Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to “dismantle the Palestinian Authority” if there’s no movement toward a two-state peace after Israel’s upcoming elections.
“I will take the phone and call Netanyahu," Abbas told Haaretz’s Barak Ravid on Thursday. "I'll tell him, 'my dear friend, Mr. Netanyahu, I am inviting you to the Muqata [the PA presidential headquarters]. Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority’."
Which sounds pretty serious, and would be pretty serious, if it actually happened. But given the frequency with which the threat has been made, I have my doubts.
September 2008: “Abbas aide threatens to dismantle PA.” July 2008: “Abbas vows to dismantle PA if Israel frees Hamas prisoners for Shalit.” July 2011: “[Lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb] Erekat said that if the United States continued to stymie the Palestinian efforts to get a state recognized by the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority should be dismantled. ‘[Abbas] should throw the keys in their faces’.” September 2011: “Abbas is considering dismantling the PA.” October 2011: “UN envoy: Israel must take Abbas threats to dismantle PA seriously.” November 2011: “Israeli-Palestinian jolt? Why some want to dismantle PA.” December 2011: “Mahmoud Abbas Could Dismantle Palestinian Authority.” March 2012: “In rebuff to Obama, Abbas says he will send ultimatum to Israel.” In April, former Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and peace negotiator Yossi Beilin urged Abbas to make good on the threat, and in September, Abbas was publicly kicking the idea around again.
And that’s just what I turned up in a couple of Google searches.
“Dismantling the Palestinian Authority” (see also: “throwing the keys in their faces”) boils down to code for “abrogating the Oslo Accords,” which is in turn code for “forcing direct control of Palestinians’ daily lives back into Israel’s hands,” a thing which Israel in no way actually wants (whatever Avigdor Lieberman might say).
On the contrary, Israel has been only too happy to benefit from the Authority’s cooperation on security issues, stage the occasional incursion for its own purposes, and leave the heavy lifting on things like health and education to the Palestinian leadership (even while withholding the PA’s tax revenues—crucial to financing such niceties as health and education—and/or urging the U.S. Congress to withhold aid). Behind what Beilin calls “the fig leaf” of the PA, successive Israeli governments have been able to convince the world that the Palestinian government is very nearly an equal player on the world stage, all the while crisscrossing Palestine with settlements, bypass roads, and a massive fence in an increasingly successful effort to destroy the possibility of an actual, viable Palestinian state.
So when Abbas threatens to hand the keys over to his dear friend Mr. Netanyahu, what he’s really threatening is to end the charade. He’s threatening to force the world to concede that what began with such high hopes in 1993 has led only to an entrenchment of the occupation, and beyond the recognition of the Palestinian right to statehood, all the money, time, political capital, and conference halls invested in the two-state dream have thus far achieved absolutely nothing. Less than nothing, really, possibly worse than nothing, because so far, two decades of Oslo have mostly served to let us all look the other way as Israel has actively made life worse for the people living under its military rule and tightened its grip on the land on which those people live.
I thus find myself agreeing (again) with Yossi Beilin’s call to his old negotiating partner, really hoping that Abbas means it this time. I cannot help but think that at this point, only a bone-rattling shock can save the two-state idea, and as I still believe that idea to be the only one that might yet provide security and dignity to both peoples, I find myself pulling for shocking developments.
Yet “hope” is not the same as “believe.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is himself a product of the process that is now so very, very moribund. If he throws his keys at Bibi, he’ll be abandoning legions of Palestinians dependent on their government jobs, undoing the only concession his people has ever wrested from their occupiers, and declaring his own political life a failed experiment. While that sort of thing is not entirely unprecedented in international politics, it certainly is rare.
No, I believe that, absent his own shocking development, Abbas will continue to do exactly what he’s long done: talk. And the United States and European Union will join him in that. They’ll all talk, they’ll all condemn this or call for that, and in the meantime, only one party will actually do anything: Israel.
And what Israel does will render everyone else’s words meaningless.