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Abbas’ Threat to End Security Ties With Israel Could Have Far-reaching Effects

Analysts say civil and economic part of coordination must continue

The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has said that President Mahmoud Abbas’ declaration to end security coordination with Israel is real this time.

Abbas didn’t mince words last week when he threatened in a speech to cancel all agreements, including those related to security coordination, if Israel goes forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

A high-ranking Palestinian security official told The Media Line that Palestinian security personnel have withdrawn from neighborhoods near Jerusalem and from Areas B and C in the West Bank.

The security official also said that Palestinians have informed their Israeli counterparts of the decision to suspend all security coordination with them.

Maj. Gen. Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the Palestinian security services, confirmed to The Media Line that orders have been given to PA security chiefs to stop all cooperation with Israel.

This is not the first time Abbas has threatened to play the no-security-cooperation card; he has done so repeatedly in the past but never followed through with his threat.

However, Neri Zilber, a Tel Aviv-based journalist and an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute, told The Media Line that this time, the 85-year-old president may not be bluffing.

“I think we need to take Abbas’ remarks and decision quite seriously – more seriously than in previous years,” Zilber said, adding, “What people are forgetting in his latest threat is the political and strategic context in which the decision was taken. I think for Abbas and the Palestinians, the annexation of parts of the West Bank is genuinely a red line.”

Abdul Majeed Swailem, a professor of regional studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that Abbas’ aim was to build pressure on Israel to abandon its annexation plans.

“The Palestinian leadership needs to send a strong message to Israel that this time, they mean business. They need to employ all methods to pressure Israel,” he said.

The PA is economically closely tied to Israel. Coordination between the two sides has many aspects and goes beyond security.

Zilber doesn’t think the economic coordination will be affected.

“A distinction needs to be drawn between security coordination and the mechanism of economic or civilian medical coordination. I don’t think it is realistic or feasible for the Palestinians to suspend economic ties with Israel. I think that is going too far.”

Dr. Kobi Michael, a security analyst and senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies of Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line that the Palestinian leadership needs the security coordination as much as Israel does to protect itself from its rival Hamas and to not have a repeat of what took place in 2007 in Gaza when Hamas took over the Palestinian coastal enclave by force.

“In addition to the security aspects, there are the daily aspects, mainly with regard to the economy, which are fully related to and dependent on security coordination. How exactly will the Palestinian Authority be able to compensate the thousands and thousands of Palestinians who work in Israel and Israeli settlements? If there’s no security cooperation, there is no work. How will they deal with crossing Allenby Bridge to reach Jordan and, from Jordan, the entire world?”

Dr. Michael also pointed to other issues, such as the environment, gas and water: “Everything is dependent on the security coordination.”

Mohammad Khabeisah, a Palestinian financial expert, told The Media Line that severing of security ties with Israeli may have implications far beyond the security aspect of it.

“Israel collects hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money for the PA each month; that’s more than half of the PA’s budget.”

Each working day, more than 90,000 Palestinians cross through checkpoints throughout the West Bank into Israel for work.

“These workers need permits to cross and, without civil coordination, they can’t. These workers earn millions of dollars each month that is pumped into the local economy.”

The Palestinian economy has been hit hard with the spread of the coronavirus reducing the number of workers in Israel to only a few thousand, stripping the PA treasury of millions of dollars.

President Abbas’ seat of government is in the West Bank city of Ramallah and for him to leave the city to visit other parts of the Palestinian territories or to travel abroad, there must be prior coordination with Israel.

Zilber says that tearing up the agreements with Israel will present Abbas with major challenges.

“What Abbas is threatening is to stop communicating on security-only matters, allowing civilian communication to continue.”

Hasan Awwad, a Middle East expert at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, told The Media Line that in his speech, Abbas was ambiguous, leaving the door slightly open for a chance for the security coordination to continue indirectly.

“The many agreements the PLO signed with Israel shackled the PA in many ways, leaving it with little room to really pressure Israel,” he said.

Abbas is under great domestic pressure and needs to be seen as doing something.

“Strategically, Abbas, I think, very much realizes that he needs to respond. So, what response will get Israel’s and other international actors’ attention?” Zilber, asks, asserting that Abbas has one tool at his disposal: “I would argue the only real thing in the toolbox is security coordination.”

Palestinians say that annexing parts of the West Bank will shatter their hope to build a Palestinian state.

Ahmad Majdalani, the authority’s social development minister and a PLO executive committee member, told The Media Line that Palestinians will “knock on every door” to stop Israel.

“We will not sit idle while Israel confiscates our land.

Zilber agrees, saying that annexation may spell doom to the Palestinian dream of an independent state.

“It has political and strategic implications for what Abbas and the PLO and Fatah have been advocating for more than 25 years, since signing the Oslo Accord: the possibility of a two-state solution and the end of the occupation.”