EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas’s recent illnesses have again raised the matter of his successor. This brewing issue highlights contradictory aspects of Palestinian political culture. The leaders create chaos and then blackmail Western powers in exchange for containment of the unrest. Their next step is to internationalize the conflict by demanding unconditional support. Both tactics create dependency and fundamentally undermine Palestinian sovereignty. Trusteeship schemes for the West Bank illustrate the pattern of dysfunction. Only a concept of Palestinian sovereignty free of blackmail and internationalization would allow for a successful state, but this is thwarted by the concept of Palestinian national honor, which demands a return to an imaginary status quo ante.
“Après moi, le deluge” – a form of blackmail – has a long and ignoble history in international affairs. Fomenting chaos and touting one’s own regime as the only possible safeguard is a basic policy tool of Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas. Internationalization of the conflict is another traditional tool. But what happens to the idea of Palestinian sovereignty when those two conflict?
Abbas is 82 years old and, as we are frequently reminded by Abbas himself, in poor health. His increasingly frequent hospitalizations are a reminder that his era of pseudo-stability will soon end. That pseudo-stability takes this form: the Israeli security apparatus keeps Hamas at bay in the West Bank, allowing Abbas to crack down on his rivals; and in exchange, the PA does not support a full-fledged uprising, only terrorism by individuals. The probability of chaos, in the form of Hamas efforts to take over the West Bank or factional warfare between “security services,” is very real.
What will not end is the century-old Palestinian tradition of demanding that the international community take responsibility for the conflict, provide material support, and guarantee a political outcome that is favorable to them. This is done continually in international fora like the UN and through the mechanisms of UNRWA, lawfare, and the international BDS movement. The Palestinians demand that they set the agenda and that the international community provide the muscle and the cash. Reciprocal demands are trivial and lip service only, such as an “end to incitement.” Even so, without fanfare, Palestinian sovereignty, or the promise thereof, is compromised.