x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 October 2017

Perhaps a new struggle for civil rights is needed

The Palestinian Authority is in no position to lead a popular struggle, argues Jonathan Cook

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Mohamad Torokman / Reuters)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Mohamad Torokman / Reuters)

Desperate lobbying among members of the United Nations Security Council averted the embarrassment of Washington being forced to veto a Palestinian resolution to end the occupation.

The Palestinians’ failure to get the necessary votes saved the White House’s blushes but there was a cost nonetheless: the claim that the US can oversee a peace process that will end in a Palestinian state is no longer credible.

Looming is the post-peace process era. Its advent may have been marked by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s decision, immediately after the Security Council vote, to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Israel is furiously opposed to the move, justifiably fearful that its politicians, military commanders and settler-leaders may be put on trial for war crimes. But the Palestinians have long been apprehensive about such a move as well. Mr Abbas has spent years postponing the decision. This is not chiefly, as Israelis statements imply, because he was worried that he might be liable to war crimes charges. Instead, Mr Abbas wanted to avoid the severe retaliation he knew would come.

Sure enough, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has halted the transfer of tax revenues that Israel collects on the Palestinians’ behalf. Israel is also preparing to lobby the US Congress to enforce legislation that would halt aid to the Palestinian Authority in the event of any ICC action against Israelis. But the biggest problem of all, as Mr Abbas well knows, is that any decision to pursue war crimes trials against Israel will threaten the PA’s very existence.

The PA was the offspring of the 20-year-old Oslo Accords, which invested it with two functions. It was supposed to maintain stability in the parts of the occupied territories that it governed while serving as Israel’s interlocutor for the five years of negotiations that were supposed to lead towards Palestinian statehood.

It has excelled in both roles. Under Mr Abbas, the PA has been doggedly faithful to the idea of the peace process, despite Mr Netanyahu spurning meaningful talks at every turn. The PA’s security forces – in coordination with those of Israel – have kept the West Bank remarkably quiet even as Israel expanded and accelerated its settlement programme.

But as Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman argued on Sunday, the Palestinians’ move to The Hague court is further proof that the Oslo Accords have expired.

And without a peace process, or any Israeli commitment to Palestinian statehood, why should the PA continue to cooperate on security matters with Israel?

If the Accords are officially dead, the impression can only grow that the PA is nothing more than Israel’s security contractor, assisting in the oppression of its own people. Until now, that reality had been partially obscured by Mr Abbas’ image as the Palestinian peacemaker.

But if the process is indeed over, the contradictions in the PA’s role will be on display. Right now, Palestinian security forces are committed to coordinating with the very people the PA is intending to indict as war criminals. And by maintaining calm in the West Bank, the PA is furthering the building of the very settlements that the Rome Statute defines as a war crime.

Mr Abbas is in a bind. If he goes on the offensive, why would Israel allow the PA to continue functioning? But if his security forces continue to collaborate with Israel, how can he retain credibility with his people?

This leaves the Palestinian leader with only two credible strategic options – aside from dissolving the PA himself. First, to adopt a sophisticated kind of armed resistance, though the PA specifically rejected this in the past and is poorly equipped for it. The other is to accept that Palestinian statehood is a lost cause and there is a need to adopt a new kind of struggle, one for equal civil rights in a single state. But the PA’s rationale and bureaucratic structure preclude that. It is in no position to lead a popular struggle.

Jonathan Cook is an independent journalist based in Nazareth