For two months, the gaze of the world has been fixed on Gaza. As the United States and other Western countries, staunch supporters of Israel, contemplate "the day after" in Gaza, they seem to disregard a crucial factor: the voice of the Palestinian people.
Despite Israeli plans to maintain control over the Strip, these nations have eyed the Palestinian Authority (PA) as the successor in governance once the war ceases. This perspective, however, overlooks the waning popularity of the PA among Palestinians themselves, highlighting a disconnect between external political maneuvers and the aspirations of the people directly affected.
The Palestinian Authority's Waning Popularity
The Palestinian Authority, once viewed as a pillar of governance in the occupied territories, now grapples with a crisis of confidence. Having lost the last democratic elections held in 2006 to Hamas, the PA has since experienced a steady decline in public support.
This sentiment is starkly reflected in a recent survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), where an overwhelming 90 percent of respondents favored the resignation of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, with 60 percent advocating for the dismantling of the PA itself.
Such figures underscore a profound disillusionment with an institution that was once seen as a beacon of Palestinian self-governance.
US Interests and the PA's Role
The United States' steadfast support for the Palestinian Authority, despite its plummeting popularity, is not without strategic calculation.
Central to this support is the PA's consistent anti-Hamas stance and its willingness to engage in security coordination with Israel. This alignment becomes particularly evident in the context of the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza.
Throughout the hostilities, the PA leadership notably refrained from officially endorsing the Palestinian resistance, instead choosing a path of diplomacy and moderation. Their condemnation of civilian casualties on both sides, coupled with a rejection of Palestinian expulsion, signals a political alignment more in tune with US and Israeli interests than with the more militant factions of Palestinian society.
This strategic partnership, however, has its consequences. The PA's alignment with US-Israeli objectives has increasingly alienated it from the broader Palestinian cause. Its crackdown on opposition and suppression of support for factions like Hamas underscore a regime more focused on maintaining power and appeasing external allies than addressing the needs and aspirations of its own people.
This discordance between the PA's actions and the Palestinian national cause raises questions about the sustainability and legitimacy of its rule.
Challenges Facing the Palestinian Authority
The path the PA has chosen in recent years – aligning closely with Israel and the United States – has further eroded its standing among Palestinians.
Its systematic efforts to quash any opposition and its suppression of support for groups such as Hamas have come at a steep cost to its legitimacy. This is evident in its response to the Israel-Gaza conflict, where the PA's security forces have aggressively suppressed demonstrations in support of Gaza, at times resorting to extreme measures like shooting live ammunition at protesters.
Moreover, the PA's inaction in the face of attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian communities has only added to the disillusionment. As Israeli raids intensify in the West Bank, leading to arrests and fatalities, the PA's failure to offer basic protection or respond effectively to these incursions deepens the perception of it as an ineffective and compromised entity.
By positioning itself against the broader Palestinian resistance and aligning with Israel and the US, the PA not only undermines its own legitimacy but also distances itself from the fundamental aspirations of the Palestinian people it claims to represent.
Reinventing the Palestinian Authority: Past and Present
The PA's evolution over the years reflects a series of attempts to balance between external pressures and internal dynamics.
Originally established to administer civil affairs in the occupied territories post the first Intifada, the PA effectively became an Israeli security contractor, overseeing routine arrests and surveillance. This arrangement, while strategically beneficial to Israel, did little to alleviate the challenges faced by Palestinians under occupation.
Under Yasser Arafat’s leadership, the PA – or PA 1.0 – managed to garner some level of support through a mix of patronage and corruption. Arafat viewed the Oslo peace process as a stepping stone towards an independent Palestinian state.
However, the eruption of the second Intifada in 2000 marked a turning point, exposing the fragility of the PA's civil and security arrangements. In response, the Bush administration proposed a revamping of the PA – leading to what can be termed PA 2.0.
This new iteration, while aimed at reshaping Palestinian leadership and deepening security cooperation with Israel, did not translate into a more effective or popular governance body. The PA continued to struggle with issues of mismanagement, corruption, and an increasing detachment from the realities and needs of ordinary Palestinians.
The path forward for the Palestinian Authority, and indeed for peace in the region, lies not in mere administrative restructuring or diplomatic maneuvering. Instead, it requires a genuine engagement with the Palestinian people's aspirations and a concerted effort to address the underlying issues of occupation and apartheid that have long fueled the conflict.
Only through such a holistic approach can a sustainable and just solution be found, one that resonates with the people it affects the most – the Palestinians.