Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

The Street Decides, Not the PA

The two men called in when the going gets tough in Israel, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, continue to call on President Mahmoud Abbas to help instill calm, especially during the month of Ramadan, which the Israelis consider a “dangerous” time. Both are offering tranquility in exchange for concessions in the West Bank, the same formula used to deal with Gaza.

Israeli decision-makers have been taking this approach to dealing with the Palestinians for fifty-two years despite its futility because of their apprehensions about the alternative, a final settlement. This settlement cannot be achieved and consolidated without an end to the occupation and the Israelis accepting the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, that brings deeper fears to the surface, like the question of refugees and other matters that constitute so-called ‘permanent status issues.’

Israeli decision-makers chose to leave the entire country under the threat of armed attack indefinitely, attempting to buttress security by resorting to Egyptian mediation in Gaza and Jordanian mediation in the West Bank. Despite the many differences between the two mediators, the result is one and the same, ongoing security threats in the West Bank and the constant specter of Gaza reaching boiling point.

The Egyptians engage directly with the factions, the primary Palestinian powerbrokers in Gaza, either to prevent a war or to end a war that had already begun. Its ability to escalate and deescalate situations renders Hamas the center of gravity in these talks.

As for the Jordanians, they have no one to talk to in the West Bank but the Palestinian Authority led by President Abbas. Their efforts are complemented by intense, constant pressure on the Israelis to opt for a political solution that would bear more fruit than security or economic solutions. In both bases, the PA’s efforts to instill calm lead to the same outcome as Israel’s efforts, none.

The Egyptians and Jordanians know what their efforts will come to before making them. They are just as experienced in handling the Palestinian-Israeli issue as anyone else. However, the infeasibility of their task does not stem from shortcomings on their part but Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank. With the siege on the former and the settlements in the latter, nothing more than fleeting periods of calm in Gaza in between wars of varying scales and constant unrest in the West Bank, where things calm down for one day and then boil over for several days. That is how things have been going since the insistence on refusing a settlement became the preference of Israeli governments, especially since the governments of the late former Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres.

The Jordanians and Egyptians are no neutral mediators. They have stakes in the developments in Gaza, which concern Egypt, and the West Bank, which concerns Jordan. Between the pair is Israel, which has not been cooperating on addressing the fundamental question as far as Jordan and Egypt are concerned, reaching a settlement that establishes peace. These divergences create permanent dilemmas for all parties.

While Egypt makes appeals for restraint to the armed factions, it is extremely careful to avoid having this understood as politically legitimizing the status quo in Gaza; and while Jordan addresses Abbas as a political ally, if not more, their mediation efforts are hindered by Israel refusing to make any indication that it will respect the political dimension of these efforts, which are the basis and the main objective.

In light of all of this, a view has been becoming increasingly prevalent among the Israeli public and Israeli political, cultural, and political elites: all the efforts with the Egyptians, Jordanians, and Palestinian Authority officials will not grant Israel the tranquility it seeks, to say nothing about security. Indeed, the prevalence of this opinion led to the emergence of the phrase “the decision is in the streets’ hands.”

Israel knows the Palestinian as well as anyone else, and it knows that the street adhered to the PA’s directives when the peace process was moving forward and the goal was an end to the occupation. This justified the need for calm and betting on political and negotiated solutions, especially since the entire world had rallied around the inevitably of a “historic peace” that would grant the Palestinians an independent state with no settlements. As for today, we see nothing of the sort, and so the Palestinian street ignores the PA and doesn’t celebrate the concessions it is being given, which are seen as bribes. That has begun to become evident and explicitly recognized by many Israelis.