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12 APR 2024

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  • Uri Pilichowski

At Your Service? Is the Palestinian Authority Fit To Govern Gaza After the War?


Can the Palestinian Authority be a legitimate successor to Hamas and govern Gaza successfully post-war? 


Abbas and Putin Shaking Hands

This image comes from the website of the President of the Russian Federation and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0


American President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have repeatedly said the only workable solution to a post-war Gaza is a rejuvenated Palestinian Authority governing an independent Palestinian State in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Is the hope for a Palestinian State managed by the Palestinian Authority realistic? 


  • The Biden administration hopes for a rejuvenated Palestinian Authority and a Palestinian State


  • The Palestinian Authority has a long history of allegations of corruption


  • “Pay to Slay” is the Palestinian Authority’s fund to incentivize terrorism and calls the group’s legitimacy into question


  • Hamas and the Fatah party are both partners and rivals thereby complicating the Palestinian Authority’s credibility 

 

The Biden Administration Hopes for a Rejuvenated Palestinian Authority To Govern Gaza and a Palestinian State


In early January American Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Israel and the Middle East for the fourth time since war broke out between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Aside from showing Israel America’s support, Secretary Blinken reiterated a message the Biden administration has been pushing since the start of the war: Israel should support Palestinian leaders willing to make peace with Israel and support the formation of a Palestinian State. This, in essence, is known as a  two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 


Secretary Blinken’s message mirrored what President Biden wrote six weeks earlier. In an op-ed President Biden published in The Washington Post, he wrote, “the United States has proposed basic principles for how to move forward from this crisis, to give the world a foundation on which to build. To start, Gaza must never again be used as a platform for terrorism. There must be no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, and no reduction in territory. And after this war is over, the voices of Palestinian people and their aspirations must be at the center of post-crisis governance in Gaza. As we strive for peace, Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority, as we all work toward a two-state solution.”


Since the start of American calls for a Gaza under the Palestinian Authority, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the idea outright. Netanyahu has insisted a different solution than the Palestinian Authority be found to rule Gaza after the war’s conclusion. At the same time, there are signs from within the Israeli government that Israel might be open to considering a Palestinian Authority-run entity after the war. Netanyahu’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi wrote an opinion piece on the Arabic-language news site Elaph that “Israel is aware of the desire of the international community and the countries of the region to integrate the Palestinian Authority the day after Hamas, and we make it clear that the matter will require a fundamental reform of the Palestinian Authority, Israel is ready for the effort.”



How Functional and Trustworthy Is the Palestinian Authority? A Long History of Allegations


The Palestinian Authority was formed in the mid-1990s as part of the Oslo Accords between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel. The Palestinian Authority has an elected legislative body called the Palestinian Legislative Council along with an elected presidency. The Palestinian Legislative Council hasn’t met since 2007, and there hasn’t been a presidential election since Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005. 


The Palestinian Authority has been led by its President Mahmoud Abbas for 18 years. He was born in Safad, Israel in 1935 and moved to Syria as a child. He helped form the Fatah party in the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow in 1982 and published the book The Secret Relations Between Nazi Germany and the Zionist Movement (which was based upon the work done in his thesis). As he entered politics he rose quickly heading the Palestinian delegation at the signing of the Declaration of Principles “Oslo Agreement” on  September 13, 1993, in Washington. He took over the leadership of the Palestinian Authority after the death of the PLO’s founder, Yasser Arafat. 


There are many accusations made against the Palestinian Authority for not enforcing laws or complying with them, not having a functional legislative body, not prosecuting corrupt officials within the Palestinian Authority, and having few if any civil society organizations. All of this has led to criticisms of corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Large, but unearned amounts of wealth held by President Abbas’s family and other senior Palestinian Authority officials, also contribute to the charges of corruption.



The Role of the “Pay to Slay” Program in the Possibility of the Palestinian Authority Governing Gaza


Payments made by the Palestinian Authority to known terrorists, in what has become known as “pay to slay”, have called the Palestinian Authority’s legitimacy and status as a peace partner into strong question. 


As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Palestinian Authority officials tell foreign audiences that they oppose terrorism, yet they pay generous rewards to Palestinians who carry out bombings, stabbings and other attacks against innocents in Israel. These payments are codified in Palestinian law, which dictates that the deadlier an attack, the richer the reward.” Payments have risen to about $315 million a year, or more than 8% of the Palestinian Authority budget.


In 2016, the US Congress passed The Taylor Force Act. It stated that funds appropriated or otherwise made available for assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and available for assistance for the West Bank and Gaza may only be made available for such purpose if the Secretary of State certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the Palestinian Authority has terminated payments for acts of terrorism against United States and Israeli citizens to any individual who has been imprisoned after being fairly tried and convicted for such acts of terrorism and to any individual who died committing such acts of terrorism, including to a family member of such individuals. 


President Mahmoud Abbas has said, “Even if I will have to leave my position, I will not compromise on the salary of a Martyr or a prisoner, as I am the president of the entire Palestinian people, including the prisoners, the Martyrs, the injured, the expelled, and the uprooted.” A member of Fatah's Central Committee, Jamal Muhaisen, quoted Abbas' promise and emphasized that this is not a financial matter, but rather a matter that is connected to the Palestinian historical narrative, according to which the prisoners and Martyrs represent the Palestinian people's struggle.


The refusal to abandon the program has become a major sticking point for seeing the Palestinian Authority as fit to govern Gaza after the war. 



How Different Is the Palestinian Authority From Hamas?  


Hamas was formed in late 1987 at the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada (uprising). Its roots are in the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a robust sociopolitical structure inside the Palestinian territories supports it. The group’s charter calls for establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel and rejects all agreements made between the PLO and Israel. Hamas’s strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank.


On October 7, 2023, Hamas orchestrated and carried out an attack on military targets and civilian cities and towns in Israel from their stronghold in the Gaza Strip. Hamas and 10 other Palestinian terrorist organizations along with Palestinian civilians conducted the attack that killed over 1,200 Israelis and injured over 5,000 more. 240 people were kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Hamas terrorists used murder, torture, kidnapping, and rape as vehicles of violence. Jibril Rajoub, secretary general of Fatah’s Central Committee, an official within the Palestinian Authority justified the October 7 massacre as an act “in the context of the defensive war our people are waging.” The Palestinian Authority never condemned the October 7 massacre


While Hamas and the Fatah faction within the Palestinian Authority are rivals and have violently attacked each other, they have also joined together in multiple unity governments, setting aside their differences to join forces against Israel. As the Israel-Hamas war continues, Hamas leaders are considering a unity deal with Fatah. Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas's political bureau said, “We are open to all national components to rebuild our national reference under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization democratically, in addition to agreeing to a national government for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.''


This lack of separation and condemnation is another reason why many are skeptical of the  Palestinian Authority’s credibility in governing Gaza post-war. It raises the question as to how different a Palestinian Authority rule would be from Hamas’. 


The Palestinian Authority’s Ability to Govern Is in Serious Question


Skeptics of the Biden administration’s stance look at the Palestinian Authority’s history of corruption, its incentivization and support of terrorism, its willingness to unite with Hamas, and its support of the October 7 massacre as indications that the Palestinian Authority does not represent a paradigm shift from the current situation in Gaza. 


This is aside from the aforementioned internal corruption the Palestinian Authority is often accused of. 


It is hard to imagine the Israel people and its leaders trusting the Palestinian Authority to act as an honest partner and broker in governing Gaza once the war has run its course. 

 

Sources




The Wall Street Journal, Israel Rebuffs Calls for Palestinian Authority to Rule Gaza, November 12, 2023




Embassy of the State of Palestine in Hanoi, Vietnam, “Biography of H.E. President Mahmoud Abbas” 


Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “The Palestinian Authority’s Corruption and Its Impact on the Peace Process” July 23, 2023 


The Wall Street Journal, Pay for Slay in Palestine, March 27, 2017


United States Senate, S.3414, September 28, 2016


Palestinian Media Watch, Abbas vows never to stop salaries to terrorists, July 4, 2017


Director of National Intelligence, Terror Groups: Hamas, January 2014



 

Uri Pilichowski

Uri Pilichowski


Uri Pilichowski is an author, speaker, and senior educator at institutions around the world.


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