OpinionIsrael at War

Can the Palestinian Authority be ‘revitalized’?

Can the cat guard the cream?

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan, on Oct. 13, 2023. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan, on Oct. 13, 2023. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Bassam Tawil

The Biden administration continues to promote the idea of a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority governing the Gaza Strip after the Israel-Hamas war. U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken used the phrase “revitalized P.A.” to express support for placing Gaza, currently ruled by the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist group, under the control of the P.A., headed by Mahmoud Abbas. On Dec. 2, Vice President Kamala Harris became the latest official to promote the idea that “we have to revitalize the P.A.” to prepare it to rule Gaza after the war.

The White House has further suggested that Palestinians “should be the determining voice” in who governs them.

The Palestinians already had a determining voice. They elected Hamas.

According to public opinion polls, even in the West Bank, under the supposedly moderate P.A. that pays people to murder Jews, Palestinians would elect a terrorist regime today.

The hush-hush secret of the Middle East is that the Palestinians, even more than they want a state—which they have been offered several times and rejected without even a counteroffer—want to obliterate Israel. The Hamas Charter is centered on it; sadly the P.A. promotes the identical goal (hereherehere and here). Also, according to the PLO’s 1974 “Ten Point Plan,” any land the Palestinians acquire is to be used to get the rest.

The Biden administration has yet to explain what exactly it means when it talks about a “revitalized P.A.” Is it referring to the need to implement massive financial and administrative reforms in the P.A.? Or is it talking about the need to get rid of the current leadership of the P.A., including the 87-year-old Abbas, who is now in the 18th year of a four-year term? Or perhaps the Biden administration has in mind dismantling the P.A., which currently rules over parts of the West Bank, and establishing a new governing body?

Before discussing whether the P.A. can, or is willing, to return to the Gaza Strip, from where it was violently expelled in 2007 by Hamas, it is crucial to ask: If the Biden administration believes that the P.A. should be “revitalized,” why didn’t Biden and Blinken demand that from Abbas and the Palestinian leaders a long time ago?

If the P.A. needs to be revamped in one way or another, why have Biden administration officials been holding regular meetings with P.A. leaders? Moreover, if the Biden administration believes that the P.A. is incompetent, why has it been urging Israel to strengthen Abbas and his cohorts?

By acknowledging that the P.A. needs to be “revitalized,” the Biden administration is actually admitting that, for the past three years, it has been dealing with inept Palestinian leaders who have essentially zero credibility among their own people.

Had the Biden administration seen the public opinion polls published by a number of Palestinian organizations, including the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, it would have understood that most Palestinians already know what Biden and Blinken evidently do not want to see: The P.A. is so outrageously corrupt that 80% of Abbas’s people want him to resign.

The latest poll, published in September, showed that 78% of the Palestinians demand the resignation of Abbas, while only 19% want him to stay in office. The poll, in addition, showed that 87% of the Palestinian public believes corruption exists in P.A. institutions.

Then there is the question of whether the P.A., notwithstanding any potential “revitalization,” can be part of a solution in the post-Hamas era in the Gaza Strip. The answer is a resounding “no.”

First, since its inception in 1994 (after the signing of the Oslo Accords), the P.A. has barely changed, especially with regard to financial and administrative corruption.

According to World Bank data, favoritism and nepotism are considered the most common form of corruption in the P.A. public sector. Other forms of corruption allegedly occurring in the public sector include conflicts of interest, unauthorized personal use of resources, and large-scale corruption (such as stealing money and public property).

Many of the officials managing the P.A. are the same ones who helped establish it in 1994 and were responsible for its rampant corruption. This corruption is one of the main reasons why Hamas won the P.A. parliamentary election in 2006, when the Islamist movement ran under the banner of “Change and Reform.”

The idea that, three decades later, the P.A. is going to embark on any serious reforms is a mirage. Abbas and the P.A. leadership will not change unless they are pressured to do so by Western donors, including the United States and European Union. Dumping a corruption-riddled P.A. in the Gaza Strip will do nothing to improve conditions for the Palestinians living there, especially regarding efforts to rebuild the enclave. As far as many Palestinians are concerned, entrusting the P.A. with rebuilding the Gaza Strip is like asking the cat to guard the cream.

Second, the P.A., both under Yasser Arafat and Abbas, ruled the Gaza Strip between 1994 and 2007. These were the years when Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip became strong and popular. The P.A. security forces did almost nothing to stop terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip or launching terror attacks against Israelis. The assumption that the P.A. security forces would stop these terror groups—which have meanwhile grown far stronger—is entirely baseless.

Third, the P.A. security forces in the West Bank are doing almost nothing to combat terrorism there. In fact, in the past three years, several new armed groups have emerged under the watchful eyes of the P.A. These relatively small groups, which include the Jenin Battalion and the Lions’ Den, have been responsible for merciless terrorist attacks. Since the P.A. does not act against these small groups in the West Bank, what reason is there to believe that they would prevent Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from rearming and regrouping in the Gaza Strip?

Fourth, the P.A.’s anti-Israel rhetoric is one of the reasons extremist groups such as Hamas and PIJ are so popular. The P.A. has long been inciting its people against Israel, accusing it unjustly of committing “war crimes, “ethnic cleansing” and “massacres.” Abbas and senior PA officials have been stirring up bloodlust for Israel both before and after Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre. Palestinians hear these messages and vote for Hamas when given the opportunity, as we saw in the recent student council elections at a number of Palestinian universities in the West Bank. This is exactly what Abbas feared when he canceled the P.A.’s presidential and parliamentary elections, that were slated to take place in 2021.

Abbas, in other words, is aware that his anti-Israel rhetoric has driven many Palestinians into the arms of Hamas and PIJ. This is the same Abbas who has failed to condemn the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre. Abbas is trying to prove to the Palestinians that he is more Hamas than Hamas, and the best way to do so is by stepping up incitement against Israel. If Abbas or any of his lieutenants ever returned to the Gaza Strip, who in their right minds would think that they would embark on any process to de-radicalize Palestinians?

On the contrary, P.A. leaders will continue to whip up anti-Israeli sentiment through the education system, mosques and public statements. If the P.A. is permitted to take over the Gaza Strip, its anti-Israel rhetoric, which has escalated since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, will only result in another generation of radicals.

Fifth, the P.A. leadership is showing no signs of change, especially regarding its rhetoric and policy toward Israel. On the contrary, Abbas and many P.A. officials are talking about the need to step up the campaign to isolate Israel in the international arena and initiate legal proceedings against many Israelis as “war criminals.” The P.A. is hardly likely to drop these plans upon returning to the Gaza Strip.

No “revitalization” of the P.A. is going to effect a meaningful change in the rhetoric and actions of P.A. leaders. The Biden administration is also making a fatal error in thinking that the P.A. will transform into a democratic regime any time in the foreseeable future. Discussion of post-Hamas governing of Gaza is highly premature. Only after Hamas is defeated should discussion on governing the Gaza Strip—perhaps by an interested Arab country or a local leadership—be initiated. One thing is clear: the P.A. is in no way, shape or form up to this job.

Originally published by The Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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