By Lt. Col, (res.) Maurice Hirsch, Adv.
PLO emblem: “…from the River to the Sea…”
Twenty-five years have passed since Yasser Arafat entered Gaza as part of the “Peace Agreements” between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). It is now time to ask, is the PA the institution the architects of the accords hoped it would be?
If we leave at this stage the relations of the PA to Israel/Jews and examine only the interaction of the PA to its own population, one can quickly conclude that the existing entity is nothing like the of the dream Israeli founders, rather it is closer to a nightmare.
While the peace treaties anticipated a democratic process that was supposed to emerge and stake shape in the newly created Palestinian Authority, the reality is completely different.
In the past twenty-five years, there have been only a few actual democratic processes for electing the PA Chairman and members of the PA legislature.
The first elections were held in 1996. Arafat won over eighty-eight percent of the vote and became the “Rais” – the PA Chairman. His party, Fatah, won an absolute majority of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. The political power to set the foundations of and mold the new Palestinian entity was vested in Arafat.
Arafat remained in office as Chairman of the PA until his death in late 2004. In Janurary 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was elected to replace him. By this time, Palestinian law had already set the term of the PA Chairman. Similar to the US, Palestinian law now limited each term of the Chairman to four years with the ability to be elected for one more additional four year term. Since 2005, Abbas has continuously ruled as Chairman of the PA. If his health does not fail him, in January 2020 he will enter his sixteenth year of rule. For PA Chairman Abbas, Palestinian law is nothing more than a mere suggestion.
The Palestinian Legislature Council was no better. The members of the Council elected in 1996 for a four-year term, continued to hold office for a decade until early 2006. Then came the major change.
Before the elections, Abbas insisted on allowing all the “Palestinian factions” to run for election, including Hamas. The elections took place soon after the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza Strip and the transfer of full control in the area to the PA. Fearing that his party, Fatah, would lose its majority, Abbas even increased the number of members of the Council in an attempt to maintain his power.
Despite these efforts, the party that won the most seats in the Legislative Council was Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization.
However, the days of the Hamas government were short. A combination of the arrest of the Hamas government ministers (following the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit) together with intense international pressure, allowed Abbas to oust the elected government and replace it with officials of his choice.
Hamas refused to accept Abbas’ actions and decided to forcibly seize power in the Gaza Strip, when necessary, throwing Fatah members from the roofs of the buildings.
In contrast to the dream of the architects of the peace agreements, the PA reality is one of a divided government that has abandoned any democratic trait. The Palestinians live under two tyrannical governments – the Fatah lead PA in the Judea and Samaria and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Each of the tyrants does what it sees fit to ensure that its reign continues.
Financially, the tyrannical rule paid off. Senior Fatah and Hamas members took care of their family interests. Their sons won the most lucrative concessions. The PA’s tenders for providing services and equipment were won by relatives of senior figures and by companies owned by Fatah. The fact that many of these tenders were funded with the aid provided by the international community did not bother anyone.
The legal institutions, established predominantly with foreign aid, suffered from similar deficiencies. “Justice” was given to the rich and connected. Just recently, the US economic plan unveiled in Bahrain, noted the need for comprehensive reform of the Palestinian legal system.
The election of Hamas was not the result of radicalization within Palestinian society alone. Rather, it was born out of a deep sense of disgust at Fatah’s rule and constant corruption.
Human rights, as we Israelis see them, have also been trampled. Despite an explicit commitment by the PLO (and the PA that came in its shoes) to avoid retaliation against Palestinians who aided Israel, such “suspects” were arrested, questioned and tortured using methods that would not shame any other malignant despot.
Employee rights were not anchored in law. Minority groups, such as members of the Palestinian LGBTQ community suffer and are persecuted. Only recently, the PA ordered its police to hunt down organizers of a LGBTQ community event.
And if the PA’s behavior towards the Palestinian population was far from optimal, then relations with Israel were a disaster.
The long-awaited historical reconciliation never materialized. From the moment the PA seized power, it focused on instilling an adversarial, destructive and violent narrative.
The Jordanian and Egyptian schoolbooks, which prior to the establishment of the PA underwent Israeli censorship, were overhauled and radicalized. The first victims were the children of the PA.
Instead of using schools as an arena for conveying messages of peace and reconciliation, the education system was hijacked to convey racist messages and hatred toward Jews and Israel.
The State of Israel was presented, from the outset, as an entity that had stolen all the Land of Palestine from the Palestinians and as an entity that had no right to exist. Cities within the 1949 Armistice Line Areas – that is, within the Green Line – were still called “Palestinian Cities.”
The maps of “Palestine” that appeared in the textbooks were not limited to the vision of the “Two State Solution.” Palestine, according to the PA, is the entire area between the Jordan River in the east and the Mediterranean Sea in the west, from Lebanon in the north to Eilat in the south. The State of Israel does not exist.
In every corner, the PA sought to deepen the population’s identification with the Palestinian “Role Models”. Abu Jihad, a.k.a Khalil Al-Wazir, to whom the PA attributes to the murder of 125 Israelis, has become a national symbol and hero.
Dalal Mughrabi, who led the worst terror attack in Israel’s history – the 1978 coastal road attack in which 37 people were killed, of whom 12 were children – is among the “best of the best,” “a crown” on the head of the entire Palestinian nation.
While since the talks that took place at the end of Israel’s War of Independence, the State of Israel has agreed to absorb some of the Palestinian refugees, the PA has made sure to entrench an uncompromising narrative.
Instead of taking advantage of the last twenty-five years to instill the idea of a compromise on the refugee issue, the PA’s message was simple – all refugees and their descendants will return to Israel, and no one has the right to speak on behalf of the refugees and give up on their inheritance!
For the sake of our own hope, we would very much like to believe that this is only an initial negotiation posturing. But that is not the case. Today, after twenty-five years of intensive brainwashing, there is no Palestinian leader who will be able to relinquish or compromise on what Palestinians call their “right of return.”
The situation is similar regarding Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Although Islamic sources acknowledge that the Temple Mount complex is where the two Jewish Temples stood, for the PA the entire Temple Mount complex is the “Al-Aqsa Mosque”. In reality, the mosque itself occupies a relatively small area on the Mount. According to the PA, the “imaginary temple” of the Jews never stood there; The site is purely Palestinian-Muslim and it is unthinkable that it be shared with anybody.
Already in September 1996, Arafat demonstrated his true intentions in this regard. At the time, Arafat did not like the decision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s to open the Western Wall tunnels in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. Arafat’s response was to initiate mass riots. The Israelis are digging under the Temple Mount, Al-Aqsa is in danger, Arafat and the PA preached.
The fact that these claims lacked any factual basis did not bother anyone. This was Arafat’s conscious decision.
The pledge to abandon violence as a way to realize Palestinian national aspirations remained an empty promise. The weapons given to the PA in the framework of the agreements (and those smuggled into the PA in breach of the agreements) were no longer used for internal policing and dealing with the Palestinian terrorists as planned. Now these were the weapons of the Palestinian army in the making, and their barrels were directed at the State of Israel, its citizens and its soldiers.
To ensure mass mobilization, in the last twenty-five years the PA has diverted billions of shekels to pay monthly salaries to terrorists arrested by Israel for terrorist activities. Whether the terrorist is from a needy family or a wealthy family, each received the same monthly salary. Terrorist salaries exceed welfare benefits. When released, the PA provided the terrorists with a job in the PA ranks. It simply pays to be a terrorist.
The reality created in the last twenty-five years by the PA does not bode well. Instead of facing a democratic and modern society that wants to live peacefully with its neighbors, Israel is faced with a tyrant-controlled monster that abuses its own population and instills hatred and hostility towards the State of Israel and Jews.
Even if it could be argued that this was a predictable outcome, even the harshest critics of the architects and drafters of the peace accords would not argue that this reality was the goal of the agreement.
Given this reality, we now have to conclude that with this PA we have reached a dead end. There will be no salvation from this PA. If we truly seek peace, there is no choice, as Waze says, than to recalculate the route to peace.
Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch and a research associate at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position he served as Director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria. Tweets @mauricehirsch4