PREPARING FOR THE POST-ABBAS ERA
New threats -- and new opportunities -- lie ahead for Israel.
PLO chief and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas scored a victory against Israel at the Temple Mount. But it was a Pyrrhic one.
Days after the government bowed to his demand and voted to remove the metal detectors from the Temple Mount, Abbas checked into the hospital for tests. The 82-year-old dictator has heart disease and a series of other serious health issues. And he has refused to appoint a successor.
It is widely assumed that once he exits the stage, the situation in the PA-ruled areas in Judea and Samaria – otherwise known as Areas A and B – will change in fundamental ways.
This week, two prominent Palestinian advocates, Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi, published an article in The New Yorker entitled “The end of this road: The decline of the Palestinian national movement.”
Among other things, they explained that Abbas’s death will mark the dissolution of the Palestinian national identity. That identity has already been supplanted in Judea and Samaria by local, tribal identities. In their words, “The powerful local ties made it impossible for a Hebronite to have a genuine popular base in Ramallah, or for a Gazan to have a credible say in the West Bank.”
It will also be the end of the PLO and its largest faction, Fatah, founded by Yasser Arafat in 1958 and led by Abbas since Arafat’s death in 2004.
Fatah, they explain, has “no new leaders, no convincing evidence of validation, no marked success in government, no progress toward peace, fragile links to its original setting abroad and a local environment buffeted by the crosswinds of petty quarrels and regional antagonisms.”
One of the reasons the Palestinians have lost interest in being Palestinians is because they have lost their traditional political and financial supporters in the Arab world and the developing world. The Sunni Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is now willing to publicly extol Israel as a vital ally in its struggle against Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. The so-called Arab street is increasingly incensed at the Palestinians for monopolizing the world’s attention with their never ending list of grievances against Israel even as millions in the Arab world suffer from war, genocide, starvation and other forms of oppression and millions more have been forced to flee their homes.
As for the developing world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to visit with Abbas during his recent visit to Israel marked the official end of the Third World’s alliance with the PLO.
After Abbas departs, Agha and Khalidi identify three key actors that will seek to fill the military and political void. First and foremost, the Palestinian security services (PSF) will raise its head. The PSF is heavily armed and has been trained by the US military. Agha and Khalidi argue reasonably that as the best armed and best organized group in the area aside from the IDF, the PSF will likely seize power in one form or another.
The Palestinian forces pose a major threat to Israel. It isn’t simply that their members have often participated in murderous terrorist attacks against Israel. With their US military training they are capable of launching large-scale assaults on Israeli civilian communities and on IDF forces.
To understand the nature of the threat, consider that last month, a lone terrorist armed with a knife sufficed to massacre the Salomon family in their home in Halamish before he was stopped by an off-duty soldier. Contemplate what a well-armed and trained platoon of Palestinian soldiers with no clear political constraints could do.
The second force Agha and Khalidi identify as likely to step into the leadership vacuum is the Israeli Arab political leadership. As Agha and Khalidi note, since the PLO-controlled PA was established in 1994, the Israeli Arab community and the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria have become more familiar with one another.
Due in large part to subversion by the PLO and Hamas and lavish funding of radical Israeli Arab groups and politicians by foreign governments and leftist donors, a generation of radical, anti-Israel Arab politicians has risen to power.
At the same time, since the Arab Spring destabilized all of Israel’s neighbors, a cross current of Arab Zionism has captivated the Israeli Arab majority. Recognizing that Israel is their safe port in the storm, Israeli Arabs in increasing numbers are choosing to embrace their Israeli identity, learn Hebrew and join mainstream Israeli society.
Agha and Khalidi signal clearly their hope that the integration of the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab minority will enable them to worth together to take over the Jewish state from within.
Finally, Agha and Khalidi note that as support for the Palestinians has waned in the Arab world and the developing world, the West has emerged in recent years as their most stable and enthusiastic political support base. Ethnic Palestinians in the West are more committed to destroying Israel than Palestinians in Syria and Jordan. Western politicians and political activists who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement are much more committed to the political war against Israel than their counterparts in Asia and Africa.
The Western forces now aligned against Israel in the name of the Palestinians will certainly seek to play a role in shaping events in a post-Abbas world.
This then brings us to Israel and what it must do now and in the immediate aftermath of Abbas’s exit from the scene.
The most important thing that Israel can and must do is send a send a clear message that it will not be walking away from Judea and Samaria. To do so, Israel should end the military government in Area C, where all the Israeli communities and border zones are located, and replace it with its legal code.
Militarily, it is imperative that the IDF be ordered to disarm the PSF as quickly and quietly as possible.
Since 2007, Abbas’s fear of Hamas has exceeded his hatred for Israel. As a consequence, during this time, the Palestinian security forces have cooperated with the IDF in anti-Hamas operations.
There is every likelihood that the forces’ calculations in a post-Abbas world will be quite different.
Israel cannot afford to have a well-armed force, steeped in antisemitic ideology, deployed footsteps from major Israeli population centers.
As for the Israeli Arabs, Israel can empower moderate, integrationist forces to rise to power. To do so, it must enforce its laws against terrorism-sponsoring groups like the Islamic movement and enforce its land and welfare laws toward Arabs with the same vigor it enforces them toward Jews. It must provide support for integrationists to enter the political fray against their anti-Israel rivals.
If Israel fails to take these actions, Agha and Khalidi’s dream that the Palestinian war against Israel is taken over by Israeli Arabs supported by the West will become a realistic prospect.
This then brings us to the West.
Economically, Israel has already begun to limit the capacity of anti-Israel forces in the West to wage economic war against it by deepening its economic ties with Asia.
Politically, Israel must reform its legal system to limit the subversive power of the West in its Arab community and more generally in its political system. Foreign governments must be barred from funding political NGOs. Israel should wage a public campaign in the US to discredit foundations and other non-profits in the US that work through Israeli-registered NGOs to undermine its rule of law.
By applying its laws in full to Area C, and by asserting sole security control throughout the areas, while empowering the Israeli Arab majority that wishes to embrace its Israeli identity, Israel will empower the Palestinians in Areas A and B to govern themselves autonomously in a manner that advances the interests of their constituents.
As Agha and Khalidi note, the Palestinians have been in charge of their own governance since 1994. But under the corrupt authoritarianism of the PLO, their governance has been poor and unaccountable. As local identities have superseded the PLO’s brand of nationalism borne of terrorism and eternal war against Israel, the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria well positioned to embrace an opportunity to govern themselves under a liberal rule of law without fear of the PLO jackboot.
The post-Abbas era will pose new threats and opportunities for Israel. It is up to Israel to ensure that the opportunities are maximized and the threats are neutralized as quickly as possible. Failing that, Israel can expect to contend with military threats in Judea and Samaria several orders of magnitude greater than what it has dealt with in the past. It can similarly expect to find itself under political assault from a combination of radicalized Israeli Arabs and Western governments that will challenge it in ways it has never been challenged before.