May 19, 2016
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is governed by a president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is now in the twelfth year of a five-year term, who routinely uses torture and arbitrary arrests to enforce his rule, and who vigorously represses freedom of speech and assembly. In an extensive survey of the situation, the veteran Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid argues that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is impossible as long as the latter live under tyranny:
In considering the critical issues that are preventing progress in moving toward reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, there has often been a failure to account fully for the detrimental role played by the PA in abusing human rights and civil liberties. The oppressive policies of the PA have undoubtedly contributed to the alienation of large parts of the Palestinian public, and pushed some further toward extremist groups such as Hamas. These abuses . . . have hardened attitudes against the process of negotiations with Israel. . . . As the PA becomes increasingly tarnished in the eyes of the Palestinian public, so too will the peace process . . . come to be seen in an ever-worse light.
In addition to the damaging effect that PA oppression is having on the attitudes of the Palestinian population, the lack of legitimate and responsible governance on the Palestinian side is likely to undermine Israeli confidence in the negotiation process and discourage further concessions from Israel. The strategic thinking currently prevalent in Israel heavily emphasizes the concern that a lawless and unstable Palestinian state could emerge on territory adjacent to Israel’s population centers and [thus] evolve into an existential security threat. Israel is particularly concerned that a weak, oppressive, and undemocratic Palestinian government would be susceptible of being overthrown, with the likelihood that this would then lead to the territory coming under the control of extremist elements such as Hamas. . . .
Despite [the PA’s severe abuse of the rights of its citizens], its leadership has continued to be championed on the world stage as moderate and as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians at the negotiating table . . . [and] to be rewarded by the international community. This has included not only substantial financial assistance from the United States and the European Union, but also ever-greater levels of recognition by international bodies such as at the United Nations. . . .
Both the use of diplomatic pressure and the threat to withhold financial assistance should be considered by policymakers as a way to incentivize the PA to engage seriously with addressing human-rights issues and complying with its obligations under international law.