Rami Khouri
The Daily Star (Opinion)
December 9, 2010 - 1:00am

The latest pronouncements of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, that he would consider dissolving the Palestinian Authority (PA) if the current stalled peace negotiations with Israel do not move ahead, is more bizarre than brazen. It is understandable that he is frustrated and groping for alternatives to his current failed policy, but what he proposes is simply silly and regrettable.

First of all, it is not his decision whether the PA should be dissolved or not. It is a decision that the Palestinian people should have an opportunity to decide on. One of the reasons Abbas and his colleagues have made no progress in their diplomatic engagement with the Israelis and the Americans is that Abbas and colleagues are waging battle on their own – ageing generals without an army. They are woefully detached from their natural support base among Palestinians in the occupied territories, in Israel, in the Arab world, and around the globe. They have copied the common Arab state method of governance by a small group of men who remain in power for three or four decades at a time, and do not consult their people seriously or hold their decisions accountable to any sort of serious popular ratification or accountability. If the PA is to be dissolved, the decision would have to come from a more representative Palestinian decision-making body than the current PA executive leadership.

Second of all, logistically dissolution would be a bad move, because it would leave Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and would create a vacuum in which Palestinians would find themselves inordinately led by Hamas – which does not represent a majority or even a plurality of Palestinians. Hamas is appreciated or feared by various parts of the Palestinian population, but it clearly does not represent the natural Palestinian national leadership. Dissolving the PA would throw the mantle of Palestinian national leadership to Hamas by default, which is not necessarily a good idea in procedural or political terms.

Third of all, the politics and psychology of dissolving the PA represent the equivalent of taking your ball and going home if you don’t like how the game is progressing. It shows the weaknesses of a failed leadership, and would be a sorry substitute for the really decisive leadership that Mahmoud Abbas and colleagues have been unable to provide their people. It is not a particularly impressive move, either, and will only generate a combination of scorn and ridicule. Abbas would be seen not only as a failure as president, but as a quitter, too.

Fourth of all, knowing the Israelis, Abbas’ threatened move to dissolve the PA would not necessarily achieve the aims he has in mind. Dissolution may fail to force the Israelis to come back and govern the West Bank and provide the services the Palestinians living under occupation are entitled to from an occupying authority. The Israelis would simply unilaterally declare that they have withdrawn from the main cities and towns of the West Bank – as they did from Gaza a few years ago – and they would demand that the United Nations, the Arab League, Jordan, or a combination of organizations and countries take charge of providing order and basic services.

Anyone who believes that the Israelis will be enticed, forced or tricked back into taking charge of Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank is either a fool or a dreamer. Abbas is neither of those things, but is simply a typical Arab political leader who has lost the capacity to govern with skill, equity and efficiency. This is the case mainly because he decided long ago to make decisions without consulting his people – and to anchor his incumbency not in the principle of the consent of the governed, but rather in the demonstrably hollow endorsements he gets from Americans and Israelis.

Abbas and the Palestinian leaders have many options available to them that are more sensible and effective than dissolving the PA, starting with forging a renewed Palestinian national consensus on a single political strategy, which can be done through the existing but dormant institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization. If Abbas wants to generate drama, he should drop the childish idea of dissolving the PA and instead do something both dramatic and purposeful: travel to Gaza, agree with Hamas on renewed national elections for the Palestine National Council (the Palestinian Parliament, representing Palestinians throughout the world), and announce that he will turn over the reins of power to a new executive authority whose powers and policies would reflect the expressed will of a majority of Palestinians.

Rejuvenated and re-legitimized national governance is the number-one priority of the Palestinians now, and Abbas has the power to initiate a process to move in this direction.


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