Ramallah views it as a means to bring Authority down
In what is seen as an attempt to marginalize the Palestinian Authority, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli Defense Ministry unit responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, has announced it will accept requests for permits to enter and work in Israel, through an application on smartphones, directly from Palestinians.
While COGAT says the change aims to help Palestinians, officials in Ramallah view this new project with great suspicion, accusing the Israeli government of trying to bypass the PA and its Civil Affairs Ministry, which is responsible for obtaining permits on behalf of Palestinians.
“This is another sign of the Israeli government’s effort to undermine the Authority and further reduce its role,” Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian politics, told The Media Line.
The change is not technical but rather reflects a systematic policy to weaken the PA, he says.
“Israel has long held the idea that the Palestinian Authority will end up managing the affairs of the Palestinians only within the territories it controls. This will eventually lead to the elimination of its role,” Awwad says.
Eli Nesan, an Israeli political analyst and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disagrees.
“The Palestinian side disapproves of everything that Israel does,” he says
Nesan told The Media Line that claims of an Israeli policy to weaken the Authority are “baseless.”
“On the contrary, Israel does not want to weaken the PA, and Israel is ready to continue security coordination between it and the Palestinians.”
In May, the Palestinian Authority ended security coordination with Israel, in protest of the new government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank. The PA also froze ties on civil issues.
With the halt of security coordination, many Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza have been unable to get permits for medical treatment, work or business in Israel, as the PA stopped applying for them on their behalf.
“If the Palestinians do not like this [the new application policy], the question is, why did the Palestinian Authority cut off security coordination with Israel?” Nesan wondered.
At the time, PA President Mahmoud Abbas cited the threat of Israeli annexation as the reason for the suspension of the security collaboration. But Nesan says that threat no longer exists. “The problem was annexation and it’s off the table.
“The issue is that Abu Mazen [Abbas] lives in the past, not the present and not the future. Abbas’ policy does not serve the Palestinian people,” Nesan says. The PA leadership is to blame for its people’s hardships, he adds. “The Palestinian side continues to boycott the United States and continues to boycott Israel. This policy will not serve them well. If they really cared about their people, the Palestinian people would enjoy better economic conditions today.”
The PA is facing its worst financial crisis in a long time, with loss of revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sharply decreased international aid, and the Authority’s refusal to accept tax and tariff money Israel collects on its behalf.
Israel has been withholding part of the Palestinian tax revenue because of the monthly stipends the PA pays to the families of slain Palestinians and to prisoners in Israeli jails who attacked and killed Israelis.
“The PA doesn’t have a way to stop Palestinians from applying for permits, and it desperately needs cash,” says Awwad. “About 80,000 Palestinians cross into Israel each day for work, and they bring back with them desperately needed cash to spend in Palestinian markets.”
He says the Trump peace plan, Israel’s normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates, and the threat that other Arab states will follow suit, paints a gloomy picture for the PA.
“The Palestinian Authority looks more and more isolated, mute and marginalized,” Awwad says.