White House, September 13, 1993
On March 12, 2012, Palestinian and Hebrew media report that by the end of this week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is about to deliver a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority. The US and Jordan urged Abbas not to deliver the letter. This happened one day after Lieutenant General Benny Ganz—IDF’s Chief of staff—said “Hamas is the sovereign in Gaza” during the investment ceremony of Central Command’s new commandant.
During the last few days, the letter’s draft has been leaked to the Palestinian media. If this is the letter to be delivered, then Abbas is blaming Israel for the freeze in the peace process and is posing an ultimatum to Netanyahu. Abbas emphasizes that the Palestinian Authority was established as a means to move from occupation to an independent Palestinian state; instead Netanyahu has deprived the Palestinian Authority of all power.
The letter continues to state that if Israel does not cancel all its decisions regarding the Palestinian Authority since 2000, stops settlement building, releases prisoners and recognizes two states on the basis of the 1967 borders, the Palestinian Authority will demand that international law be fully applied to the West Bank.
Isn’t international law already valid in the Palestinian Authority? Shrewd Abbas is making a subtle point there. When Yitzhak Rabin signed the agreement with the PLO that founded the Palestinian Authority, he had a hard time explaining it to the Israeli public.
Eventually he paid for that with his life. His rhetoric was interesting. He gave emphasis to the “Authority” part of the name. “It’s like the Postal Authority,” he explained, implying the Palestinian Authority wasn’t independent and wasn’t to be feared.
Israel features several “authorities,” institutions responsible for various services, like the … “Postal Authority” and the “Roads Authority.” Technically, that’s the situation until now. The Palestinian Authority is the Israeli government body responsible for most civil affairs in most of the Occupied Territories.
The Palestinian Authority legislates its own local laws—like regional councils and cities do—but it is subject to the Israeli legal apparatus. Israel’s Supreme Court is the highest court in the area. This is the key for understanding Abbas odd phrasing.
“Reverting to international law” is here an euphemism for bringing the Palestinian Authority territories back under the Geneva Conventions regulating war, and occupied territories. In other words, Abbas is dismantling the Palestinian Authority and bringing its territories back to the situation immediately after the 1967 war.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Joudah visited Washington a week and a half ago, and met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the issue. Upon his return from Washington, Joudah traveled to Ramallah, where he gave the Palestinian Authority a letter from King Abdullah II. According to Israeli officials and Western diplomats, both the Jordanians and the Americans are pressing Abbas to shelve the letter, or at the very least to soften its tone.
Can Abbas Dismantle the Palestinian Authority?
Mahmoud Abbas is holding his position as President of the Palestinian Authority illegally. Elected to serve until January 9, 2009, Mr. Abbas unilaterally extended his term as president of the Palestinian Authority for another year and continues in office even after that deadline expired. Israel doesn’t recognize the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, when Hamas took over, and is supporting Abbas’ wild presidency.
The result of this was the de facto disintegration of the Palestinians into two bodies: the Palestinian Authority Government in much of the West Bank, which is supported by Israel, and the Hamas Government in Gaza, which is pretty much independent.
In the last week of April 2011, the post-Mubarak >Egyptian government made two important announcements regarding the Rafah Border Crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi told Al-Jazeera that within seven to ten days, the crossing would be opened in order to alleviate the “blockade and suffering of the Palestinian nation.”
He added that the former Egyptian government decision to seal it off was “shameful.” Then, the Israeli Army Radio reported that the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces General Sami Anan warned Israel against interfering with Egypt’s plan to open the Rafah Border Crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, saying it was not a matter of Israel’s concern. This was Egypt’s informal recognition of Gaza’s sovereignty.
Considering this, it is unlikely than any international tribunal would recognize the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority by an unqualified representative as legal. Interestingly, following the new violence in Gaza after the assassination of the Popular Resistance Committees’ leader last Friday, IDF’s Chief of staff, said “Hamas is the sovereign in Gaza,” recognizing that such a letter by Abbas would carry very little weight.
West Bank | Gaza
If Abbas is little more than a willing Israeli government employee, and owns his post solely due to Israeli recognition since 2009, why is he dismantling his fiefdom?
Israel has shown very little sensibility towards its employee. On August 20, 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas have been invited to Washington on September 2, to start a round of talks. These talks weren’t recognized by Hamas.
Palestinian legal Prime Minister—Ismail Haniyeh—said that “Palestinians worldwide do not support absurd talks with Israel,” and that “the scheduled negotiations would not restore Palestinian rights or give Palestinians control over religious sites.” Khaled Mashal, said that the talks were illegitimate and the result of Washington’s coercion.
A few days after the talks began—on September 27—the 10-month moratorium on the Israeli construction in the West Bank ended. Abbas said on various occasions that he would abandon peace talks if Israel would not extend the moratorium.
This was a sensible request; he demanded just a temporary moratorium until an agreement between the sides was agreed upon. The day before the end of the moratorium, Abbas added that Israel must choose between its settlement policy and peace.
Israel was oblivious to everything. Netanyahu said nothing explicit and the moratorium ended quietly. Abbas knew that would happen.
On September 25, 2010, he said at the UN General Assembly: “Despite the historic injustice that has been inflicted upon our people, their desire to achieve a just peace which guarantees the achievement of their national rights in freedom and independence has not and will not diminish, and our wounded hands are still able to carry the olive branch from the rubble of the trees that the occupation uproots every day.”
Israel was negotiating with its willing employee, in an attempt to enforce a solution on the Palestinian side. Under such circumstances, one would expect Israel to fervently support its political puppet.
Yet, ignoring Abbas, Israel resumed building on Palestinians lands, not before making sure the Palestinian leader it negotiated with was utterly humiliated in the eyes of his own people. What kind of negotiating tactic was that? Was this the epitome of Jewish Wisdom? Did Israel hope to create a positive attitude on the Palestinian streets in such a way?
After his public disgrace, Abbas lost his political weight. The letter about to be issued now is the only honorable path open to him. If delivered, it announces the intensification of the violence in the West Bank in the short term, and its transfer to Hamas control in the long term. The day after that happens, Rabbi Mammon Rothschild would cry with crocodile tears: “The entire world is against us!”