x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dismay from both sides as Oslo Accords architect urges end of Palestinian Authority

Yossi Beilin, the former Israeli justice minister, has spurred debate by his call to dismantle the PA, which he says could jump-start the peace process, but analysts say could lead to more violence.

Yossi Beilin, left, has appealed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, right, to begin the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.
Yossi Beilin, left, has appealed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, right, to begin the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.

TEL AVIV // He is best known as one of the principal architects of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which gave Palestinians a measure of self-rule.

That is why a call this month by Yossi Beilin to dismantle the nearly two-decade-old Palestinian Authority, one of the fruits of the agreement, has caused such dismay among both Israelis and Palestinians.

The call by the former Israeli justice minister, made in a letter to the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and published by the US magazine Foreign Policy, was timely.

It came ahead of the first scheduled top-level meeting yesterday between the two sides since peace talks came to a halt over 18 months ago over Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to halt Jewish settlement growth in the West Bank.

Mr Beilin had just days before learnt that the US, Israel's closest ally, had pressured Mr Abbas to omit from a letter delivered yesterday to the Israeli premier a threat to dismantle his government.

For Mr Beilin, 63, who quit politics in 2008 but remains a key left-wing spokesman, breaking up the Palestinian Authority could jolt Israel to speed up creating a Palestinian state to avoid chaos in the West Bank.

In an interview with The National, Mr Beilin said: "Abbas has to do something unilateral. Netanyahu is not ready to pay the price for peace, the Mideast Quartet [of international mediators] is a bad joke and so are all the recent meetings in Jordan between Israelis and Palestinians."

In Israel, Mr Beilin's letter has spurred debate because he has become one of the most high-profile figures on the Left to call for the elimination of the Palestinian Authority, a move long contemplated by Palestinian leaders frustrated with the lack of progress in talks.

Analysts said Mr Beilin's move reflects the Israeli Left 's realisation that establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel would be impossible under Mr Netanyahu's government.

The Israeli Left, analysts said, now also views the Palestinian Authority's existence as merely helping Israel continue its occupation, and criticises the US for doing little to pressure Israel to end it.

"What Beilin doesn't write - but clearly understands - is that by now, the US has become the greatest enabler of the occupation," wrote Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist, this month on the Israeli commentary website +972 (the number is the country's telephone code).

Mr Abbas has resisted calls to dismantle the Palestinian Authority. On Monday, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam cited him as saying that its "dissolution is out of the question".

Mr Beilin, however, said during a meeting with Mr Abbas this month, the Palestinian leader did not outright reject dismantling his government.

The establishment of the Palestinian Authority was part of the Oslo agreement created as an interim, five-year plan before a permanent settlement.

"Oslo has become the living room rather than the corridor," said Mr Beilin. "Nineteen years is long enough and it's time to hand the keys back to Israel."

Some analysts warn that dismantling the Palestinian Authority could lead to violence as Palestinian security forces disintegrate, as Islamist groups may try to take power and as Jewish settlers may act with a freer hand in grabbing more territory.

However, Mr Beilin said the act may jump-start the peace process. It could also be far more successful than a unilateral Palestinian move for statehood recognition in the United Nations, an effort suspended last autumn amid stiff opposition from Washington and Israel, he added.

"Unlike going to the UN, this is something tangible," Mr Beilin said.

"It will change daily life in the West Bank and trigger a reaction from international players. The whole structure built with the Palestinian Authority - like the donors or the World Bank's operations here - will be destroyed in one letter."

Mr Beilin said he hoped Israel would react by pulling out its troops and civilians from parts of the West Bank that are beyond the security barrier it has been constructing in and along the territory.

However, he acknowledged Mr Netanyahu may bear the cost of governing the West Bank - until now shouldered by Gulf countries, the US and European Union - and send troops back into Palestinian-run areas.

Some Palestinian analysts were sceptical Mr Abbas would overcome US pressure and call off his government. "Abbas does not have the political will to dismantle the PA," said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. "He is leaving all his options open - the UN bid, Palestinian elections, negotiations with Hamas. He does not follow through on any of these."

Mr Beilin said he did not believe the US president, Barack Obama, will apply more pressure on Israel if he wins re-election in November and no longer needs to cater to the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US.

Only a drastic act like dismantling the Palestinian Authority could force the US president to act, Mr Beilin said.

"My guess is that unless there is a trigger that will impose on him to take a decision, he will do nothing."