Analysis

Palestinian Fund Freeze: Who Will Help Netanyahu Save the Oslo Accords This Time?

Israeli cuts and warnings in Ramallah over economic collapse have become a ritual that always ends with some solution. But with fewer international checks and balances, the situation may quickly deteriorate

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas checks his watch before a speech in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 4, 2015
AFP

In a ritual that has become as regular as the seasons, ever since the economic agreements attached to the Oslo Accords went into effect, Israel has reduced or suspended its remittances to the Palestinian Authority of taxes collected on its behalf, as a punitive measure. The definition of the sins of Ramallah changes often; sometimes the PA government’s support for terror is cited, and sometimes the pretext is the precise opposite – the PA’s appeal to the international community through diplomatic channels – but the punishment is always similar.

In response, time after time, PA officials threaten to withdraw from the remaining provisions of the accords, which Israel ignores in any event. The Israeli debate over the issue is no less cyclical, and is usually based on the assumption that the Palestinians’ money can be taken hostage, to be returned in exchange for its rightful owners’ “good behavior.”

>> The Palestinian Authority is collapsing, and annexation could follow ■ The illusion of withholding the Palestinians’ tax money | Opinion ■ The new Palestinian prime minister hopes to regain the public’s trust — if it’s not too late | Analysis 

History shows that the practice always escalates to diplomatic threats, by phone or by official statement, from liberal leaders who pressure Israel to avoid creating a humanitarian disaster in the West Bank. In parallel, Israeli defense officials warn that the dissolution of the PA would increase terror by ending security cooperation between Israel and the PA.

And then, just when winter’s grip seems certain, at the last possible moment the inner cabinet is convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who himself became a permanent fixture during the decade in which this game of yo-yo developed. All by himself he repeatedly, in an ironic – or is it hypocritical? – twist, he saves the agreements whose signing he so famously opposed.

That is how the predictable script of economic sanctions played out dozens of times in the past. But as we know, inductive reasoning, which seeks to draw from spcific cases to a general rule, is not science. Sometimes even the smallest alterations are enough to change the results of experiments, and this time the alterations were massive.

For one, the payment offset policy was enacted into law, rather than issued as a resolution of the security cabinet, which these days tend to be honored more in the breach than in observance. Second, the liberal leaders who will pick up the phone to save the day are a dying breed. The hints surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” certainly don’t fill the Palestinians with a hope that makes concessions possible. The French president has already volunteered to maintain the European tradition on the matter, but Emmanuel Macron isn’t the sole key to its resolution. Third, each successive Netanyahu government has ratcheted up tensions with the Palestinians on all fronts. Rather than reversing the trend, the fifth will presumably kick them up another notch. As the idea of annexation gathers momentum in parallel with the strength of Netanyahu’s challengers on the right, so too the attitude to offset tax remittances to the PA can be expected to escalate.

And so, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the protocol of payment offsets and suspensions is cyclical like the seasons of the year in the era of climate change. The seasons repeat themselves, but their behaviors are more extreme and less predictable. In a world without brakes, all this could suddenly end differently.