For two months now, the United States and other Western countries, backing Israel, have been talking about “the day after” in Gaza. They have rejected Israeli assertions that the Israeli army will remain in control of the Strip and pointed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as their preferred political actor to take over governance once the war is over.
In so doing, the US and its allies have paid little regard to what the Palestinian people want. The current leadership of the PA lost the last democratic elections held in the occupied Palestinian territory in 2006 to Hamas and since then, it has steadily lost popularity.
In a recent public opinion poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), some 90 percent of respondents were in favour of the resignation of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and 60 percent called for the dismantling of the PA itself.
Washington is undoubtedly aware of the low public trust in the PA, but there is a reason why it insists on supporting its takeover of Gaza: its leadership has been a reliable partner for decades in maintaining a status quo in the interests of Israel. The US would like that arrangement to continue, so its backing for the PA may be accompanied by an attempt to revamp it in order to solve its legitimacy problem. But even if this effort succeeds, it is unlikely the new iteration of the PA would be sustainable.
Perhaps one of the main factors that has convinced the US that the PA is a “good choice” for post-war governance in Gaza is its anti-Hamas stance and willingness to conduct security coordination with Israel.
Since the commencement of the conflict between Israel and Gaza on October 7, the PA and its leadership have not issued an official statement offering explicit political support for the Palestinian resistance. Their rhetoric has predominantly focused on condemning and disapproving of attacks on civilians on both sides, while also rejecting the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.
In a political address on the ninth day of the war, Abbas criticised Hamas, asserting that their actions did not represent the Palestinian people. He emphasised that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and underscored the importance of peaceful resistance as the only legitimate means to oppose Israeli occupation. This statement was later retracted by his office.
In December, Hussein al-Sheikh, a PA official and secretary-general of the executive committee of the PLO, also criticised Hamas in an interview with Reuters. He suggested its armed resistance “method and approach” has failed and led to many casualties among the civilian population.
The stance of the PA is consistent with its own narrow political and economic interests which have come at the expense of the Palestinian national cause. It has systematically and brutally stamped out any opposition and any support for other factions, including Hamas, in order to maintain its rule over West Bank cities while Israel continues with its brutal occupation and dispossession of the Palestinian people.
In Israel’s war on Gaza in 2008–2009, the PA leadership hoped to regain administrative control of Gaza with assistance from Israel. During that conflict, the PA prohibited any activities in the West Bank in support of Gaza and threatened to arrest participants. I, myself, faced harassment and the threat of arrest for attempting to join a demonstration against the war. Similar positions were adopted by the PA, albeit with less aggressive measures, in subsequent Israeli assaults on Gaza, as its leadership came to recognise that Hamas was unlikely to relinquish its control over the Strip.
Since October 7, the PA has taken a bolder stance, marked by more aggressive actions. Its security forces have suppressed demonstrations and marches held in support of Gaza, resorting to shooting live ammunition at participants. Additionally, the PA has recently detained individuals expressing support for the Palestinian resistance.
While cracking down on Palestinian protests, the PA has done nothing to protect its people from attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian communities, which have resulted in deaths, injuries and the displacement of hundreds of people in the occupied West Bank.
Additionally, the Israeli army has intensified its raids in the PA-administered areas, leading to the arrest of thousands and the killing of hundreds of Palestinians, with no reaction from the PA.