The Palestinian Authority, Three Decades after Oslo

September 7, 2023 | Neomi Neumann
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Thirty years have passed since the famous handshake on the White House lawn placed the Palestine Liberation Organization—in the form of the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA)—in control of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. Neomi Neumann takes stock of its achievements and failures, which are closely tied to the fortunes of its second president, Mahmoud Abbas:

For many years now—particularly the past decade—the PA has been a foundering institution, with Abbas bearing ultimate responsibility for its failure to realize a Palestinian state within the 1967 Arab-Israel ceasefire lines. Abbas has led the PA since 2005 and can take credit for presiding over relative stability in the West Bank and preventing a rise in terrorism after the second intifada (2000–04). Yet given his advanced age, he may at any moment leave his post without claim to a worthy legacy. Moreover, he has failed to gain consensus for his nonviolent approach, which has drawn persistent challenges from the PA’s Gaza-based rival Hamas, long an advocate of armed struggle.

However pronounced the [Palestinian] public’s dissatisfaction may be with Abbas and the PA’s performance, it has not resulted in widespread protests or a significant increase in support for Hamas. According to [a] March poll, 51 percent of West Bank respondents believe that neither the PA nor Hamas deserves to represent the Palestinians. Moreover, past experience shows that, in the West Bank, public identification with the use of violence against Israel does not necessarily translate into actual public mobilization to promote terrorism. This is important given the influence of Palestinian public behavior on security in the West Bank.

Among the most disturbing developments is re-emergence of the West Bank as a source of terrorism:

This new generation of Palestinian [terrorists] is more sophisticated than those of the past decade, who were largely limited to “lone wolf ” actions (e.g., suicide attacks) and often used simple weapons such as knives. Many of today’s young militants have better weapons and are more focused on improving their military capabilities and using social-media platforms to expand their influence. To the PA’s discredit, some of these individuals are former Fatah or Tanzim members [i.e., members of Abbas’s ruling party], who were once regarded as the movement’s flesh and blood.

Added to the mix are Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and similar actors who have long sought to convert the West Bank into a battleground for anti-Israel resistance. Hamas continues to direct its operatives to promote terrorist attacks under the general principle of seeking escalation in the West Bank versus quiet in Gaza.

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