Saving Abbas to subdue Palestinians

Saving Abbas to subdue Palestinians
Opinion: Taken at face value, Israel appears to be attempting a new approach in policy towards the Palestinians. But the real agenda is saving the PA to ensure continued Palestinian repression, writes Ramona Wadi.
6 min read
06 Sep, 2021
'Without Abbas and the PA, Israel stands to lose a strategic partner in the colonisation process' writes Ramona Wadi [Getty]

During former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tenure, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was treated as an irrelevant political actor. That marginalisation increased when the Trump administration embarked upon a series of concessions to Israel leading up to the Abraham Accords

Throughout the Netanyahu-Trump alliance, Abbas played a duplicitous role - using resistance rhetoric in an attempt to bolster his short-lived popularity over halting security coordination with Israel, and grovelling before the international community to try and salvage some political standing through the two-state politics.

Upon Joe Biden's electoral victory, Abbas swiftly resumed the status quo with no concern for the impending annexation plans. The PA's return to politics was further hampered by Abbas's decision to cancel elections and the extrajudicial killing of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat.

"Keeping Abbas in power at the expense of the Palestinian people seems to be the chosen option"

By mid-July this year, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr stated, "I have never seen the Palestinian Authority in a worse situation," as he urged Israel to alleviate the Palestinian economy to prevent a complete collapse. As protests against the PA's violent authoritarianism showed no signs of abating, keeping Abbas in power at the expense of the Palestinian people seems to be the chosen option.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz's recent meeting with Abbas was swiftly contextualised by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. "This is a meeting that deals with security issues," he declared

"There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be."

Yet the meeting has significance. Taken at face value, it might seem as if the Israeli government is attempting a new approach in policy towards the Palestinians. However, the backdrop to the meeting is saving the PA, which in turn ensures continued security coordination with Israel and prominence for Israel's security narrative.

Given the PA's weak position at the moment, which is the real reason why Abbas cancelled the elections, a power vacuum in Palestine would not only embolden Hamas but also allow new voices from among the people to emerge. Were that to happen, Israel, the US, and the international community would find that clinging on to the two-state diplomacy as a veneer might no longer suffice.

"Gantz's meeting with Abbas sought to stave off the ramifications of the Palestinian people's unified resistance"

Furthermore, the US has returned to its covert way of doing politics with Biden at the helm. The US pledge to return to the two-state compromise has also elicited a change in the Israeli government's approach. Formal annexation has been postponed, and while Bennett is refusing negotiations with the PA, there is a realisation that the swiftness with which the Trump-Netanyahu alliance dealt severe blows to both Abbas and the Palestinian people cannot currently be sustained.

Without Abbas and the PA, Israel stands to lose a strategic partner in the colonisation process, while the international community will be forced to think outside the parameters of the two-state hypothesis.

Gantz's meeting with Abbas sought to stave off the ramifications of the Palestinian people's unified resistance. The concessions agreed to by Israel touch upon issues that have plagued Palestinians for decades, and which tie in directly to the economic and personal loss incurred throughout Israel's colonial and military occupation.

So far, Gantz has agreed to grant residency rights to thousands of Palestinians who are living in the occupied West Bank and who lack legal status. The measure will impact older adults, according to Haaretz, and will also include Palestinians from Gaza and foreign nationals who have spouses from the West Bank. All permits will be issued subject to security checks.

Work permits will be offered to 15,000 Palestinians to enable them to work in Israel. Additionally, Israel will be granting the PA a loan of $155 million with repayments starting in June 2022 via tax revenues which are collected by Israel on behalf of the PA. Gantz also declared that 1,000 construction permits for Palestinians in Area C would be issued.

All these concessions amount to little more than bargaining in the context of the current political scenario. 

"The stronger the Palestinian Authority is, the weaker Hamas will be," Gantz declared. "And the greater the ability to govern is, the more security we'll have and the less we'll have to do."

Subduing the Palestinian population, therefore, was considered the best way for Israel to restore the PA's status quo. Although several right-wing Knesset members objected to the meeting between Gantz and Abbas, the move was approved by Bennett.

"Subduing the Palestinian population was considered the best way for Israel to restore the PA's status quo"

With the Palestinian population under control, as Israel and the PA hope to achieve through these concessions, security coordination would once again determine the level of oppression meted out against Palestinian political dissent.

Before Abbas's political decline, the concessions Israel agreed to were intended to restrict Palestinian autonomy. The approach has now altered - it is through allowing some measures of freedom through bargaining that Israel and the PA can hope to maintain their control.

Abbas knows that the outcome of any democratic elections could see the PA unravel as a result of its own collaborative political trajectory with Israel. Having Abbas cling to what remains of his power, for the time being, would buy Israel and Ramallah some time, or so it is hoped.

It is a desperate measure for both Israel and the PA. To attempt different forms of exploitation against a colonised population is hugely significant, in particular when unified resistance across occupied Palestine, such as in refugee camps such as Jenin, is causing problems for both the Israeli military and the PA's security services.

As Gantz stated, the meeting was an attempt to find common ground despite not reaching a political agreement (which Bennett has declared himself against). For the PA, reaching a political agreement with Israel at a time when its authoritarian measures have impacted so many Palestinians, would be political suicide.

Security coordination, on the other hand, "sacred" for Abbas, has become common ground for Israel and the PA. Without a political process, the regime uses concessions as tools for control, rather than a rights-based approach. 

Furthermore, the easing of certain hardships for Palestinians - if the agreements are carried out - will facilitate a stronger, more coordinated Israeli-PA response against a legitimate and unified resistance.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.