"The Israeli cabinet has decided to deduct the PA's payments to the Palestinian prisoners and martyrs' families from the tax monies that the occupation government collects on the PA's behalf," writes Hani al-Masri on the Palestinian news portal www.masarat.ps.
These payments amount to more than half-a-million Shekels every year (around $138 million). But it was not specified whether they will be deducted in one lump sum or on a monthly basis.
The question is this: Will the implementation of this decision lead to the PA's destruction?
Let us see!
The PA has previously warned that it would not receive any tax returns if the occupation were to deduct a single cent of them. However, after its decision was issued, Israel seems to have backed down from its previous threat, as indicated by the statement that it will consider its response, which it will announce later. In other words, it may be waking up to reality!
To begin with, we warn against increasing taxation to make up for the Palestinian monies that the occupation authorities will steal. This will have negative results. Instead, it is possible to act based on an austerity plan that affects people with large salaries and privileges that they can relinquish. Nor should new sanctions be imposed on the Gaza Strip or affect the payments to the prisoners and martyrs' families. But we also warn against overreacting by refusing to receive the remaining tax monies without securing alternatives – bearing in mind that we are talking of Palestinian monies and not Israeli aid.
The PA can resort to the Arabs' safety network. It can act at every legal, administrative, political, and popular level in rejecting this act of piracy and all of Israel's hostile practices. More importantly, it can adopt a practical plan for gradually implementing the PNC (Palestinian National Council) resolutions in tandem with finding alternatives – instead of wasting time with repeated talk about meetings, committees, and plans, as has been the case since the PCC's (Palestinian Central Council's) March 2015 resolutions that have yet to see the light of day.
Israel's decision may be temporary, having to do with its elections' period which is witnessing a heated competition between the rightwing and the extreme rightwing over who is more hostile and extreme against the Palestinians, after which matters would return to where they were after the results of the April 9th elections have been declared.
Or this decision may be a follow-up and consistent with the changes that have accompanied Donald Trump's presidential victory, and the adoption of a U.S. policy that is more extreme in backing Israel than that of previous U.S. administrations. In fact, Trump has gone so far as to deem the racist colonial facts that the occupation has established on the ground as the sole terms of reference for any future political process, disregarding the old terms of reference, including international law and UN resolutions.
If this is what is happening, we would be facing a new policy in the context of whose implementation the PA would be dismantled, put together again and tamed. The aim would be to force it to adapt to the requirements of 'Trump's deal' and the passage of the racist 'Nationality Law' and its repercussions – namely, the growing threat that Israel may annex the West Bank, or large parts of it, while adding schemes to forcefully displace the Palestinians from their homes on the agenda.
Israel's aim is to end what remains of the PA's political role, preserving only its administrative and security role, and transforming it into nothing more than an agent of the occupation. This would consolidate its full disregard for Palestinian rights, persisting with the effort to bury the option of a Palestinian state, and replacing it with the imposition of the sovereignty of a single Israeli state that stretches from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea; a state that establishes different regimes for different areas under its sovereignty.
One may conclude from the above that what is being pursued is to complete the process of changing the PA. And if it does not change, and if it persists with its obstinacy and brave position, the process of doing away with it and finding an alternative to it would begin. In fact, that process has already begun via the expansion of the role played by Israel's Civilian Administration to include services provided to the Palestinians and Israeli settlers; increasing the number of workers in that Administration; activating the role played by the Israeli Coordinator [of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)] and his direct relations with the Palestinians, especially with the families and clans; forming a Chamber of Commerce for 'Judea and Samaria' with Palestinian participation; as well as preparing the Palestinians for the occupation forces' active and direct presence inside Palestinian cities, as happened in Ramallah and al-Bireh in December 2018, and turning such a presence into a routine affair in preparation for what may happen next.
This is proceeding alongside persistent and various American attempts to encourage certain Palestinians –individuals and groups, and especially economists – to bypass the PA and deal with the U.S. administration directly at various levels. The White House is dropping hints that it will collect $10 billion to achieve economic peace as long as a political peace seems unachievable. In other words, they will try to bribe the Palestinians in return for selling off their cause; and – sadly – there are those who are already beginning to drool at this prospect. And this all is in preparation for proposing 'Trump's deal', which according to American statements, will be announced immediately after the April Israeli elections.
It is worth mentioning that there are numerous Israeli plans to which the extremist rightwing parties and new rightwing parties agree over a number of points, including opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state; separating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip; maintaining Israeli security control over the entire area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea even after a final status solution; intensifying, legitimizing, and expanding settlement activities; keeping Jerusalem, especially the Old City, under Israeli sovereignty; and rejecting any just solution for the refugee issue while working towards its liquidation.
This is the context for Zionist researcher Mordechai Kedar's plan for a so-called 'United Palestinian Emirates' that would be under Israel's control. The idea is to establish an emirate in every city on clan and family bases, while annexing the countryside and Area-C to Israel, preparing them in case the PA fails to adapt to the service of Israeli aims, or if it collapses in the midst of the growing pressures on it.
A close observation reveals that something similar to what is happening in the West Bank is being gradually implemented in the Gaza Strip, where serious thought has begun to be given to the formation of frameworks and groups that would replace the PA in Gaza under various banners: Municipal elections; the establishment of organizations to receive international aid; a new government in Gaza in which the Palestinian factions do not take part; and the formation of a salvation council made of technocrats, civil society activists and independents, provided that it is acceptable, or can become acceptable, to the international community. And this is in return for major projects which it is sometimes said will be carried out in Gaza, and at other times in Sinai, and yet another time in Israel.
What explains the above is that the separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is deepening. The attempts to bring the PA back to the Strip have failed. On the other hand, while it is being dealt with as the de facto authority in Gaza, Hamas remains rejected and included on the list of terrorist organizations. To acquire international legitimacy, it must accept the International Quartet's preconditions that begin with recognizing Israel's right to exist but do not end with security coordination.
Before Trump and the extremist Israeli rightwing came to power, I was ready to argue that Israel cannot allow the PA to vanish, or to dissolve or collapse. My evidence for this was the fact that despite the PA's resistance to the occupation and its military confrontation with Israel at the late president Yasser Arafat's orders in an attempt to break Oslo's heavy shackles, Israel did not disband it.
Now, however, I can no longer fully rule out the possibility that Israel may get rid of the PA because it has rejected 'Trump's deal' and has suspended political relations with the U.S. administration. After all, if the PA maintains this position, Israel will conclude that it has ran its course and used up all its energies, and it will opt for a more pliant Authority or authorities.
The PA should realize that even preserving the current status quo and ending the current collapse by relying on the same policies, wagers, illusions, tools, and figures is no longer possible. It must realize that its collapse will continue unless it adopts the policies and steps capable of stemming it in preparation for moving forward.
The conclusion is that confronting Israel's decision cannot be achieved by withdrawing the threat to refuse to receive all Palestinian tax monies; it also requires a comprehensive vision for confronting the growing challenges and threats that aim to liquidate the Palestinian cause in all its dimensions. Among other things, this vision must include a reconsideration of the PA's nature, functions, commitments, and budget, ensuring that it acts in the service of the Palestinian national project of self-determination, return, and independence – and becomes one of the united PLO's tools.
But so as not to spread illusions, we must admit that the situation of the PA, the Palestinian forces, and the Palestinian leadership and what they are working towards, as has emerged in a clear and scandalous manner at the Moscow meeting [between ten Palestinian factions last week], is very far from what needs to be done.
"This leaves the initiative in the hands of the nation, that has so far protected the cause and can continue to protect it, and that is now expected to act and impose its will on everyone," concludes Masri.