Dismantling the PA – an Emerging Trend

Following further arrests of Hamas representatives, calls for the dismantling of the PA have increased. This emerging trend may have long-term ramifications for Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Last Saturday IDF troops arrested the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and Hamas member Abdel Aziz Dweik. Consequently the PLC has decided to convene on Wednesday (8/9/06) to discuss the issue of the arrests (Al-Jazeera, 8/7/06).

Representatives of Hamas and the Popular Front said that the PLC should discuss the possibility of dismantling the Palestinian Authority (Al-Ayyam, 8/7/06).

The Reut Institute contends that the Palestinian discourse regarding the possible dismantling of the PA is turning into an emerging trend. The dismantling of the PA holds strategic significance for Israeli-Palestinian relations.

What is the Issue?

The idea of dismantling the PA has been brought up several times since Hamas' electoral victory (1/06).It was first brought up by Fatah supporters, and was perceived as part of the struggle over power between Hamas and Fatah (Ynet, 3/15/06).

At the time, the Reut Institute issued a policy paper, claiming that Fatah alone will not be able to dismantle the PA. It did not seem that Hamas was interested in dismantling the PA then, but it was argued that "should Hamas decide that it is no longer worthwhile to maintain control over the PA, it is not unlikely that it would cooperate with Fatah to dismantle it".

Following Israel's military operation in Gaza, after the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas military wing, elements within Hamas called to dismantle the PA and return to the armed struggle (Al-Hayat, 6/27/06).

In addition, PA Chairman Abu-Mazen told Secretary of State Rice that he is under pressure to dismantle the PA (A-Shark Al-Awsat, 7/12/06).

Why is this Important? Why Now?

The structure of the PA does not include a mechanism for its dissolution.

However, Fatah and Hamas can effectively dismantle it through a joint effort, which will include Abu-Mazen's resignation and a PLC decision to dissolve without setting a date for new elections. The discussion of this issue in the PLC, with the support of some Hamas members, can be seen as a landmark in evolution of the trend.

The collapse of the PA would have long-term ramifications on Israeli-Palestinian relations:

  • Israel may be required to re-establish full responsibility for the well-being of the Palestinian residents of Gaza and the West Bank.
  • The dissolution of the PA will obstruct any attempt for sustainable separation between Israel and the Palestinians, whether through coordinated or unilateral steps (see: No Convergence without a Palestinian Address).
  • The dissolution of the PA may be perceived by the Palestinian society as a proof for the failure of the "political option", i.e. negotiation as means for advancing Palestinian national interests. Thus, it may strengthen supporters of the armed struggle (see: How to Deal with the Bear Hug Paradox).

Policy Options

If the Government of Israel wishes to ensure the existence of the PA, it should:

  • Let Hamas rule – The Reut Institute estimates that the dominant political presence of Hamas in the PA is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. Moreover, due to the Hamas majority in the PLC, until the next PLC elections (2010) any Palestinian government will require Hamas' support (see No Palestinian Address without Hamas). As long as Israel prevents Hamas from attaining control of the PA institutions, Hamas' incentive to dismantle it increases.
  • Let the PA function – The demands to dismantle the PA rely on the argument that the PA has become an empty shell, with no powers or authorities. By eroding its ability to function properly, by arresting government members, blocking funds and attacking its institutions, Israel may strengthen those who support the dissolution of the PA.
  • The PA is the Address – Israel should consider turning the PA into its political address and treating all its institutions as potential counterparts, regardless of the political affiliation of those in it.