The Palestinian Authority: The Next Arab Failed State?

Despite unprecedented international support, the PA is unraveling.

After twenty years of support, with combined agencies providing the highest per capita funding ever given to a state or population, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has failed to construct the infrastructure required to establish a functional, sustainable quasi-state. Beyond the longstanding exogenous concerns of Hamas seizing the Gaza Strip in 2007, and Israel’s actions in Area C and in the policy arena (which certainly bear some burden of responsibility), we explore the future potential of this ongoing failure, following Michael Eisenstadt’s observation about the “four Fs”—fawda (chaos), fitna (extreme, violent internal strife), falatan (lawlessness) and fassad (corruption). It is vital to consider the role of a failing state in the context of a region struck by upheaval and harmed by a rise in the number of failing states, especially considering the risk of weak states generating yet more no-man’s-land in the regional and global struggles between Shia and Sunni Islam, or perhaps even between moderate Sunnis and Salafi-jihadist Sunnis.

After its 1994 formation in the Oslo Accords as a semi-state entity, the PA has seen two decades of turbulence. In 2016, 95 percent of West Bank residents are living under PA control in Areas A, B and B+; one hundred thousand Palestinians live under Israeli control in Area C. From the Palestinian perspective, after its foundation the PA certainly represented the foundation of a future Palestinian state. Hamas’s 2007 seizure of the Gaza Strip resulted in a divide with the West Bank, precipitating a severe political crisis. The shifting reality demonstrates the emergence of not only two separate political, geographical and cultural entities, but of rival elements, given Hamas’s opposition to a PA presence in Gaza and its efforts to undermine the PA in the West Bank. Despite this, it is clear that by the time of the Hamas takeover, the PA had failed in some of the most basic state functions.

Khalil Shikaki’s 2014 report, summarizing comprehensive work by experts who examined the PA’s situation and the implications of its collapse, presents a fairly abysmal picture. The report stressed that although most Palestinians view the PA as a national achievement, many doubt it is actually fulfilling its two main objectives: a means of gaining Palestinian independence, and the construction of state institutions. In addition, the report indicates growing concern about the PA’s ability to survive, sustain legitimacy, provide services to Palestinian citizens and cope with crises. Some within the international community are warning of another Syria, Libya or Yemen emerging in the Middle East. Shikaki’s report warns of the immediate results of a failing Palestinian state, including a total collapse of law and order. This would be followed by the collapse of the private sector, water and electricity infrastructure, courts, and the healthcare and school systems, which would lead to a dramatic increase in poverty and crime rates, and further descent into falatan and fitna.

The PA’s failure to develop as an independent, functional and stable entity is most clearly demonstrated through the deep rooted deficiencies within its institutions. The notoriously undeveloped economy, admittedly affected by its lack of open access to the arable land and water supplies of Area C, are reliant on the international community, through donations but also through its reliance on Israel for the collection of tax receipts within PA territory (due to Paris Protocol). For a state to rely on an exogenous tax collector presents a clear inability to provide basic social and infrastructure services, something that continues despite the $4 billion received since 1994 for development, as 75 percent of this went toward salaries. Governmental corruption, characterized by blatant nepotism, has existed in the PA since its establishment. Even if it tapered off to some extent, its scope is still negatively affecting economic development. In a 2013 report by Middle East Monitor, it was found that $2 billion from the total amount of aid transferred to the West Bank and Gaza Strip has disappeared without a trace. Governmental corruption in the PA is a feature, as senior PA officials turned the PA into a source of income for themselves and their cronies. The culture of chaos and corruption, or fawda and fassad, has become normalized.

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