Abbas' empty threat
David M. Weinberg
The uncompromising, blustery and high-handed diplomatic letter that Palestinian officials handed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Tuesday contains a thinly veiled threat.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas implicitly warned that unless Israel does as he demands (which is to immediately concede every point of contention on borders and settlements), he will dissolve the Palestinian Authority and dump the responsibility for West Bank Palestinians back into Israel's lap.
Is the threat serious? Is it even a threat? I doubt it.
First of all, it is hard to imagine a $2 billion enterprise dissolving itself. The PA receives over $2 billion a year in international aid, more than any known political entity in the present or past that I can think of, anywhere in the world. (Ethiopia with 80 million people and a GDP one-fourth that of the Palestinians, receives far less aid than the PA).
These funds pay the salaries of tens of thousands of real as well as imaginary Palestinian civil servants, supporting families in every Palestinian town and city. Despite all the talk about the economic boom in the PA, there can be no day-to-day existence for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians without international assistance.
I do not believe that any Palestinian leader is ever going to give up this largesse, and the power to distribute this bounty, by dissolving the PA just to get at Israel.
But what if, in a fit of Palestinian spite and self-immolation, the Palestinian Authority were to declare itself defunct? How would Israel handle this? Could Israel handle this?
I do not know much about the garbage collection and municipal health services that the PA might be providing these days for Palestinians, and which Israel might have to take over. I assume that we would not like doing it, but that it could be managed.
A bigger and more pressing issue is the 5,000 men under arms in the PA, in any one of the five security services (Preventive Security, Military Intelligence, General Intelligence, National Forces and the Presidential Guard). Israel cannot allow 5,000 armed men who answer to nobody to run around the territories. Israel would have to round up weapons and shut down PA military facilities.
Without a doubt, this too is doable. The danger, however, comes from Iran. Iran would be only too glad to pick up the tab for the salaries of these military men – they each earn about $1,000 a month, currently paid by Western donor countries – in order to buy a mini-army to operate against Israel. At the paltry price of $5,000,000 a month, this would be a bargain for Tehran.
Israel would have to block such Iranian influence, and collar any Palestinian military or police figure that reverts to terrorist activity. Prof. Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, author of "The Palestinian Military: Between Militias and Armies" (London: Routledge 2008), says that most of the armed Palestinians are family men, married with children, and unlikely to turn to terrorism. But even if only 10 percent of them did so, that would still amount to 500 terrorists that the Israel Security Agency and Israel Defense Forces would have to hunt down.
According to Frisch, there were about 300 active terrorists in the territories at the height of the Second Intifada. Today, he says, the ISA and IDF closely track every single member of the Palestinian militaries, and Israeli intelligence would be quicker and more effective than it was back in 2002 at identifying and arresting any militiaman who turned to terrorism. "While it won't be painless or happen overnight, the IDF can and will crush a revanchist Palestinian terrorist threat," Frisch evaluates.
There is also a Palestinian threat of mass civil disturbances and non-violent marches that would overwhelm Israel’s defensive lines. But this threat exists even today, when the PA is still functioning.
The point is that Abbas would be better off not threatening us with his own demise. We can manage without him and his "authority" if we have to. It would not be fun for Israel, but it also would be very painful and uncomfortable for Abbas’ people. And the Palestinians would recede further away than they ever have been – light years away – from achieving the independent statehood that Yasser Arafat and Abbas and all their international donors had promised them.