First deal with the anarchy

The idea of an international trusteeship, like the Geneva accord or the various plans for an interim settlement, all suffer from one fundamental drawback: they are not rooted in reality. They all assume that with some sort of external support–a kind of friendly babysitting–the Palestinian Authority will be able to get back on its feet and not only regain control, but even confront the opponents of the proposed agreement or arrangement.

This point of departure is flawed, because it does not take into account the real situation. To place administrators, advisors and peacekeeping troops in a shattered, impoverished and hostile environment is one thing. To send them into an actively anarchic situation is something else. Trusteeship over a population that seeks help cannot be compared to trusteeship over a population that is being torn to bits by a broad range of warlords whose sole interest is local politics rather than national issues.

Many observers make the mistake of viewing the anarchy that is spreading throughout the Palestinian territories as merely a sad by-product of the intifada. This is not the reality. Anarchy is the strategy that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat chose from the outset as a mechanism for releasing various levels of terrorism against Israel, yet without placing the Palestinian Authority itself in direct confrontation with Israel and without appearing publicly as the person orchestrating the entire struggle.

From the very first stages of the intifada, Arafat adopted an approach that few could decipher: a willing suspension of control. He consciously and knowingly conceded a significant degree of regime power in favor of a coalition of irregulars: the "union of Islamic and national forces," a partnership between the Fatah Tanzim, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc. He found it convenient, for understandable reasons, that these irregulars, led by commanders not generally associated with the Palestinian Authority, be seen as the vanguard of the struggle. The PA’s standard security forces were directed by Arafat to stand aside: not to open fire on the Jews, but also not to fire at those who do shoot at Jews.

This system, in which the leader silences and weakens the pyramid of power upon which he himself stands, continues to "function" to this day. Indeed, the chaos is striking deeper and deeper roots in view of the Israeli military response. We are witness to a rapid process of national impoverishment, mass unemployment and societal fragmentation. In many ways the PA has become a pay station whose primary task is to take out loans in order to pay salaries to tens of thousands of officials, security personnel, teachers, etc., many of whom have long since ceased showing up at work. The Palestinian security apparatuses are not only squabbling among themselves; many are in such a state of collapse that they no longer function.

Entire regions–Rafah and Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, Jenin and its environs in the northern West Bank–have actually turned into lawless zones where the representatives of the PA, governors, mayors, security commanders, bow to the will of local strongmen. In cities like Nablus and Bethlehem the police are powerless in the face of local gangs. Fatah, the backbone of the Palestine Liberation Organization, is in deep crisis; its internal schisms defy the term cohesive, and it must be seen as a shaky structure that could very soon fall apart.

There is no sign whatsoever that Arafat intends to take steps to end this anarchy. On the contrary, he views it as a threat against Israel that Palestinian society is liable to collapse into its waiting arms. Instead of "runaway statehood" to be achieved without an agreement to end the conflict, Arafat is threatening "running away from statehood"–a rapid regression executed while pretending to maintain the status quo.

The same goes for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The Israeli plan to "stay the course"–there may be no practical alternative for the moment–means that the Palestinian implosion is amplified by heavy external pressure, thereby merely accelerating the pace of fragmentation and collapse. No wonder there are Palestinian intellectuals who demand that Arafat officially dismantle the Palestinian Authority and abandon the plan for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This is a logical by-product of the chaos strategy.

Under these circumstances, there is no immediate benefit to be found in grandiose plans like the Geneva accord and trusteeship. What is needed first is a formula for stopping the slide into anarchy. This is a vital precondition, at the highest priority, to any other move. Such a formula can only be generated by adopting the model of the 1949 armistice agreements.

Those armistice pacts included not only a ceasefire, but also a territorial dimension of land swaps and border delineation, a political dimension of de facto acknowledgement of the State of Israel, and an international dimension in the form of the mixed armistice commissions.

At present there is no chance for a mere hudna, or ceasefire, nor for a permanent status agreement. But there is for an armistice-type pact that comprises the removal of settlements, alterations in the path of the fence, and agreement regarding the nature of the Palestinian state "with provisional borders" mentioned in phase two of the roadmap.

Out of such an agreement–but not instead of it–there could emerge international involvement.