Will the Palestinian Authority Ever Be Anything Other Than An Unpopular U.S. and Israeli Pawn?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad are quite unpopular with the Palestinian people although significantly, they are very popular with the Israeli and the U.S. government. Why? Because in return for large amounts of donor cash, Fayyad and Abbas silence opposition and help maintain the siege on Gaza. Also, neither one has any electoral legitimacy at this stage because the U.S. has made it very clear that Palestinian elections are unacceptable in that they might result in a leader who has not been pre-approved by the U.S. or Israel.

On that note, here’s an excellent, albeit depressing, commentary by Tony Karon predicting that as is often the case, the Palestinian leadership may end up being their own worst enemy, thereby playing right into the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu:

Israel’s government currently lacks a credible plan for getting it out of a diplomatic tight spot if the Palestinians go ahead with a plan to seek U.N. recognition of a state in September. But don’t bet against the Palestinian leadership letting the Israelis off the hook as a result of their own divisions over whether to go the U.N. route.


It’s difficult to convince most U.N. member states that recognizing Palestinian sovereignty in territories occupied by Israel in 1967 somehow erodes Israel’s legitimacy, which was incontrovertibly established by its own recognition as a U.N. member state in 1949. That’s because neither the U.N. — or even the U.S. — recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 (in this case, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem). So recognition of Palestinian statehood on the 1967 lines does not delegitimize Israel, as such; it simply extends the international community’s longstanding rejection of Israel’s continued occupation of those territories to a recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over them. And that would mean that for Israel to have its claim to any of those territories recognized, it would require the consent of a sovereign Palestinian entity — presumably established through a quid-pro-quo negotiation.

The problem with centering the Israeli case against a U.N. vote in favor of Palestinian statehood on this “delegitimization” argument is that it fails to address international impatience to see the conflict solved on the basis of a Palestinian state created alongside Israel, based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps and with its capital in East Jerusalem. To dissuade other countries from supporting a U.N. vote, the Israelis would have to show that negotiation with the Netanyahu government offers a credible route to such an outcome. And that’s difficult to show, of course, because Netanyahu has thus far declined to negotiate on those terms.


Haaretz reported last that Palestinian leaders are sharply divided over whether to go ahead with the plan: While Abbas is said to favor the move, the report named Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, former negotiator Ahmed Qureia and former PLO U.N. envoy Nasser al-Kidwa as among a group of senior officials strongly opposed.


Fayyad, an independent, is loathed by Hamas and is not popular even in Fatah; he was appointed, largely at the behest of the United States as part of a program to bypass the elected structures of Palestinian government, after Hamas was voted in as the ruling party in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006. Fayyad was a key figure in a plan to isolate Gaza and build up an authoritarian development-oriented regime in the West Bank as an alternative. Even today, he owes his place in the Palestinian power structure less to any popular support base than on the favor he enjoys among the donors on which the PA depends.

[emphasis added]

By “donors on which the PA depends,” Karon is of course talking about the U.S. And there’s the irony; the U.S. wants to keep the often-repressive, unelected, unpopular, undemocratic Palestinian government in power because essentially, while they do a lot of huffing and puffing, they never really take that next step of blowing the house down. As a result, the status quo can remain largely intact- the settlements continue unabated, the siege and economic strangulation of Gaza continues and every so often the U.S. (with the Quartet) can use the Palestinian Authority as a prop in that farce occasion that has come to be known as the Peace Process.

I know that sounds harsh, but given that Abbas has been playing up the threat of the UN resolution for months, the idea that he would back down because Washington is upset, is truly pathetic. If Abbas were to back down I don’t really know how he could keep the lid on the pent up anger and frustration of Palestinians living in both the West Bank and Gaza. Every once in a while, the PA is going to have to follow through on some of its diplomatic threats, if only to show the world that they have what it takes to sit at the big boy table with the Israelis and the U.S. Is that fair or just? Of course not, but there is nothing fair or just about anything having to do with the U.S.-mediated peace process.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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2 Comments on “Will the Palestinian Authority Ever Be Anything Other Than An Unpopular U.S. and Israeli Pawn?”

  1. Ahmed Says:

    No, so long as we are denied the right to choose our own leaders, the PA will have no legitimacy. America uses its financial control over the PA to ensure Abu Mazen does their bidding. Palestinians know and understand this and see the America and the PA as simply helping to keep the occupation like Mubarak did.

    Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states need to step and provide more financial assistance than the U.S. does so that we aren’t totally dependent on U.S. aid.

    If the PA doesn’t go to the UN it’s over for them. Everyone is tired of the pretend peace process it is nothing more than America helping Israel drag its feet and steal more land. Netanyahu does not believe in the two state solution nor does your Congress and so it is time to deal with reality- one state with Arabs and Jews living side by side. It didn’t have to be this way but Likud will not give any ground. Now they will deal with the consequences and the question is when Israel is a full apartheid system will America do anything? I think no.

    I like this site by the way. You are American, no? Thank you for your help- we like Americans but sometimes not the policies.


  2. Stacy Says:

    Thanks for your input Ahmed. Yes, I am American.

    I have often wondered why countries like Saudi Arabia or the UAE don’t try to provide more funds than the US specifically so that the PA isn’t so dependent on the US.

    All this talk of backing down on the plan to go to the UN seems to revolve around the Obama admin. and Congress threatening to cut off all funding. Of course, that would be a disaster for numerous reasons.


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