For increasing numbers of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has long since ceased to advance their political and national aspirations. Twenty-four years since its establishment under the Oslo Accords, the PA has failed to deliver justice, self-determination, and a truly representative political model for the Palestinian people.
As a dependent, donor-driven body, the PA continues to engage in dead-end “peace” negotiations that have long been recognized as little more than a means to reconfigure Israeli control over the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). At the same time, the PA has taken a sharp authoritarian turn since democratic elections were last held in the oPt well over a decade ago. The security sector has eaten away at the lion’s share of the annual budget. The PA’s security apparatus, through ongoing security cooperation with the Israeli military, has regularly acted in compliance with objectives determined by the colonial power. The PA also uses the security sector to suppress Palestinians dissenting against its rule.
Public confidence in Palestinian institutions continues to erode. Recent opinion polls show, however, that a considerable number of Palestinians in the West Bank still support the moribund peace process and PA President, Mahmoud Abbas. This is mainly due to a perceived lack of clear political alternatives, and the fact that a significant portion of Palestinians are reliant on the survival of the PA bureaucracy and donor economy for salaries. Still, controversial moves made by the Trump administration over the past several weeks is likely to shake whatever acceptance is left for the status quo.
Indeed, Trump insists that his “deal of a century” for Israel/Palestine will require sacrifice from “both sides.” But, recent actions by his administration expose its real objective, which is to ensure total surrender to Israeli demands.
In late August, the Trump administration announced it was pulling its aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, which provides health, educational, and social services to over five million registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. The decision is tied to a larger, Israeli-led campaign to pressure the organization to exclude Palestinian descendants of the 1948 Nakba from its official definition of “refugee.” If UN refugee agencies submit to these pressures, the registered Palestinian refugee population would be reduced from almost six million to fifty thousand. The move is a blatant attempt to eliminate the Palestinian refugee question, and in turn, a key sticking point in ongoing negotiations.
The decision to slash aid to UNRWA is part of a larger squeeze of U.S. funding to organizations and institutions serving Palestinians. On September 7, the Trump administration cut more than $20 million in U.S. medical aid to East Jerusalem hospitals. This decision comes after a more comprehensive Palestinian aid freeze, implemented over the past several months, that has since impacted the ability of NGOs, humanitarian groups, and political institutions operating in the oPt to distribute salaries and monthly stipends. In August, the White House released some funds, but only for the PA’s security sector, after it was determined to be vital for American and Israeli interests.
Adding to this campaign to erase the Palestinian cause, on Monday September 10, the United States announced the closure of the PLO diplomatic delegation in Washington, D.C. Connected with this, John Bolton, Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, threatened the International Criminal Court (ICC) with sanctions. The PA has turned to the ICC over recent years as part of a strategy to gain needed leverage over Israel. After accepting ICC jurisdiction in the oPt in 2014 and gaining formal membership with the Court in 2015, the ICC launched preliminary examinations into Israeli war crimes in the oPt. Bolton’s announcement on Monday was a pre-emptive threat to deter the ICC from advancing its investigation.
These unilateral actions, as well as the lack of a committed, strong response from Palestinian officials, further highlight the PA’s lack of legitimacy, vision, and political utility. It can only add to the already strong case being made among an increasing number of Palestinians that existing political institutions must be radically restructured, if not dismantled all together. The Palestinian cause now depends on grassroots organizations and civil society to build a movement around new political horizons and tactics.