The Palestinian National Authority

Suffering an Identity Crisis

The Middle East peace talks appear to have gotten so far off track that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has now threatened to dissolve the Palestinian National Authority. Yet, what would replace the autonomy authority? Nader Alsarras looks into the matter

Mahmoud Abbas (photo: AP)
A desperate president: Two weeks ago the US government conceded that it had given up efforts to persuade Israel to freeze its construction of settlements in West Bank

​​Mahmoud Abbas finds himself at a dead end. Since the end of September, peace negotiations have stalled, because Israel still refuses to halt the construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories. A distressed Abbas recently announced that should Israel not alter its position, he would dissolve the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

Appearing on Palestinian state television, he said that he could not remain president of an authority that has practically no power. "We should be under no illusions. Even I, as president of the PNA, always require permission from the Israelis to leave Ramallah or return again!"

Alternatives to the Palestinian National Authority

Yet, what would replace the PNA? Abbas did not offer any alternatives to the autonomy authority. Upon closer examination, any alternative seems either unrealistic or undesirable. The dissolution of the Palestinian National Authority would first of all present the possibility of Israel assuming complete responsibility for the 2.2 million Palestinians.

This would be a return to the situation that existed before the creation of the autonomy authority in 1994. Whether Israel is prepared to take such a step appears highly doubtful.

A second possibility is a confederation with Jordan. Although this option is conceivable, it is presently not open for discussion. Another variation would be "to declare a Palestinian state on Jordanian territory," says Mohammad Khalid, editor-in-chief at Palestine News Network (PNN). He adds the qualification, however, that Jordan's King Abdullah II strictly rejects this option.

Many open questions

An Israeli settlement
Land and peace: Because of the continuous extension of settlements, already sparse space for a prospective Palestinian state is being lost

​​Another option is the "one state solution," a common state for Israelis and Palestinians. According to Khalid, this could work, as Arabs and Jews in Israel have managed to get along together in the past. Yet, this solution is unthinkable for the current right-wing Israeli government says the editor. "The Israelis are now focused on a single option – one state for one people – the Israeli people."

Khalid therefore considers an actual dissolution of the National Authority as unrealistic. In addition, it would leave Abbas to face many unresolved questions. Who would fill the political vacuum? Would an international force assume these tasks? What happens to the tens of thousands of PNA employees in civil and military institutions? And what would become of the dream of many Palestinians to have their own independent state?

Desperate situation

These unresolved questions are perhaps the reason why the Palestinians are attempting to have their state recognized by the UN General Assembly before dissolving their autonomy authority. Martin Beck, head of the Jordan Office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, doesn't view this alternative as particularly promising either "as the USA has already stated that it won't support the move."

View of Ammann, Jordan, with a Palestinian national flag in the foreground (photo: AP)
King says no: A confederation of Palestine with Jordan is a conceivable option, it is presently not open for discussion

​​Abbas' threat to dissolve the Palestinian Authority should therefore be seen as an expression of desperation, continues Beck. Moreover, the PNA's democratic legitimacy has long since expired.

"For all that, Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the political elite that he represents are very much interested in maintaining political power, as limited as it may be. This is why I don't believe they would be prepared to take this step if they saw another alternative," says Beck.

Dissolution improbable

Mohammad Khalid also believes that there is currently no other serious alternative for Abbas' administration. The peace process has reached a dead end and this is why Abbas hopes his threat will increase the pressure on the USA and Israel, surmises Khalid.

Although Brazil and Argentina have recently officially recognized the Palestinian state, this brings few tangible benefits for the Palestinians. Even Abbas' attempt to convince other countries to recognizes Palestine won't accomplish much.

"Such recognition means practically nothing to us as long as there are no structures for a Palestinian state." According to Khalid, this gesture of recognition remains merely symbolic.

Nader Alsarras

© Deutsche Welle/ 2010

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

Editor: Ina Rottscheidt, Lewis Gropp

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