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(December 20, 2023 / Newsweek) Two months after the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre in Israel, Palestinians paraded through the streets of Nablus with the charred corpse of a teenage would-be terrorist who blew himself up in a planned bombing. The pallbearers were members of the Palestinian Authority’s paramilitary wing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been resisting pressure from President Joe Biden to empower the PA to govern Gaza. He has good reasons to do so.

The dream of a new Palestinian state next to Israel, governed by the PA is wishful thinking at best.

The PA has proven too ideologically extreme and inept to govern the West Bank, much less Gaza. It spreads, the same radical, revolutionary ideology as Hamas and is unpopular among Palestinians due to its crippling level of corruption. A recent poll found just 17 percent of Palestinians are satisfied with the rule of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and 63 percent believe the PA is a burden on the Palestinian people.

The PA was not always so disliked. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestinians embraced the newly founded government under Yasser Arafat, who had previously led the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization. Yet as the PLO transitioned into a government, its popularity dissipated as it became clear that the only Palestinian winners from the Oslo Accords were PA officials who enriched themselves by embezzling international aid. In 1997, the PA was scandalized when an internal audit showed it “lost” a quarter of its budget to corruption and mismanagement.

The stark contrast between PA officials and Palestinians is visible on the streets. PA officials live in mansions while regular Palestinians struggle with unemployment. During government cutbacks, the Ramallah government purchased a $50 million private plane for Abbas. His sons, Tareq and Yasser, own a business empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars while the average daily wage in PA-controlled territory is just over $30.

Although Ramallah occasionally announces probes into corruption, there have been no systematic reforms. There is a complete lack of transparency in state institutions and no political will to hold the corrupt accountable.

Corruption has caused Palestinians to take to the streets multiple times in the past few years, despite the harsh suppression of demonstrations by PA security forces.

To save its last shred of legitimacy with the Palestinian people, the PA resorts to extremist policy and rhetoric to paint its members as champions of the Palestinian struggle. Over two decades, the PA has doled out over $300 million to the families of convicted terrorists, including those who have killed Americans. When the United States threatened to cut funding to the PA until it scrapped the martyr payment program, Abbas said if the PA budget contained only one penny, it would go to the program.

Violent incitement is an everyday reality in PA-controlled territory. PA-run schools, summer camps and children’s TV programs promote antisemitism and indoctrinate Palestinian children against Israel, encouraging martyrdom. An independent Israeli research institute partially attributed a surge in teenage terrorism earlier this year to PA indoctrination.

PA extremism only worsened after Oct. 7. Following the massacre, eight PA-run schools celebrated with speeches, statements and arts and crafts displays. Last month, the PA issued an official statement accusing Israel of killing its own civilians with attack helicopters at the Supernova music festival. The statement came one day after President Joe Biden voiced support for a “revitalized” PA governing Gaza. In the past month, Jibril Rajoub, the Fatah Central Committee chairman who is seen by some as Abbas’s potential successor has called on all Palestinians to join Hamas in battle against Israel and even threatened Israel with another Oct. 7 in the West Bank.

Many proponents of the PA argue that Ramallah must dabble in extremism to keep favor with a radical Palestinian public. It also goes a long way toward distracting from their own corruption and ineptitude. Considering that 83.1 percent of Palestinians supported the Oct. 7 massacre, this may be true. But this logic is a self-fulfilling prophecy: extremist policy further incites Palestinians and then the radicalized Palestinians drive more extremist policy.

But there is another reason Ramallah pursues extremism. The PA’s kleptocratic and lazy leadership has realized that by keeping its population as underdeveloped and radical as possible, it can attract more in international aid that it can then embezzle without having to govern. For the Palestinian cause to remain relevant and profitable, the Palestinians must be as miserable as possible.

In short, the PA has no incentive to change its destructive policies. But while PA leaders criticize Israel, they need Israel to exist to maintain security over their domain to cash in on international aid as the legitimate “moderate” representative of the Palestinians. Israel has been happy to play that game in exchange for security cooperation.

Many in the Israeli security services reason that the PA may be bad, but the chaos without them will be worse. This short-sighted logic of preserving a terrible status quo is what led to Oct. 7. Clearly the PA is crumbling with no possibility of reform or redemption. Currently, it doesn’t even have control over swaths of the West Bank, including areas of Jenin.

Israel may have finally learned its lesson. Last Tuesday, Netanyahu reiterated that the PA could not govern Gaza post-Hamas. That clarity received an immediate rebuke from the Biden administration, which suggested that pressure from Netanyahu’s far right coalition was the cause of Israel’s rejection of the PA.

But when it comes to opposing PA-rule in Gaza, the Israeli right and left are united. Last Wednesday, opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted, “no one in the world… thinks that Gaza should be handed over to [Abbas].”

U.S. supporters of PA sovereignty over Gaza are well-meaning but delusional. Their hope for a two-state solution has propagated the fantasy of a “moderate PA” since Oslo, but 40 years ago, the PA was the same as Hamas. Today, the PA is just Hamas tethered to the pockets of the international community.

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About the Author

Joseph Epstein
Joseph Epstein is EMET’s Legislative Fellow. Prior to EMET, Joseph worked in Business Intelligence and Due Diligence for Kroll and Vcheck Global. He has additionally worked as a journalist, analyst, and consultant covering security and migration issues in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and Central Africa. From 2017 to 2019, he served as a Lone Soldier in the Israeli Border Police. A graduate of Columbia University, where he studied Political Science and Soviet Studies, Joseph is fluent in Russian and Hebrew.

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