The Israeli-Palestinian doomsday scenario
In honor of Roland Emerich’s apocalyptic “2012,” let’s parse out a Middle Eastern doomsday scenario: the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and the revival of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the primary governing body of the Palestinian leadership. This threat has been wielded in recent days by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his top deputies, ...
In honor of Roland Emerich’s apocalyptic “2012,” let’s parse out a Middle Eastern doomsday scenario: the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and the revival of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the primary governing body of the Palestinian leadership. This threat has been wielded in recent days by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his top deputies, most notably Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who told the New York Times that the issue surrounding Abbas’s resignation “is not about who is going to replace him. This is about our leaving our posts.”
In the event of Abbas’s resignation, his allies in the PLO would not have much choice but to dissolve the PA. If Abbas resigns before the next presidential elections, which were delayed today because of Hamas’s refusal to allow elections in Gaza, the speaker of parliament, Hamas’s Abdel Aziz Duaik, would become acting president. That would be bad for Israel — but the resurrection of Hamas in the West Bank would be disastrous for the PLO. While Abbas is trying to use this possibility to threaten Israel to freeze settlement construction, it’s hard to believe he would actually shoot himself in the foot in this way.
From a legal standpoint, the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority actually makes some sense. The institution was set up in 1994 as in interim body during the planned five-year withdrawal of Israel from the nascent Palestinian state, in line with the Oslo peace process. As with many institutions in the Middle East, where those billed as “interim” prove to be permanent (for example, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), the PA has continued even while hope for Oslo has waned. In the absence of a clear path towards a negotiated peace, and especially following Hamas’s armed 2007 takeover in Gaza, the PA’s authority has greatly diminished.
Nevertheless, the dissolution of the PA would be a disaster for any hopes of peace, and for the average Palestinian. For the PLO, it would likely mark a return to “resistance” over negotiations. At the same time, the ostensible reason for the PLO-Hamas division would be erased, paving the way for reconciliation between the two parties — and, given Hamas’s decreased popularity, possibly the eventual return of the PLO’s dominance of Gaza. On the other hand, a PLO-Hamas rapprochement would strengthen the hardliners in Israel. Western support — from financial aid to General Dayton’s training of Palestinian Authority security forces — would also presumably decline with the dissolution of the PA.
Now, I don’t want to compare the U.S. position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to John Cusack’s in 2012, where California is falling into the Pacific Ocean and an aircraft carrier slams into the White House. But we’re reaching a stage when the ground beneath the major players is starting to shift, and the traditional divides may no longer be applicable.
David Kenner was Middle East editor at Foreign Policy from 2013-2018.
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