מיכאל מילשטיין
Michael Milstein
Photo: Courtesy
Palestinian workers crossing from Hebron to Israel

PA is pushing the Palestinian public into Israeli arms

Opinion: Tightening ties between Palestinians and Israel is not only an existential nightmare for the authorities in Ramallah, but should also be seen as a fundamental problem for Israel in the long-term

Michael Milstein |
Published: 06.24.20 , 23:34
About a month ago, an odd occurrence happened in Hebron, the like of which has not been seen since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994.
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  • Thousands of Palestinians gathered at the gate of the Israel's local Coordination and Liaison headquarters to obtain work permits at zero cost.
    פועלים פלסטינים מחברוןפועלים פלסטינים מחברון
    Palestinian workers crossing from Hebron to Israel
    (Photo: AFP)
    They did so without any involvement from the PA, which in the past was at least notified of such a move.
    A false rumor or an unclear message from Israel was what triggered the incident, but it did point to one of the key dangers of the PA's escalating crisis with Israel: The Palestinian public is establishing direct contacts with Israel over the heads of the administration in Ramallah.
    This is a long-standing nightmare for the Palestinian Authority: Israeli attempts to weaken it through civilian relations and direct dialogue with the Palestinian public, which would gradually lead to the decline of the Palestinian government.
    פגישת ראש הממשלה הפלסטיני מוחמד אשתייה עם ראשי המנגנונים הפלסטינים ברמאללהפגישת ראש הממשלה הפלסטיני מוחמד אשתייה עם ראשי המנגנונים הפלסטינים ברמאללה
    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh meeting with PA security officials in Ramallah last month
    (Photo: Archive)
    The PA's Head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh expressed that exact fear in a recent interview with The New York Times, where he made it clear that "the PA will never agree to become a regional council or a charity."
    But since the PA halted its coordination with Israel, the ongoing civil activities pertaining to Israel have been conducted by virtue of an "invisible hand."
    In this way, tens of thousands of workers, merchants, and patients continue to cross every day from the West Bank into Israel, without any official coordination between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
    פלסטינים בתרקומיא פלסטינים בתרקומיא
    Palestinian workers at the West Bank border with Israel
    (Photo: EPA)
    The PA could end this phenomenon if it so wished, but Palestinian officials understand that such a move would result in increased tensions with their own public, which could see the people's anger directed at them.
    For now, the PA prefers to let the current situation continue in order to preserve economic stability in the West Bank, which suffered a severe blow from the coronavirus crisis.
    Tightening ties between the Palestinian public and Israel are not only an existential nightmare for the PA, but should also be seen as a fundamental problem for Israel.
    While preparing for nightmare scenarios such as a third Palestinian Intifada, Israel should also be concerned by this silence from the PA.
    The move by a large part of the Palestinian public to maintaining direct civil contact with Israel - and the longing of many of them to become Israeli citizens in order to improve both their quality of life and the public services they receive - equates to ongoing decline in the PA's already fragile status.
    A "one-state" scenario (which should not be confused with the concept of a "bi-national state") is not reached by declarations or dramatic events, but through a slow process that has eroded the existing reality in the PA for more than a quarter of a century.
    Israel has a vested interest in the continued existence of the Palestinian government, despite all its shortcomings and the current crisis between the two sides.
    פלסטינים בתרקומיא פלסטינים בתרקומיא
    Palestinian workers at the border with Israel
    (Photo: EPA)
    This continued existence not only maintains stability in the West Bank and helps to neutralize terrorists led by Hamas (another existential threat for the PA) but also prevents a demographic-civil merger between residents of the West Bank and Israel.
    This process begins with bureaucracy, procedures and forms, but can end - even if it is unplanned – in integration into the political system of the country, which would profoundly change its character.
    This is not a nightmare scenario intended to thwart the annexation process, but a dynamic that is crucial for the citizens of Israel to understand.
    Israel needs must have more dialogue on this matter, which has the potential to fundamentally change the strategic reality in the country.
    Michael Milstein is the head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University and a member of the INSS
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