“Shortly after [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry’s visit, which failed because Netanyahu refused to give anything to the Palestinians before the intifada ceases completely (because giving them anything while it continues would be to reward terrorism), the Israeli government met for many long hours in two meetings,” notes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
The meetings discussed the scenario of the ‘PA’s collapse’. The ministers were divided in their opinions: One camp that includes Netanyahu, the occupation army, and the security agencies – deemed the PA’s collapse as a bad option for Israel; and another camp argued that it would serve Israel’s interests.
The debate over this scenario does not stem from fear that the PA president or the Palestinian leadership would disband the PA and hand over its keys as they have been threatening for years. Such a possibility was totally dismissed. The debate stems from the widening gap between the Palestinian people and its leadership against the background of the dire economic conditions, the absence of any political horizon, and the outbreak of the current intifada and its possible consequences.
In fact, Kerry said that it was not his idea to visit, but that President Obama asked him to do so in order to achieve two aims: a tahdi’a [lull or calming down] and preventing the PA’s collapse.
At a recent workshop held by the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies (Masarat) there were also various opinions and disagreements. Some argued the PA’s collapse is likely, and that the first signs are already there as a result of the PA turning into an Authority that lacks any authority, especially after the occupation forces have stormed the PA’s areas classified as Area-A, since 2002. Since that date, these forces have been forcefully entering any area they wish, including the security compound that contains the Palestinian president and PM’s headquarters, arresting whomever and doing whatever they wish. This includes assassinations, demolishing homes, setting up checkpoints, closing down radio stations, and confiscating public vehicles.
Moreover, the occupation’s civil administration has regained many of its powers, and much ground has been covered on the path towards creating a new racist, settler occupation reality, gradually rendering Israel’s expansionist solution as the sole possible practical option. And all this is occurring in the shadow of Israel’s return to its central aim of establishing ‘Greater Israel’ over all of Palestine, and against the background of a growing opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Those who say that the PA has either already collapsed or is on its way to doing so justify their view by pointing to the fact that the current intifada has erupted and been sustained without the PA and the Palestinian leadership’s knowledge, and without their ability to stop it. This means that Israel’s justification for the PA’s existence and persistence – namely, to play a functional role of contributing to the occupation’s security by sentencing, preventing and pursuing the resistance and its fighters – has disappeared.
Their argument is that the rationale behind the PA’s establishment was that it was part of a political process that aimed to end the occupation and establish the Palestinian state within a specified timeframe. That timeframe has expired many times over, and the so-called ‘peace process’ has ended without achieving that goal. And this undermines the raison d’etre for the PA’s continued survival, especially now that it has split into two [Gaza/Ramallah] Authorities, and after the PA’s constituent elements have proven unable, or have simply refused, to hold presidential and legislative elections, and the various bodies and institutions have been reduced to the executive power held by a single person [President Abbas] instead.
And this is in addition to the spreading corruption, the mismanagement, and the deterioration of health and educational services – all of which have led to a situation in which broad sectors of the Palestinians, perhaps the majority, no longer recognize or accept the PA’s existence and its persistence.
There is another point of view that views the PA as having turned into a ‘deep authority,’ deriving the justification for its continued existence from the PLO, which still represents Palestinian legitimacy and source of authority – despite the paralysis that has afflicted it since signing the  Oslo Accord. It also derives this justification from the backing it receives from Fateh, the largest Palestinian faction, and from the rest of the PLO factions. (Even Hamas is not calling for the disbandment for the PA or declaring its collapse.)
It derives that legitimacy as well from the repression practiced by its security agencies that have been reconstituted ever since the second intifada, and are now ready to implement the will of the political leadership. And, finally, it derives this legitimacy from the backing of [Palestinian] capital, which has grown wealthier and more influential, and from the large sector of beneficiaries – employees and others – who will defend the PA’s existence, especially if no alternative is on offer, or one that is able to provide them with a source of livelihood.
Moreover, what the PA provides in terms of services and salaries is based on a model that is rampant in the case of Third World states and that prolongs its life. The threat of anarchy and security breakdown, as well as the danger that other authorities may arise led by local warlords who are at war with each other in every neighborhood, town, village and city, also prevents the PA’s collapse.
In addition there are other Palestinian, Israeli, Arab, regional, and international factors that support the PA’s continued survival, and will not permit its collapse as long as it fulfills its functions and contributes to preserving a semblance of stability and reducing the level of tension. This is evident from the fact that, whenever the PA is about to collapse, it is injected with a dose of medication that prolongs its life, so much so that there are always hints that there is a new initiative on its way or looming on the horizon to revive the political process – all in order to keep the illusion alive and block other options and alternatives.
What also keeps the PA alive is the fact that Israel prefers not to assume responsibility for the occupation. This is why, as we have noted, it has adopted a policy that ensures that the PA remains too weak to reject what Israel wants it to implement, but without driving it towards total collapse. In other words, it keeps it always tottering on the edge.
The forces and states that support the PA as long as the consequences of its collapse are worse than the dangers of its continued survival will continue to support it. Therefore, despite reducing the aid extended to the PA, and despite the American and Israeli sanctions, we notice that the U.S. administration and the Israeli government always rush to provide the PA with what it needs to remain alive whenever it seems to be about to fall apart. They do this by again transferring aid and tax revenues, and by convincing the donor states to resume financing the PA, as well as by means of Israeli actions meant to reduce the hardships of daily life – e.g., by issuing work permits in Israel and other means.
Those who maintain that the PA is unlikely to collapse argue that because of the continued security coordination with Israel, the PA plays an important and irreplaceable role, despite the outbreak of the intifada and its persistence without the PA being able to control it. Israeli sources have reported that the PA’s agencies have prevented 100 attacks since the intifada began, while Palestinian sources speak of preventing 300 attacks.
More importantly, the PA still rules in the areas under its control, if only within the strictest of limits. It arrests anyone it considers to be a threat to it or is planning to carry out armed resistance attacks. And it is trying hard to prevent the intifada from spreading. Moreover, it has not thrown its weight behind the uprising and is banning members of the security forces from joining in it.
Were the PA to provide protection and leverage for the intifada, and participate in it as happened in the case of the second  intifada, the current uprising would develop into an all-out intifada. In that case, the likelihood of the PA’s collapse would increase. In fact, one of the most important reasons preventing the current wave from developing into an all-out popular intifada is that the PA does not want this to happen. Perhaps what happened at Khadouri University and Najah University before that, namely, the attempts to ‘take the pulse’ in order to prevent confrontations along the lines of contact and confrontations in the cities – is a very significant indication of what the PA is doing.
On the other hand, if the PA’s agencies were to try to repress the popular action, as in the past, the intifada could turn against the PA itself. In that case, the PA could collapse.
Disbanding the PA or its collapse is not the Palestinians’ option, because providing services and administration by Palestinian bodies is a national responsibility. But this is conditional on reconsidering the PA’s nature, shape, functions and commitments, making it a tool in the hands of the PLO, whose institutions must be rebuilt on new foundations. These institutions must include all shades of the Palestinian spectrum and must replace the PA in case it collapses, or if the occupation were to disband it. In other words, the PLO should in that case become a resistance/authority, or an authority that cohabits with resistance – that is to say, an authority that serves the national project.
Yes, should this happen, it would expand the confrontation with the occupation, and that may lead to the PA’s collapse. But this would only be natural, because confrontation is imposed by occupation. In fact, confrontation is necessary if we are to arrive at a situation where occupation becomes costly to Israel and those who back it.
Dramatic developments – such as a terrorist Israeli massacre or a fundamental change in the Aqsa Mosque’s status, or a martyrdom operation that causes many deaths among the Israelis, or the PA president’s demise or resignation before an agreement is reached on his successor, or a change in the current Palestinian policy from skirmishes to confrontation with the occupation it, may all lead to the PA’s collapse.
But we should note here that the PA’s collapse in the West Bank does not mean its collapse in Gaza, because the occupation forces’ withdrawal from the Strip and the siege imposed on it from outside makes the situation in the Strip different from that on the West Bank.
“In such circumstances the PA may survive in Gaza even if it collapses in the West Bank,” concludes Masri.