RealClearWorld Newsletters: Mideast Memo

Whither the Palestinian Authority?

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Sunday marked the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, a set of agreements inked in 1993 by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, and punctuated by a now famous photo op handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

The accords -- for which Rabin, Arafat, and Peres would all go on to win the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize -- set in motion the so-called Mideast peace process. For Israelis, the accords were intended to provide a certain degree of security and recognition, and a peaceable negotiating partner in the Palestinian territories. For the Palestinians, the agreements were designed to provide political and economic freedom, greater territorial autonomy, and a path toward self-rule.

The failings and shortcomings of Oslo are well documented, and the accords, needless to say, have not entirely lived up to their intended tenets throughout the years. One enduring relic of the deal, however, is the body that still governs much of the West Bank today: the Palestinian National Authority (PA).

The PA, which was initially crafted as an administrative body to govern and provide basic services within occupied territories relinquished by the Israeli government, has developed over the years into a massive bureaucracy. At its height, the Authority has presided over periods of relative stability and economic growth, and it has enjoyed slightly warmer relations with Israel than its Palestinian counterparts in the Gaza Strip.

But tough times have befallen Ramallah in recent months, as shifting global aid priorities, coupled with frustration over the sclerotic pace of the peace process, have reportedly resulted in a 45 percent dip in international aid and grants to the PA in calendar year 2015. As one source inside the Authority recently told Al-Monitor, Western aid tends to flow to the West Bank in conjunction with Palestinian cooperation.

"The U.S., the biggest donor to the PA, cut back its financial aid in 2011 to $51.7 million, compared with $450 million to $600 million yearly prior to 2011," said the anonymous source in an interview with Al-Monitor.

"There was no aid in 2012 following the failure of the peaceful settlement path. However, in 2013, with the launch of new peace negotiations, the U.S. allocated $349 million to the PA's budget and in the same year the World Bank provided it with around $1.374 billion worth of aid."

The reduction in global aid, coupled with Israel's decision late last year to withhold millions in monthly tax transfers, a critical source of revenue for the Authority, has put the PA on the brink of financial collapse.

Compounding Palestinian problems is the political infighting going on within the ranks of the broader international Palestinian movement itself. Mahmoud Abbas' recent resignation from the PLO's executive committee -- a move viewed by some critics and analysts as a ploy to retain power -- has led many to wonder if the longtime Palestinian patriarch's days in power are numbered.

Uncertainty and insolvency surround the Authority, but its contributions to an otherwise unfruitful peace process should not be overlooked. Recent events in the Middle East have taught us that the alternative could always be worse.

Around the Region

Will Iran reach a truce with ISIS? Barbara Slavin examines the possibility:

"While a ‘pro-stabilization' camp that advocates continued robust intervention is still dominant in Tehran, Hadian said, there are indicators that the minimalist approach is gaining ground, including Iranian reluctance to push the Iraqi government to retake the Sunni stronghold of Mosul. In Syria, the policy would limit Iranian support to defending Damascus and Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. Iran might also encourage the Houthis in Yemen to reach a peace deal with Saudi-backed forces.

Members of the pro-stabilization camp include Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other top officials, Hadian told Al-Monitor, including himself in this group."

Russia's narrow view. Raghida Dergham explains Russia's decision to ramp up its military activities in Syria, and how the move comports with Moscow's rather narrow view of violence and Islamic insurgency:

"As per the Russian vision, interference into domestic affairs of sovereign states, use of force without the authorization by the U.N. Security Council, transfers of arms to non-state actors adherent to radical ideology, aggravate the situation in the region and raise the level of terrorist risks.

Everything in Moscow's eyes should therefore be focused on fighting terrorism by non-state actors but not terrorism of any other kind. Governments are exempt from this charge of terrorism in the name of sovereignty, and must remain above accountability for the same reason, according to Russia. Russia thus believes that the collective efforts of the international community must focus first on supporting legitimate governments in their war with terrorism on their territories, without any double standards."

Erdogan's costly calculation. As air strikes and terror attacks continue apace in Turkey's Kurdish southeast, journalist Paul Iddon accuses Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using the military for his own risky political machinations:

"President Erdogan's seething denunciation of the leftist-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party's (HDP) winning of some seats in parliament last June was a bad sign. His critics believe that he is consciously trying to weaken the PKK so it can negotiate with them from a position of strength and drive the HDP from parliament in the upcoming snap elections in November. However, what they have done through the nature of this crackdown is embolden those in the PKK who seek separation. The longer this persists, the stronger these sentiments may become. And that will have the regressive effect in undoing those many positive aforementioned changes brought about by reforms over the years which made the potential of a binding peace accord possible to begin with."

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