of military escalations, the PA has been punctilious about transferring to the Civil Administration all new information on residents’ personal status, including residents of Gaza. And yes, even under Hamas rule.
The Civil Administration calls this transfer of information “synchronization with the Israeli information systems and in order to provide various services to the Palestinian residents.” But “synchronization” is a deceptive term. For example, early on back in ‘90s, it was already clear that Israel doesn’t authorize address changes from Gaza to the West Bank.
Thus Palestinians born in Gaza who lived for many years in the West Bank and whose addresses were changed at the Palestinian Interior Ministry were astonished to hear from soldiers that “your ID card is forged.” This was a very early warning signal of the Israeli intention to sever the Gazans from the Palestinian community in the West Bank.
The tragedy of Fatah
Similarly, in the ID cards of many Palestinians in communities located in what is defined as Area C (where Israel maintains full planning and security authority), the official address isn’t identical to the real place of residence but rather is a city or town in Area A (which is under Palestinian civilian and policing authority). These are the communities whose existence Israel doesn’t recognize and aims to expel to enclaves in Areas A and B (under Palestinian civilian authority and Israeli security authority).
As part of the PA response to the Israeli declarations about annexation, since May the Palestinian Civil Affairs Ministry hasn’t been transferring to the Civil Administration details on changes in the population registry such as births and deaths or details on new passports and ID cards for 16-year-olds.
For now the damage is minimal: the Allenby Bridge is closed due to the coronavirus. Presumably something will change by the time today’s newborns turn ID-card age 16 years from now.
But what will happen if one of these unrecognized babies needs medical treatment in Jerusalem today? How will the permit be issued? What will happen when the Allenby Bridge reopens and 18-year-olds who have just taken out their first passport want to study abroad? Or when a 16-year-old girl with a new ID card wants to visit her father who is in prison in Israel?
The security coordination that most Palestinians despise reflects the status of a subcontractor that the Fatah movement and parts of the Palestine Liberation Organization have accepted and developed over the years despite all the criticism and anger. It reflects the tragedy of organizations that struggled for freedom and independence and in return for limited and lame self-rule have developed mechanisms of oppression against their own people.
The civil coordination, in contrast, reflects the real situation: With or without mediation, Israel remains the occupier to which are subordinated millions of people stripped of civil rights but who do have human rights: to water, a livelihood, freedom of movement, studies, recreation. The civilian coordination is meant to safeguard those rights.
To reduce the harm to the people, the PA could have ended the security coordination and maintained the civil coordination. If only security coordination had been ended, Israel presumably would have retaliated with a partial disruption of the civil coordination. In that case, it – and not the PA – would have had to explain its hostile measures to international organizations that are concerned about the economic decline.
In the name of national pride, the PA has put both security coordination and civil coordination in a single basket. It’s as if it has declared that aid to the occupier and concern for the welfare of the occupied are one and the same.