x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Past time for PA to break impasse in the West Bank

The Palestinian Authority may have been backed into calling new elections, but it is past time for the West Bank's leadership to renew its mandate.

Recent events may have given the Palestinian Authority the nudge, but it was already standing very close to the brink. On Saturday, the PA promised presidential and parliamentary elections in September; two days later, the entire cabinet quit.

In a quieter news cycle, those decisions would have dominated the Middle East agenda, but protests in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Iran produce new headlines every day. Indeed, it is worth asking what this recent shake-up in the West Bank will achieve.

The peace process had been stalled if not going backwards, the rift with Hamas is as stark as ever, and the Fatah-led adminstration has been rapidly losing popularity in the eyes of its own people. Last month's release of the Palestine Papers, detailing concessions offered to the Israelis and complicity in the 2008 Gaza war, further damaged the PA's reputation and have at least temporarily torpedoed negotiations.

President Mahmoud Abbas should have cleaned house long ago. His own democratic mandate ran out in 2009, although with a people divided between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he can be forgiven for not holding elections sooner.

It is those belated elections, now scheduled for September, not the latest round of resignations that should reanimate the West Bank. In the lead-up over the coming months, the test will be how fair elections will be and whether Mr Abbas chooses to stand for re-election or not.

Hamas has already denounced the vote. But waiting for the Islamic resistance to offer an olive branch is futile, and even in the Gaza Strip it has offered precious few alternatives. Likewise, relations with the Israelis have calcified. These relationships may get a jolt from regional events, but the PA should move ahead to put its own house in order in the meantime.

One of the few bright spots has been the West Bank's economic development overseen by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. With Israeli settlements proceeding apace, and little sign of genuine negotiations, this has been the Palestinians' best answer to encroachment.

But an economic solution has to be underpinned with the political institutions of a state. Since Hamas's seizure of the Gaza Strip, Fatah's leadership has been robbed of their initiative. Mr Abbas's administration needs to renew its mandate with the people of the West Bank. If it cannot, it needs to stand aside.