The West Bank is experiencing rising instability and insecurity that palliative measures can help contain but can neither reverse nor end in the absence of a broad political settlement.
In its latest report, Buying Time? Money, Guns and Politics in the West Bank, the International Crisis Group examines political, economic and security conditions in the West Bank. The last year was the most tumultuous for the Palestinian Authority (PA) since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007. For now, the mood has quieted somewhat, but if relevant parties do not get beyond managing conflict triggers to addressing root issues, today’s superficial calm could well be fleeting.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
- Several factors argue against a looming escalation: the Hamas-Fatah split has rendered popular mobilisation dangerous to both the West Bank and Gaza regimes; Palestinians remain tired from the consequences of the second intifada; and, importantly, foreign assistance has helped reshape the West Bank’s political economy while giving most of its residents an interest in preserving the system.
- At the same time, many of the conditions for an uprising are in place: political discontent, the leadership’s loss of legitimacy, hopelessness, economic fragility, increased violence and an overwhelming sense that security cooperation serves an Israeli – not Palestinian – interest.
- The “collapse” of the PA is less likely to be a discrete event, and its “dissolution” less a matter of conscious intent, than a process: the gradual hollowing out of institutions that were never particularly strong.
- Steps such as regularising tax revenue transfers to the PA that Israel is obligated to make, as well as greater efforts by Israel to rein in settler attacks against Palestinians and to curtail incursions by its security forces into ostensibly Palestinian-controlled areas, could help stabilise the West Bank for now. But at some point Palestinians may well decide their long-run well-being would be better served by instability, and only by rocking the boat might they come closer to their desired destination.
“If aid money has bought time, time has not changed the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, cannot provide insurance against a deteriorating political-security situation and cannot purchase the kind of legitimacy the Palestinian leadership will need to control and guide its people”, says Robert Blecher, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. “The time that money buys comes at a price, since the progressive atrophy of the Palestinian political system inescapably will make any future peace process both less legitimate and more fragile”.