SPECULATION AND ANALYSES
“Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s statements about the 'stick and carrot' policy, Israel's relationship with the PA and the threat of bypassing it and establishing direct relations with Palestinian figures and institutions, have given rise to much speculation and analyses," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Some have argued that Israel is fed up with the PA after it has outlived its usefulness. In fact, many Israeli officials and ministers have spoken of the PA's inability or unwillingness to provide what Israel wants. They have gone so far as to claim that President Mahmoud 'Abbas is engaged in 'diplomatic terrorism' and that his fate will be no different from that of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
Matters have reached a point where some are demanding that the PA should be disbanded because its survival renders the search for a political solution possible at a point when Israel, which is under the control of the religious and political right, does not want an agreed solution, but only to impose its own diktat.
Then there are those who represent the strongest trend in Israel and who believe that the PA's survival is in its interest and that Tel Aviv cannot do without the PA especially since the alternative is Hamas, or the hard-line salafi or other factions, or some form of anarchy that will create a climate appropriate for an escalation that places the Palestinian people face-to-face with the occupation. This could make the occupation costly for Israel and change the equation that has existed for years and that is based on the notion that the occupation is both comfortable and in Israel’s favor.
I think that the truth lies somewhere between these points of view – between those who believe that the PA has ran its course and must therefore be disbanded and replaced, and those who demand that it should remain because it is effectively the 'goose' that lays the golden eggs for Israel.
There is a growing tendency in the Israeli government to exert greater pressure on the PA, reaching the point of attempting to dismantle and reconstitute it if it continues to refuse to resume the negotiations with no pre-conditions, and if it does not adjust to the realities that the occupation has imposed.
There are now over 700-thousand settlers in the Palestinian West Bank. According to numerous sources, the true figure now stands at 780-thousand. Moreover, the reins of power in Israel are more and more in extremist hands, and they are likely to remain so and be in charge of Israeli decisions for years to come.
In such circumstances, Israel has changed its policy based on managing the conflict, while proceeding to create settlement facts on the ground, in the hope of imposing itself on any settlement that may be reached via bilateral negotiations or as a result of foreign international pressures on both sides. It has now adopted a new policy based on attempting to impose a solution that is consistent with its own vision, benefiting from what it views as a rare historic opportunity to achieve its aims that have not been achieved so far. Moreover, this opportunity will not last for long, and it is not possible to wager on its emerging again.
The above explains the growing calls to annex the West Bank or Areas-C, or the so-called 'settlement blocs,' or the calls to apply Israeli law to them. These calls are no longer isolated, but are an expression of the central trend in Tel Aviv, so much so that draft laws to this end have already been brought before the Knesset. Within the same context, we can explain the growing calls to complete the Judaization and Israel-ization of Jerusalem, reaching the point of preparing the climate for a temporal and spatial division of the Aqsa Mosque and seriously thinking of destroying it and building the so-called 'Solomon's Temple' in its place.
This is the context in which to place the latest Israeli statements and pressures on the PA, including Lieberman's statements. The aim is to break the PA and make it more pliant and willing to accept the new reality.
As for talk of direct contacts with Palestinian figures and institutions, this is an old policy, even though the Netanyahu government now is pursuing it more vigorously than before in anticipation of the PA’s continued weakness. For the latter has lost its legitimacy, credibility and prestige for many reasons, most importantly, the failure of its project for a negotiated settlement on which it placed all its bets.
Israel fears the prospect of the PA's collapse, and the potential domination of 'hard-line' elements and forces – including Hamas. In this regard, we should bear in mind that it consistently tries to make use of and deepen the inter-Palestinian split in its favor, turning it into a permanent secession. This is especially true in the absence of a mechanism for the transfer of power after Abu Mazin, who is now more than 80 years old, and whose legal term in office expired five years ago, and in light of the foiling of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the paralysis of the PLO's institutions, and amidst attempts by various foreign parties to determine the identity of the next Palestinian president.
It is possible to classify the latest Israeli threats as part of these attempts. Abu Mazin's leadership is acceptable, but more is wanted from it, especially in terms of mechanisms and arrangements that ensure a smooth transition of power should the president pass away, or fall ill in a manner that prevents him from fulfilling his tasks, or in case he resigns.
Those who warn that the coming municipal elections may be part of a conspiracy such that the elected councils will end up as an alternative to the PA, should not be so hasty because the elected municipal councils will prove recalcitrant as far as the occupation is concerned, more than the appointed councils or those whose terms have expired.
Israel’s most suitable alternative to the current PA is an authority (or authorities) in every city and area that will accept what Israel proposes. The ceiling of what it may present does not go beyond this– namely, that of isolated cantons that control their inhabitants but not their land within the framework of a self-rule regime, while deepening the West Bank's separation from Gaza, and trying to liquidate the Palestinian cause or placing it in the deep freeze for as long as possible, if not forever.
"In doing this, Israel is benefiting from the raging Arab fires and the Arab calls for normalizing relations with it before its full withdrawal from the Arab lands occupied in 1967 as required by the [2002/2007] Arab Peace Initiative," concludes Masri.