P. DAVID HORNIK: SHOULD ISRAEL LET THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY FAIL?
…our people have witnessed, and continue to witness, an unprecedented intensification of military assaults, the blockade, settlement activities and ethnic cleansing, particularly in Occupied East Jerusalem, and mass arrests, attacks by settlers and other practices by which this Israeli occupation is becoming synonymous with an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism and entrenches hatred and incitement.
What permits the Israeli government to blatantly continue with its aggressive policies and the perpetration of war crimes stems from its conviction that it is above the law and that it has immunity from accountability and consequences….
Thus Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas characterized Israel in speaking to the UN General Assembly on November 29, part of his successful bid for the West Bank and Gaza to be recognized by that body as a “state.” His words were consistent with incendiary calumnies heaped on Israel throughout the Arab world and in much of the Muslim world.
There is, though, a difference: that it is Israel that keeps Abbas and his PA afloat. Along with the United States and the European Union, Israel gives Abbas the financial support without which his institutions would collapse. And it is Israeli security forces in the West Bank, in cooperation—at least until recently—with Abbas’s own security forces, that keep the West Bank from being taken over by Gaza-based Hamas.
This radical instance of biting the hand that feeds one naturally raises the question of whether Israel has to keep sustaining an entity that shows its gratitude by attacking it diplomatically and cultivating generations of hatred. The question is further sharpened by a recent escalation of anti-Israeli violence in the West Bank (see here, here, and here) amid reports that PA security forces have stopped arresting Hamas operatives there and “no longer seem…motivated to curb their activities in the area.”
One of Israel’s sharper analysts—Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA)—says: enough already.
Interviewed by Israel’s Besheva Hebrew-language weekly (translation here) the same week that Abbas gave his General Assembly address, Inbar said he was “not too upset” by Abbas’s UN move. He explained:
The Palestinian Authority is a fictional entity. It continues to exist only because of the IDF, and if we are not there, Hamas will take over take the place. I’m not sure it is right for us to continue to support the Palestinian Authority. We should let it fall apart….
Inbar went on to note that the Palestinian Authority “makes claims against us…runs an anti-Israel campaign all over the world…educates its people toward hatred of Israel…. We have to let them fail.”
When the interviewer noted the “concern that Hamas will take over the area,” Inbar responded:
We will not allow Hamas to take over the area. We will rule…. We should prepare to put up with some disturbances, and stop paying lip service to the paradigm of two states for two peoples. It simply does not work because there is no partner on the other side.
Asked whether, in terms of international law, Israel would not still be held responsible for the Palestinian population, Inbar replied:
There’s no need for us to be responsible for them. I am not prepared to be responsible for the food that comes or does not come to them. It’s their problem, not ours. What, must I take care of the whole world? We left their big cities in 1996 and that’s it…. If they want to be nice to us then we’ll help them, if not then we won’t…. Yes. There would be international pressure and we will withstand it. If the Europeans want to help them, let them help them…. We should not help our enemies.
It should be noted, first, that right after Inbar’s interview and Abbas’s speech, the Netanyahu government took two measures: announcing stepped-up building plans in parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank, including the heavily contested E1 area near Jerusalem; and suspending the month’s transfer of tax payments to the PA, using the money instead to pay the PA’s enormous debt to the Israel Electric Corporation.
Naturally, the worldwide diplomatic condemnation was unanimous and particularly nasty from Europe with its burgeoning Muslim populations and tight commercial ties with Arab states. To its credit, the Netanyahu government said it was going ahead with the measures anyway, though to what extent the building plans for E1 are just declaratory or will really be fulfilled remains to be seen.
Second, Inbar’s interview is not, of course, a systematic position paper and leaves some questions open—particularly whether Israel’s retaking full security control of the West Bank would pass the cost-benefit test. Israel’s security establishment has reportedly told Netanyahu such a redeployment would add some $3.15 billion to Israel’s annual budget—at a time when Israel’s fiscal discipline is the envy of most of the West and a paramount Israeli interest.
On the other hand, if the current disturbances continue and Abbas’s forces continue to prove useless or actively collusive with Hamas, Israel will have little choice but to crack down and this question may answer itself.
Third, barring such a scenario, Netanyahu—a cautious leader who faces much graver security challenges from the Syrian and, most of all, Iranian directions, and wants to get along as much as possible with a difficult occupant of the White House for another four years—is not likely to take any drastic steps toward the PA for the time being, even if he emerges from Israel’s January 22 elections with a more hawkish coalition.
Still, the questions Inbar raises are acute. Israel faces a morally upside-down world where it is damned for taking military, economic, or any other steps against sworn enemies who, in turn, are coddled and excused. The question is how long, as the PA keeps biting its helping hand, Israel can engage in morally upside-down behavior.
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