Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Palestinian Authority as Netanyahu’s Tool

Over the years, the Palestinian Authority has become a much-needed tool for Israel to curb Palestinian national aspirations.

The Palestinian Authority
A Palestinian officer stands guard during the visit of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (unseen) to the Jenin camp, north of the occupied West Bank on July 12, 2023. Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP

Majed Kayali

Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated Israel’s determination to “curb Palestinian ambitions for an independent state.” At the same time, however, he confirmed that Israel “needs the Palestinian Authority,” saying, “We do not want it to collapse. We are prepared to help it economically. We have an interest in seeing that the Palestinian Authority continues to function,” adding, “Where it operates successfully, it does our job for us.”

Israel’s rejection of a Palestinian state shows that the Palestinian leadership pursued an illusion when it signed the Oslo Accords. Here, we have no questions to ask this leadership. We do, however, question Netanyahu’s eagerness to prevent the Palestinian Authority from collapsing and his claim that the Authority works on Israel’s behalf.

Even if the Palestinian Authority is labelled a state, questions must be asked since it has become essential to Israel. The Authority seems to play the role of an agent, controlling Palestinians in the occupied territories, directly and indirectly, on Israel’s behalf.

In fact, the past three decades of the Palestinian Authority’s rule have confirmed that the idea of an independent Palestinian state is just an imaginary notion, an illusion or an ill-considered venture by the Palestinian leadership. Unfortunately, Palestinian intellectuals promoted this idea while the concept of “the state” was originally not included in the Oslo Accords clauses.

This experience confirmed that Israel can offer the Palestinians nothing other than an entity with limited self-rule. And so, Israel will continue to dominate Palestinians in political, security, economic and administrative realms. Moreover, it also dominates investment opportunities in the Palestinian territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

In short, the security coordination agreements that came with the Oslo Accords were created to tighten control over Palestinians in the occupied territories. Ironically, Israel has long evaded all its obligations in the Oslo Accords and has only clung to the security coordination agreements.

On its part, especially under President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leadership understood the Israeli vision and has acted upon it. This became evident as it shelved the decisions of the Palestinian National Council and Palestinian Central Council to suspend security coordination with Israel. Although the two councils, considered the highest Palestinian legislative bodies, have issued numerous decisions since 2015, these decisions have been eschewed by the Palestinian leadership.

In the same context, Israel has been working tirelessly to strengthen and expand settlements in the West Bank, especially in Jerusalem. It has also built the separation wall, bridges and tunnels to confine Palestinians in scattered enclaves.

The Palestinians face a leadership that continuously denies that their choice for the Oslo Accords has been a failure. The policies pursued by the Authority as a government have helped shatter the unity of the people, the land and the Palestinian cause. These policies have also marginalised the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the national body that unites the Palestinians.

Above all, the Authority’s choice of policies weakened civil society inside Palestine, which was more unified, liberated and bolder in its struggle against Israel before the Authority came to be.

The Palestinians residing in the occupied territories face pressure from three governing bodies, Israel being the most dominant. The second body comprises Israeli settlers in the West Bank, who have significantly increased in numbers.

They, too, have gained legal and systemic support in recent times, particularly as a result of the growing influence of nationalist and religious right-wing groups shaping Israel’s policies and settlement practices.

The Palestinian Authority encompasses the third body governing the Palestinians. It, however, lacks control over the land and crossings. It is unable, in terms of willingness and capability, to effectively protect its people from the recurrent assaults carried out by the Israeli army and settlers. The Authority’s limited power has been evident in the frequent attacks in various Palestinian cities and towns, including Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, Huwara and Turmusayya.

Consequently, this incapacity has further widened the divide between the Palestinian Authority and the people it represents.

The Palestinian Authority has been in existence for the past three decades. President Mahmoud Abbas has led the PLO, Palestinian Authority, and the Fatah movement for nearly two decades. Despite Israel’s consistent obstruction of a possible independent Palestinian state, the Palestinian leadership has not taken adequate measures to strengthen Palestinian civil society and enhance its resilience.

Moreover, the development of Palestinian national entities and institutions based on principles of nationalism, institutionalism and democracy has been neglected.

The Palestinian leadership has not taken significant steps to reassess the reasons behind its unsuccessful political choices. Nor did it explore alternatives to the sole pursuit of an independent state solution. It is important to note that the Palestinian leadership lacks the necessary capabilities to establish an independent state or pursue any other viable option. The Oslo Accords’ focus on an independent state has adversely affected the Palestinian people’s perception of their unity, identity as a nation, and the nature of their cause and struggle for their rights.

In 2021, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel when the legislative and presidential elections were approved, with the prospect of Palestinian National Council elections.

Although these elections would not have solved the Palestinian national crisis caused by faulty structures, unattainable options and worn-out speeches, they could have paved the way for a reality that would enable Palestinians to renew their national movement. Unfortunately, when Abbas postponed the elections, all prospects disappeared.

The Palestinian people, however, continue their struggle in difficult, complex and unfavourable conditions. They still cling to their land and rights. Independent individuals, activists and pioneers in all fields are trying to change this reality and force Israel to understand occupation comes at a cost.

Although their actions are limited in scope and emerge in the shadow of an unfavourable reality, they are bold attempts at filling the void and breaking the devastating political stalemate that has ruled the Palestinian landscape for years. Perhaps this is what Israel tried to prevent by its recent brutal attacks on the Jenin refugee camp.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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