الرئيسية » هاني المصري »   11 تشرين الأول 2019

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هاني المصري

"The PA has agreed to receive NIS 1.8 bn (approx. $515m) in tax funds without Israel yielding on the slashed allocations for [Palestinian] martyrs' and prisoners' families on condition that the [joint Israel-Palestinian] technical committees commence their work towards an agreement to recover the rest of the funds minus Israeli deductions for health, electricity, and water bills and so on," notes Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian news-portal www.masarat.ps.

What happened to make the PA drastically change its stance and agree to receive the funds, [Israeli] thievery notwithstanding, after President Mahmoud 'Abbas had repeatedly said he will not receive a single penny of the slashed funds? 

I was among those who opposed this decision from the very start. Based on an informed assessment that the PA had miscalculated and made a losing bet with this decision, my advice was to receive the balance of funds due to the Palestinians and then pursue Israel for the rest of its thievery.

Had refusing to receive the funds been part of a new strategy to get rid of the Palestinians' political, economic, and security obligations under the [1993] Oslo Accords, it would have been understandable – although even in that case it should have been preceded by preemptive measures to contain the repercussions. But that is not what happened, because the PA only makes decisions as a tactic to improve the terms of its relationship with the occupation with the intention of sticking to its old strategy, while verbally threatening to adopt a new one. In other words, refusing to receive the slashed funds was a purely reactionary decision based on a losing wager, and was meant to pacify the public and buy time, 

Miscalculations and losing bets have exacerbated the economic crisis to severe levels that have put the PA at risk of facing collapse or the eruption of popular discontent. The PA wagered that Israel's security forces would convince the government to turn over the funds in full because the failure to do so would lead to the PA's collapse when it is in Israel's interest for it to survive. It also wagered on a better response from the new Israeli government that was supposed to be formed after last April's elections, especially if Kahol Lavan had won, so the PA announced that the tax fund crisis would be resolved in June. But its expecations missed the mark; the election results were inconclusive, so Israel had to hold a second round [last month]. 

The PA made same losing wager regarding the September elections, which also yielded inconclusive results. So far, it remains unclear whether an Israeli government of any type will be formed, with Benyamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz at the helm, or whether a third round of elections will be held. In other words, the tax fund crisis will not be resolved, and it would be a losing wager to continue to bet on what the upcoming government may or may not do. That is evident from the fact that Israel's decision to slash the funds was based on a Knesset bill that ultimately refused to include PM Netanyahu's stipulation to allow the cabinet to avoid actively complying with the law if there were security or other reasons for not doing so. No expert in Israeli affairs can expect the upcoming Knesset, which consists mostly of right-wing and far-right racists, to amend that decision. 

The PA also bet on the Arab safety net, despite all its disappointments from such wagers over the long years of its involvement in Arab summits. The Arab [Gulf] countries with the capacity to pay are mired in the Yemen war and have hemorrhaged exorbitant costs from wagering on the U.S. and Israel in hope of fighting Iran, which has become the main threat as far as they are concerned. 

The only winning wager would be to bet on the people, across all factions, especially the employees that have suffered and held steadfast and the banks that granted the PA the maximum loans. Holding out did not prevent severe material and moral suffering among the people as the tax allocation crisis further aggravated the already-existing economic crisis, with repercussions that must be addressed. Certain losses are recoverable, such as staff salary cuts and bank loans. Others, however, will never be recovered: The patients that needed treatments that Palestinian hospitals cannot provide but were not transferred [to Israeli hospitals] due to the financial crisis, the individuals, institutions, and companies that went bankrupt or took out loans with interest, and the workers and employees who were dismissed from their jobs. Moreover, economic stagnancy has undermined trust in investment in Palestine, damaged the PA's credibility, and raised questions about its future.

The PA's bet did not pan out, so it decided to reverse course and receive the slashed funds. That was better than sticking to a wrong decision without the prospect of anything changing and allowing the economic crisis to exacerbate – especially after it became clear that Israel's thievery had nothing to do with the elections. Instead, it reflects Israel's general approach as part of its plan to restructure the PA for the third time (the first lasted from the PA's establishment to 2004, the second from President Mahmoud 'Abbas's [2005] inauguration until President Donald Trump took office, and the third began at that point and is ongoing). This time, it is meant to facilitate Trump's 'deal of the century' that aims to liquidate the Palestinian cause and that rules out a Palestinian state in favor of a permanent self-governing authority under the PA's auspices as a final resolution. In other words, the PA and PLO would have to stop calling for resumption of negotiations to agree on a final settlement of the basic issues established in the Oslo Accords.

The PA could have admitted, 'We made a mistake, and none of us are immune to error. The right thing to do is to back down from our mistaken decision.' It would have been a promising sign for it to acknowledge its miscalculations and losing bets. Instead, it portrayed its backtracking as a victory, and that commencing the technical committees' work was tantamount to an Israeli agreement that opens the way to amendments to the [PLO/Israel 1994] Paris Economic Protocol, essentially misleading the people and doubling down on its mistake. 

Had the leadership and PA listened to PNC (PLO Palestine National Council) and PCC (PLO Palestine Central Council) decisions, it would have adopted a strategy of effectively disengaging from the Israeli economy as a primarily a political rather than an economic decision. But how could that be when it has stuck to none of its decisions since March 2015 to suspend compliance with the Oslo accords, including security coordination? The situation would be different today had we actually begun to change course after Camp David collapsed in 2000 or in response to the PCC's 2015 resolution and created an alternative from the ground up, step-by-step, all the way through. 

For that to happen (as it must, sooner or later), we must restore the national project's standing, prioritize ending the split, restore unity and genuine partnership on national, democratic, consensual grounds with an agreement to end Hamas's control over the Gaza Strip as well as the president and Fatah's hegemony over the PA and PLO, regulate the resistance's weapons to comply with a unified strategy and a single command, and restructure the PLO's institutions to include the different forces. 

Finally, we must make an extremely important point regarding Palestinian decision-making mechanisms: The decision to refuse to receive the tax funds as well as the decision to back down from it was made unilaterally and spontaneously, as a knee-jerk reaction without in-depth consideration, referring to experts, or consulting either PA or PLO institutions (i.e. the government) – like all other Palestinian decisions in general. 

It is the president who decides after (or without) listening to advice, recommendations, and pressure from a handful of individuals or centers of power. Palestinian institutions have been excluded, whether through their dissolution, as with the PLC (Palestine Legislative Council), or by stripping them of their substance, as happened with PLO and government institutions, placing all powers and privileges in the hands of the president. Unless the institutions are radically rehabilitated and upgraded and the people are consulted through the ballot box to achieve a democratic consensus, the Palestinian condition will not rise to the occasion. 

Only then can we assume responsibility, divide labor, and embody collective action capable of mobilizing our different capabilities, energies, and creativity to undertake a constant revision where we learn from past experiences, maintain accountability, and continuously assess plan for the future on sound objective and nationalist grounds.

One central question remains that must inevitably be addressed: Is it impossible to create something new because the best we can hope for is to reproduce the Oslo Accords and remain bound to them, or is it both possible and necessary to substantially change course and open up new horizons so as to achieve the Palestinian people's aspirations, interests, and goals?

"The answer to this question will determine in which direction we are heading: To hell, or to heavenly bliss," concludes al-Masri.