The colonial idea that built the Palestinian Authority
The horrific killing of the activist and outspoken critic Nizar Banat at the hands of Palestinian Authority security forces, and the subsequent brutal crackdown and arbitrary arrests of Palestinian protesters, activists, and journalists, have widened the debate among Palestinians about the PA’s place within Israel’s occupation regime.
What makes the latest debate particularly significant is that it has attracted a considerable segment of apolitical and depoliticized Palestinians. Illusionary slogans of “state-building” are being blatantly rejected by more and more Palestinians. On social media and in public discussions, it has become common to label the PA as “collaborators” and its security forces as the “guardian of Israeli settlements,” while ridiculing the success of the “national project” depicted by PA apologists. Perhaps most strikingly, much of the Palestinian public today openly perceives the PA as an extension of Israeli colonial rule that is incapable of advancing their struggle. And they are correct.
Established in 1994 under the Oslo Accords as an inter-elite accommodation between the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel, and the latter’s Western partners, the PA effectively traded the Palestinian liberation struggle for a limited form of self-rule that is completely besieged by and dependent on Israel in almost every sphere.
The PA not only imposed structural constraints on Palestinians to resist Israeli policies, but actively collaborated with Israel in a way that served the latter’s myriad security, economic, and political interests. The advent of the PA further led to the demise of the PLO, which ended the leadership’s representation of the Palestinian diaspora outside the Oslo-created cantons, and ultimately subordinated and coopted the Palestinian national movement.
This historical trajectory intersects perfectly with Israel’s logic of colonial governance. For over a century, the Zionist movement has pursued a doctrine of “maximum land with minimum Arabs,” seeking to neutralize the Palestinian “demographic burden” that impedes Jewish sovereignty over the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
However, given its inability to reiterate a similar campaign of large-scale ethnic cleansing like in 1948 — due to both local resistance as well as regional and international pressures — Israel has instead embarked on multifaceted strategies of population management and control to keep the territorial-demographic equation in favor of the settler-colonial project. After the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the priority became to ensure that Israel could continue colonizing the land while excluding the Palestinians from power and concentrating them into tiny slots of territory.