A Palestinian view Meltdown looms

In spite of all the differences between the Palestinian and Israeli situations, they have one thing in common: both sides are suffering government crises causing internal instability.

On the Palestinian side, where the situation is much more serious, there is almost complete paralysis. The crisis started with the election victory of Hamas that created the present government and was aggravated when this government reached a deadlock in its relations with the Palestinian Authority presidency on the one hand and with the international community, on which the PA is financially dependent, on the other.

Armed with two factors, the Hamas government has been trying to change the rules of the game vis-a-vis Israel and the international community. One is the complete failure of the peace approach of all previous governments. The second is the legitimacy bestowed upon the government by the fair and transparent elections through which it came to power.

Fatah, meanwhile, has found itself in an awkward position. On the one hand, it is the main opposition as the largest minority party in parliament. At the same time, it holds power because Fatah’s head, Mahmoud Abbas, is also president. The Palestinian constitution — which was amended as a result of internal and external pressure on the previous parliament in order to reduce the powers of the late President Yasser Arafat by shifting some of his responsibilities to the prime minister — ensures that government and presidency have comparable levels of power. In the current climate, that has meant stalemate.

Fatah, which had never been out of power since the modern national Palestinian liberation movement began in the early 1960s, is not adapting easily to a spell in opposition. In particular, the movement seems to have no patience with the constitutional stipulation that the only way to regain power is through elections after four years. Since the January elections, Fatah has been looking to change the situation in ways that are either unconstitutional or for which it lacks the necessary power.

The current attempt at dissolving the government is unrealistic because any new government would still need a vote of confidence from the Hamas majority in parliament. If an emergency government is installed, it can stay in office no longer than a month according to the constitution. That allows no time for improving conditions on the ground. Finally, the option of early elections for both parliament and the presidency is risky because the balance of power between Fatah and Hamas has not changed enough to ensure significantly different results.

Meanwhile, the donor community, which also wants an end to the Hamas government, has imposed financial sanctions of a kind that have been punishing the Palestinian people collectively and is pushing the PA toward collapse without significantly reducing the strength and popularity of Hamas as a political movement.

Instead, the sanctions have brought the Palestinian government and other institutions of Palestinian authority close to collapse. Since the general strike of civil servants started, government has been unable to provide any services, including vital education and health services. Five weeks after the beginning of the school year, there has been no teaching except in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools, and due to internal tensions, the Palestinian security services have completely stopped functioning except when engaging in sporadic internal fighting, this mostly in Gaza.

In fact, the situation in Gaza is drifting gradually toward anarchy and more internal clashes, as the combination of growing poverty and government paralysis takes deeper hold. In the West Bank, the state of paralysis is encouraging Israel to expand its presence, whether in terms of settlement building, the separation wall or, on a security level, even reviving the role of the Israeli civil administration.

The absence of any political prospects, combined with the continuing unilateral Israeli practices — whether political or military — the economic deterioration, and the unstable internal Palestinian situation have three consequences: a complete separation of Gaza from the West Bank, anarchy and internal violence in Gaza, and further Israeli reoccupation in the West Bank.

Such scenarios are neither conducive to stability in the Palestinian-Israeli context nor in the regional context, especially when we take into consideration that the leading power in Palestine has a regional dimension of a kind that has been deeply worrying to many players in the region and internationally.

The only way to reverse this deterioration is to change Israeli policy so that it pursues negotiations to seek an end to the occupation. The only way for this to happen is for policy makers in Washington to once and for all recognize that the Israeli occupation is the ultimate cause of the current deterioration not only in Palestine-Israel, but, as a result of related causes, in the region.

Ghassan Khatib is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, representing the Palestinian People’s Party. This article is reprinted from www.bitterlemons.org, a Palestinian-Israeli web site of which Khatib is co-editor.