The Palestinian Authority should use its leverage

Sunday 12/02/2017

Last month, the Pales­tine Liberation Organi­sation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) threatened to revoke recognition of Israel if US President Donald Trump implemented his pledge to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Possibly due to international warnings about the wide-ranging dangers of such a relocation, recent White House statements suggest the issue is slipping down Trump’s agenda.
However, instead of shelv­ing their threat, the PLO and PA should divert it to Israel’s relentless colonisation of occupied Palestinian territory, which has picked up even greater pace since Trump’s inauguration. In less than a fortnight since he took office, Israel made four announcements approving construction of more than 6,000 settlement homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
As well as expanding exist­ing settlements, it said it would establish a new one, the first since 1999, excluding outposts built without official permission. Is­rael’s parliament also approved a bill to retroactively legalise 4,000 settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Israeli officials have openly said these moves are encouraged by the Trump administration’s policies and statements. Follow­ing these announcements, the White House said Trump, who has said “there’s nobody more pro-Israeli than I am”, did not see settlements as an “impediment to peace”, a departure from previous US positions. There is no green light more explicit than that, so while he is president we are likely to witness greater settlement expansion.
Israel’s colonisation, which violates international law and UN Security Council resolutions — the most recent one passed in December — is an existential threat to a Palestinian state, which is supposed to be the raison d’etre of the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organisation.
As such, this warrants — indeed necessitates — revoking recogni­tion. More important, this threat should not be empty. What is the point of arguing over Jeru­salem’s status as the capital of a future Palestine when settlement expansion means there will be no Palestine in the future?
It is also absurd that an oc­cupied people’s leadership has repeatedly recognised the right of their occupiers’ state to exist, while the occupier not only re­fuses to reciprocate but is wiping the occupied homeland off the map. Simply put, Israel does not deserve Palestinian recognition unless it is prepared not only to recognise Palestinians’ right to self-determination but also to rescind policies that are denying that right.
Besides, Palestinian recogni­tion — first expressed in 1993 — has become irrelevant given Israel’s demands in recent years for recognition specifically as a Jewish state. This would cement the second-class status of its Palestinian citizens (some 20% of the population) and was not demanded of Jordan or Egypt as a precondition of peace.
Revoking recognition will not stop Israel’s colonisation but that is not the point. It is about the Pal­estinian leadership finally show­ing its people that it has principles and red lines. After all, these lead­ers are supposed to serve their people, not their oppressor.
This will be strongly con­demned by Israel’s allies and the Palestinian Authority’s Western donors but this should mean nothing from governments that feed Israel’s sense of impunity or refuse to tangibly pressure it to abide by international law.
If the Palestinian Authority is worried about retaliatory fund­ing cuts, it should consider that Israel and its allies have a vested interest in avoiding its collapse because this would result either in Hamas filling the void or in Israel having to take responsibility for the occupied population, which it is legally obliged to do anyway. Israel is vehemently opposed to either scenario.
It is about time the Palestinian Authority uses this leverage, at the very least to counter percep­tions that it is managing the occu­pation for Israel. If the Palestinian Authority has accepted this role, it does not deserve to exist.