Palestinian Authority under pressure after Hamas attack
The Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 to create an independent Palestinian nation. Nearly three decades on, it faces stiff opposition.
Several people died in clashes with Israeli security forces across the West Bank on Saturday, Palestinian officials said, bringing the death toll there to 54. Clashes have surged since the militant group Hamas— which Germany, the EU, US and several other nations designate as a terrorist organization — launched a major attack on Israel on Saturday, 7 October.
Israel's military said it had arrested 280 Palestinians, including 157 members of Hamas, in raids across the occupied West Bank.
Future independent Palestinian nation
The raids and fatalities are a sign that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is losing control over the territories it governs.
Formally the Palestinian National Authority, the PA was founded in 1994 as a product of the 1993 Oslo I Accord between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). It was designed as an interim governing body to lay the foundation for a future independent Palestinian nation.
PA becoming 'irrelevant'
Steven Höfner, the head of the Ramallah office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), said the past week demonstrates the PA's "irrelevance."
"The PA has barely spoken publicly on the matter [of the Hamas terror attacks], and when President Abbashas for example, then in reserved tones and without mentioning or condemning Hamas," he said.
In doing so, Höfner said, the PA has maintained the status quo.
"Above all, the PA is interested in securing its own power. And it is barely able to exert control in the occupied West Bank. That is what we are currently observing in the clashes."
'War on the Palestinian nation'
On Sunday, over a week after Hamas' attacks on Israel, various news agencies reported that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had distanced himself from Hamas.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA reported on its website that Abbas had told Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a phone call that the policies and actions of Hamas "do not represent the Palestinian people."
Later, however, Reuters news agency reported that this critique had been deleted, along with the explicit naming of Hamas, without further explanation.
The hopes for an independent Palestinian state have long been dashed — many Palestinians believe the PA has failed. According to press reports, many recent rallies held in small towns in the occupied West Bank expressed support for Hamas' terror attack, indicating a growing sympathy toward the Islamist Hamas over the secular Fatah party, the most important political force in the Palestinian Authority.
"We'd prefer Hamas not to do it [attack Israel]," said a PA official, the British weekly Economist reports. "But when Israel responds, it is not seen as an attack against Hamas, but as part of a 75-year-long war on the Palestinian nation."
Critical human rights record
The PA has faced extensive criticism in the Palestinian territories and abroad in recent years.
In 2021, Amnesty International reported that the Independent Commission for Human Rights counted 129 complaints of arbitrary arrests in the West Bank and 80 in the Gaza Strip — mainly in connection with freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
In June 2022, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch condemned these arrests, as well as the PA's maltreatment of critics and opponents.
Höfner said that the PA had disengaged from Palestinian citizens over the past few years. "Evidently, it is an elite project that benefits only a few people in the Palestinian territories," he said. "It is no longer a democratic institution, it has long lost its legitimacy, and people living in Palestinian territories have no faith that the PA, Fatah or President Abbas will be able to develop any sort of perspective for the future."
Declining support for Abbas
In early September, the Palestinian Authority received US-made weapons and armored vehicles via Jordan. Many considered this a PA attempt to regain control over the occupied West Bank after suffering setbacks in several places, such as Jenin, the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post reported.
In July, Israeli forces marched into the Jenin refugee camp after Hamas militants shot four Israeli settlers. Several confrontations had taken place between Palestinians and Israelis in the region, and violent Palestinians were often suspected to come from the Jenin refugee camp or the surrounding area.
Experts say terror groups — like Hamas — use Palestinians' disaffection with the PA and Abbas to establish themselves politically and militarily.
"The PA is experiencing a dramatic loss of authority," said Höfner, pointing to a public opinion poll conducted by the KAS and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in September, a few weeks before Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel.
According to the survey, 78% of Palestinians surveyed called for Abbas to step down. Only 19% preferred to see him stay in office.
Only 42% said they would consider casting a vote if an election were to take place. In the case of a run-off election, 58% of survey participants said they would vote for senior political leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh while 37% said they would vote for Abbas.
In a parliamentary election, 36% of participants said they would vote for Fatah, while 34% said they would vote for Hamas.
Abbas met Haniyeh in the Egyptian coastal city of El-Alamein to discuss an intra-Palestinian "reconciliation committee" in July. He said he hoped to "continue the dialogue … end divisions and achieve Palestinian national unity."
Future ties with Israel unclear
Abbas spoke with US President Joe Biden on Saturday.
A White House statement said, "President Abbas briefed President Biden on his engagement in the region and his efforts to bring urgently needed humanitarian assistance to Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza."
In response, "President Biden offered President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority his full support for these important and ongoing efforts."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed this pledge of support in meetings with Abbas in the Jordanian capital Amman over the weekend.
It is unclear how relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will unfold in the future, Höfner said.
"Israel's war objective is to destroy Hamas. To achieve this, it wouldn't suffice to invade Gaza," he said. "Rather, Israel will also have to employ new strategies in the West Bank to eliminate Hamas sympathizers or supporters. It remains to be seen what that means for the PA."
The article was orignally written in German.