How to Save the PA: On Replacing a Corrupt Leadership
Over the past few years, I’ve tried my best to study the intricate relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli establishment. This has not been an easy task, owing to the many different narratives that surround the conflict, but I believe that some basic points have become clearer to me and I wish to convey some of my opinions regarding the current situation.
While in Israel the Palestinian leaders are demonized as terrorists, on the Palestinian street the PLO are despised as corrupt puppet-leaders who cave into Israeli and Western pressures. This is a simple truth that, even as it may seem contradictory, serves as a general outline for what I have encountered in my years of exploring the topic. In a way, I don’t envy the uncomfortable position that the PA leaders occupy, I would not enjoy being hated simultaneously by both sides, however, in order to better understand how and why this has come about, we must distinguish between individual greed and collective dysfunction, and analyze the system, with all its human faults, objectively.
Personally, I have experienced the dual nature of the Palestinian political establishment through my attempts to make contact with it. Years ago, I was introduced to the PLO by Israeli friends who took me on an official visit to their headquarters in Ramallah, where I met the “Committee for Interaction with the Israeli Society.” We were warmly welcomed by the special delegation who urged us to engage them in polite discourse about our conflict. However, as I came to see it, the committee’s stances on borders, support for families of terrorists and their objection to a Jewish presence in the West Bank left very little room for any kind of resolution. I felt frustrated by the perceived intransigence of the Palestinian leadership and their unwillingness to find common ground with even the most open-minded of Israelis. Even so, I made it my business to establish contact with the committee when I started my activities in Israel. I felt like I needed to rely on some support for the kind of humanistic projects that I was planning to pursue. Yet, my contacts in the committee were unwilling to help me, fearing Israeli retribution. I became disenchanted by the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to maintain an effective front against Israeli fascism, and while I understood that behind their weakness stood the obvious reality of the Israeli occupation, I found their inability to articulate their weakness and their overselling of their “statehood” suspect and corrupt. I also felt let down.
I’ll admit to my initial naiveté when approaching the subject, but, with time, I began to grasp the situation and to turn to unorthodox channels. A few months ago, I turned myself over to the PA police in Ramallah in order to argue my case and establish ties as a representative of Religious-Zionist Jews interested in coordinating efforts against the Secular-Zionist Israeli establishment. Many religious Jews express discomfort with the cultural mores and religious irreverence prevalent in Israeli society, and I suggested to the police that we should coordinate efforts in order to increase such tension so as to weaken the Israeli nationalist resolve and further the interests of the Palestinians. In my mind, I needed to provide a legitimate scheme to my potential Israeli allies that would offer us enough protection from Israeli security pressures in order to progress. I assumed that while limited, the PA police could offer us significant leverage against Shin-Bet, seeing how dependent the Israelis have become on their security collaboration with PA forces. Additionally, I specifically wanted to speak with those in contact with the Israelis in order to insulate my activities from undesirable intervention on the part of U.S. hegemonic interests. I did not trust the Israelis alone to protect us from American pressures, I needed to involve the Palestinians in order to shore up our defenses.
My next step was to contact Palestinian representatives in Europe with access to anti-establishment channels within the respective European states. Using my story of being ‘detained’ by PA security as an excuse, I sought out audiences with official representatives of the PA in their embassies in Paris and Rome. I explained to them that, upon conferring with PA security and with various leaders of Religious-Zionist institutions, it would be possible to establish covert ties between rebellious elements of both the Palestinian and Israeli establishments, using the Religious-Zionist communities, along with their disproportionate representation in the IDF combat units and officer corps, as a civilian, diplomatic bridge. In order to facilitate such a maneuver, however, we would need the assurances of the major European powers that such a coordinated effort, an effective synthesis of many aspects of the Israeli and Palestinian foreign interests, including the magnification of anti-colonialist sentiment from the Palestinian side, would not provoke hegemonic resistance and malicious retribution. If the Europeans would compensate Israel for the loss of her privileged U.S. support, the Israelis would be less wary of such a transition, especially if it would mean an end to government-sponsored incitement against Israeli civilians.
I was met with cautious support for my proposition. On the one hand, the representatives were happy to agree that Judaism was also a religion, and not only a racially defined nationalism, on the other hand, though, they found the practical implications for collaborating with settlers as problematic. On a personal, ideological level, they entertained the possibility that such a solution would be possible, even reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ before the intifadas. However, they reminded me that they were still beholden to the political decisions of their superiors in Ramallah. They were just envoys, and could not initiate such activities on their own. They suggested that I return to Ramallah and speak with the proper PA officials in order to receive formal clearance. I told them that I was doubtful of having much success, owing to the intense hegemonic pressures present in Ramallah. While I did not state the obvious for reasons of diplomatic etiquette, it must have been abundantly clear that I was intent on circumventing the ‘proper’ PA channels in Ramallah, and while I was afforded some leniency on account of the Israeli-imposed limitations on my freedom of movement in Ramallah, I did not hide my disdain for the corrupt manipulations of the Western diplomatic establishment, upon which the PA in Ramallah is almost entirely dependent.
The question that arises, then, is how to fix the internal dynamics of the PA leadership without losing the institutional continuity necessary to maintain its diplomatic relations with the Europeans. If the PA were to fail and cease to exist, its envoys would immediately lose standing vis-à-vis their foreign counterparts. This would, in turn, lead to increased isolation and unofficial diplomacy through problematic NGOs and UNWRA. This would also mean losing any chance for the Israelis to piggy-back and monitor official Palestinian channels with anti-establishment elements in Europe. This would not only be dangerous, as it would limit Israel’s influence over potentially anti-Semitic European political movements who could theoretically support Palestinian terrorism, it would also be a missed opportunity to fight the corrupt global establishment.
Instead of waiting for the inevitable to occur, we should actively seek out those elements of the existing Palestinian establishment that could step in and take control of the situation when the current leadership begins to fail. I propose that priority should be given to those elements of the Palestinian establishment already in contact with either Europe, through the foreign office, or the Israelis, through COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories), who could use their relative immunity from Western pressures to build a stable alternative to the current corrupt leadership. Even so, the gap in leadership must be filled by a new element. The Foreign Office and COGAT would be stretched too thin if all their human resources would be redistributed to administrative and governing duties. Without the injection of a new, benign source of established leadership, the PA would remain unstable and prone to serious corruption.
Such an infusion of new leadership can come, as I see it, from two potential sources: Palestinian communities in the West and non-Zionist Jewish Israelis (non-settlers) intent on gaining the trust of the Palestinians as a step towards regional peace. Leveraging Israeli and Palestinian-diaspora pressures against the corrupt interests of the Western hegemony presents itself as the only possibility of building a stable alternative to the corruption that harms Palestinian interests and has them suffer needlessly. In order to allow for this to happen, however, it will be necessary to change the conventional, approved dialogue surrounding the conflict: The Palestinians would have to concede the legitimacy of existing Israeli “settlements” in the West Bank, whereas the Israelis would have to begin deconstructing the Zionist ideology into religious Judaism and a secular ‘Israeli’ humanism.
By acknowledging the synthesis of our common foreign and domestic interests and by recognizing our joint security-apparatus as a critical step towards a one state solution, both sides will have to come to terms with the limitations of our precarious situation in an unstable region of the globe and find the human resources necessary to enable true coexistence. I do not think that the status quo will change drastically in the near future, but, with a more-nuanced world view, I believe that one day we will attain true strategic peace, maintained by our joint geopolitical interests.