+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

The unravelling illusion of Palestinian autonomy

Palestinians have been told for decades that limited autonomy in the West Bank is just a stop along the road to sovereignty. But more than 20 years after Oslo failed to usher in independence, the illusion is unraveling — and fast.

Palestinian Authority police (right) together with Israeli border police (left) control Palestinian access to Jerusalem, at the Bethlehem checkpoint on the last Friday of Ramadan, August 17, 2012.  This Ramadan, Israeli authorities only allowed males under 12 or over 40 access without a special permit;  females of all ages were allowed to pass freely.

Palestinian Authority police (right) together with Israeli border police (left) control Palestinian access to Jerusalem, at the Bethlehem checkpoint on the last Friday of Ramadan, August 17, 2012. (photo: Activestills.org)

The key to the arrangement that keeps Israel’s occupation of Palestinian feasible is the illusion of autonomy. Palestinians have their own government, their own security agencies and forces, consumer service providers, schools, and yes, autonomous areas.

But make no mistake, they are all illusions.

And every once in a while the benevolent occupiers push things a little too far. They decide to stop playing along with their own illusion, convincing themselves that the Palestinians, and the Palestinian Authority, are so invested in the comfort and stability they provide that they wouldn’t dare withdraw consent.

The thing with a bad illusion is that the audience needs to consent — it needs to practice some sort of willful suspension of disbelief. Sometimes that collaboration is based on explicit or implicit agreements; sometimes it is symbiosis. But when you rely on the audience for the stability of your rather precarious act, the charade is constantly at risk of collapsing.

The Israelis security apparatus has been very worried for the past six months or so that the gig is up — that sooner or later, Palestinian security forces are simply going to stop playing along with the illusion, that they will turn their weapons on Israel.

Israel relies on Palestinian security forces, loyal to PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, to protect its settlements and the entire structural integrity of the occupation from those Palestinians who do not want to play the game. According to the Oslo Accords, the interim contract that is supposed to regulate the entire production, Palestinians have autonomous areas — mostly known as “Area A.” Israel is supposed to say out of those areas, which basically comprise the major Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas address the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 70th session, September 20, 2015. (UN Photo/Cia Pak)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas address the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 70th session, September 20, 2015. (UN Photo/Cia Pak)

But Israel doesn’t always play by the rules. In fact, it hasn’t played by the rules for a long, long time. During the Second Intifada, a time in which both sides abandoned their roles as dictated by the game plan, drawn up in the numbing cold of the Norwegian winter, the rule book went out the window. Israel decided, unilaterally, that its troops would have full freedom of movement and action wherever they wanted, even in the “autonomous” zones.

For years, the Palestinians even played along with the new rules of the game. An Israeli military commander would call his Palestinian subordinate and let him know a raid was about to happen. Like clockwork, the Palestinian police would vanish from the streets of whatever city the Israeli army felt like exploring that evening, so as to avoid any friction.

But people started to notice. Palestinian police were asked to block Palestinian protesters from reaching Israeli checkpoints. Israeli night raids into the heart of Palestinian cities became more common. Undercover and uniformed troops were often caught on surveillance cameras — inside Palestinian hospitals, in the main square of Ramallah, dancing at Palestinian weddings. After one particularly brazen Israeli raid, during which Israeli troops actually appeared to stand guard outside a Palestinian police station, young Palestinians actually pelted their own police with stones in Ramallah’s Manara Square.

Over the past six months, things got a lot worse for Israel, the Palestinian security apparatus, and the idea of “security coordination,” which for proponents of maintaining the status quo has become the holy grail of the occupation. Palestinian security forces often stopped preventing protesters and stone-throwers from approaching Israeli checkpoints. Palestinian police were filmed kicking Israeli troops out a Ramallah suburb. And fueling Israel’s worst fears, that 40,000 armed, American-trained security forces might turn their weapons on the occupier, a few Palestinian security officers did just that.

Palestinian policemen block protesters during a demonstration against the visit of US President Barak Obama to the West Bank, Ramallah, March 21, 2013. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Palestinian policemen block protesters during a demonstration against the visit of US President Barak Obama to the West Bank, Ramallah, March 21, 2013. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

So in an attempt to make the Palestinian security forces feel like they work for the Palestinian government again and not the IDF, Israel decided to throw them a bone. A couple of top Israeli generals starting meeting with their Palestinian subordinates to discuss the “gradual restoration of Palestinian security control over West Bank cities.” Restoration. Not that anybody ever announced a cessation.

So the Israeli army proposed that it stop conducting raids in areas in which it is not supposed to operate in, as a gesture to the people who are helpless from stopping them in the first place. Except there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. It’s actually a microcosm of the catch that makes a mockery of a two-state solution, at least in the sense that the term two-state solution implies two sovereign states.

The catch: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s one condition for restoring Palestinian autonomy in 20 percent of the West Bank is that the Palestinians must first recognize Israel’s sovereign right to violate that autonomy.

That is the illusion in its full glory. Israel is willing to allow Palestinians to have their illusion of sovereignty, in the form of conditional autonomy, but only if they sign over the deed to actual sovereignty. But the illusion requires the audience’s willful suspension of disbelief.

Palestinians have been told for decades, in the Oslo Accords and countless other documents, that limited autonomy is just a step along the road to actual sovereignty and statehood. Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has always stated openly that he would never even consider relinquishing security control (read: sovereignty) of the West Bank. Everything else is just an increasingly precarious charade.

Newsletter banner

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      The New York Review of Books just came out with a review of a number of books on the conflict, titled “Israel: The Broken Silence” (get it?):

      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/04/07/israel-the-broken-silence/

      A lucid discussion of how the Israeli right, with the government firmly behind it, is continually attempting to criminalize Israeli human rights activists can be found in Disturbing the Peace, published by the Human Rights Defenders Fund, which provides assistance to Israeli and Palestinian activists. This report also offers chilling firsthand testimonies of brutal arrests, savage beatings, and many accounts of inventive punishments and humiliations of activists (very often women) by police and soldiers. Those of us who have participated in demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah, Nabi Salih, Isawiya, and other Palestinian settlements can vouch personally for the routine character of such acts.

      Reply to Comment
    2. charlie victor

      If the State of Israel is supported by millions of US dollars what would be the result if the dollar system collapsed under the weight of the trillions of the US national debt.

      Reply to Comment