For close observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the latest opinion polling concerning support for the two-state solution among Palestinians shouldn’t be surprising. According to data released last month by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, backing for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is steadily decreasing. At the same time, support for a one-state solution and ending the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is surging among Palestinians.
The trend lines of Palestinian public opinion have been crystalizing around these sentiments for years. The question now is how long the leadership on both sides of the conflict will maintain the status quo before Palestinians return to the streets in force. The crown jewel of the status quo is the Palestinian Authority.
It’s not challenging to see why support for the two-state solution is tanking. Palestinians have watched Israel entrench its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to an unprecedented degree over the last two decades with little to no pushback from the international community. What’s left of the peace process is barely given lip service from all sides after Donald Trump acquiesced to several Israeli demands, such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Even more disturbing for Palestinians is that many Arab states established relations or set up robust peace agreements with Israel in the absence of an equitable solution to the conflict. A significant carrot for Israel to strike a genuine peace agreement with the Palestinians was the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world as well as the American recognition of Israel’s claims over Jerusalem. Both have happened with zero change to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land or control over Palestinian life. If anything, Israel has been encouraged by this new international support to solidify the occupation.
The picture is equally bleak when it comes to internal Palestinian matters. The Palestinian leadership is disconnected and out of touch with the stewing anger on the street. Having failed to stop Trump’s destruction of the peace process or Israel’s rapprochement with Arab countries, many Palestinians have been left wondering how their ageing leadership can guide them going forward.
At the same time, the gap between the Hamas leadership in Gaza and the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership in the West Bank doesn’t show any sign of closing. The 86-year-old Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is closing in on his 20th year of a four-year term, having recently canceled legislative elections. More than 70 percent of those polled said that Abbas should swiftly announce a new date for elections. Despite the severe nature of Palestinians’ challenges, these problems aren’t fundamentally new.
While significant changes to the status quo don’t appear imminent, Israel is so concerned about the long-term stability of the Palestinian Authority that it is frantically lobbying European and Arab allies to raise their donations to Abbas. On the surface, Israel’s calls for financial support for the PA might seem counterintuitive, but they reveal the internal logic of the occupation.
The PA has become Israel’s most effective tool for the continued suppression of the Palestinian people. The PA security forces, trained and equipped by Israel, the United States, and Jordan, are the first line of defense for Israeli interests in the West Bank. Any Palestinian protest against the occupation is met first with PA security forces. Through donations from European and Arab countries, the PA can dole out enough money to keep Palestinian civil servants docile and unwilling to risk everything with a new intifada. Palestinians would be free to wage a sustained non-violent campaign against the Israeli occupation without the PA standing in the way, much like the First Intifada that started in the late 1980s. Israel has done everything in its power to ensure that nothing like the First Intifada ever returns to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza.
It will keep this strategy alive through more support of the PA. In recent years, donations to the Palestinian Authority have dwindled from $1.3 billion in 2011 to a few hundred million. This has caused some in the Israeli government, like Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, to directly lobby European countries to increase donations saying that it was in Israel’s interest for the PA to be “strong and stable.”
One doesn’t need an advanced degree in Middle East politics to see how the dynamics of fed-up Palestinians that can’t get away from the long arm of Israel’s occupation is creating a tinderbox. Israel learned well how to maximize its control over a restless population from the examples of apartheid, South Africa and Rhodesia. Its unique model of domination has shown much more longevity than other similar regimes. History, however, teaches us that such minority regimes based on unequal and discriminatory behavior don’t last forever. The occupation might appear ironclad, but it will change and transform in the future. The stability of the Palestinian Authority is the best barometer of when change will take root in Palestine. When the PA crumbles, the conflict will enter a new and uncharted chapter.
Joseph Dana is the senior editor of Exponential View, a weekly newsletter about technology and its impact on society. He was formerly the editor-in-chief of emerge85, a lab exploring change in emerging markets and its global impact.