Suppose they do it

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah decides to make good on the threat heard recently to dissolve the Palestinian Authority. Or that some other Palestinian faction concentrates enough power and influence to force the leadership to comply with this demand. Two questions immediately arise. First, what is the motive or purpose of this act? And second, what happens next?

As an Israeli, I must add a third question: is this good or bad for Israel?

The motive for dissolving the PA would presumably be a mixture of protest and frustration regarding the lack of progress in the current peace process, the fighting in and around Gaza and the Palestinian Authority’s general lack of authority and substance. It could also constitute a response to the advent of serious Israel-Hamas talks regarding a long-term ceasefire that effectively neutralizes Israel-PLO peace talks.

The Palestinian pro-dissolution argument would presumably go as follows: If the PA cannot deliver a viable Palestinian state within the framework of a two-state solution–the purpose for which it was created under the Oslo accords–why should it continue to exist? If it has lost control over the Gaza Strip and barely controls the West Bank, why not call a spade a spade and dissolve it? If Israel, in the Palestinian view, is incapable of rolling back its settlement drive in the West Bank, then confront it with the need to renew its occupation and face the consequence: a single-state solution.

But renewed occupation and the specter of a single-state solution are not necessarily what does happen next. For one, the dismissal of the PA’s security forces might be the signal for Hamas to try to take over in the West Bank as well. Alternatively, some Palestinian leaders would see this as the appropriate time for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence–replacing autonomy with a state, however virtual.

The Olmert government and the Israeli mainstream, precisely because they fear getting dragged into a situation in which a two-state solution ceases to be a realistic prospect and international pressures grow to entertain a single-state outcome, might well prefer additional unilateral withdrawals regardless of the chaotic nature of the Palestinian entity left behind in the West Bank. Israel might call upon the international community and particularly Jordan to deploy a stabilizing force in the West Bank instead of or even alongside the IDF. Almost certainly, anarchy and widespread humanitarian hardship would be the order of the day, with local clan leaders and militias playing an important role.

Is this good or bad for Israel? To the extent that Israelis have become convinced that the Oslo process has failed, that a final status agreement and viable two-state solution are impossible under present circumstances and that even conflict-management or interim measures are beyond the reach of President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Ehud Olmert, then there certainly is room to consider some sort of radical alternative. The problem is, the known alternatives seem even worse than the present situation. Unilateral withdrawal has failed, an agreement of any sort with Hamas is a huge gamble that dooms Palestinian moderates, the Palestinian leadership rejects an interim solution and Jordan and Egypt refuse, for their own perfectly good reasons, to take over control of the territories.

Those who argue for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority without replacing it with an agreed alternative political structure are in effect saying that anarchy and nihilism are better than the PA. It is not difficult to empathize with the emotional reaction of advocates of dissolving the PA to the perception of prolonged failure on the part of the Palestinian leadership to make good on its commitment to state-building and on the part of Israel’s leaders to clear the space necessary to form a viable Palestinian state. But until and unless they present a convincing scenario of a better future emerging on the ruins of the PA, their proposal should be treated by Palestinians and Israelis alike with the utmost caution.

Note, by way of illustration, that since the Hamas takeover last June the PA as originally constituted has already effectively ceased to exist in the Gaza Strip. This has certainly brought no blessing to either Palestinians or Israelis.