Mahmoud Abbas Once Again Threatens to End Security Coordination With Israel
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. People are beginning to doubt the wisdom of his policies regarding cooperation with Israel. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Mahmoud Abbas Once Again Threatens to End Security Coordination With Israel

All signed agreements are canceled, Palestinian president says

The Palestinian Authority is no longer obligated to agreements signed with Israel and the United States, President Mahmoud Abbas announced late on Tuesday night, citing Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

“The Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] and the State of Palestine are no longer bound, as of today, by any of the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and by any of the commitments based on these understandings and agreements, including those concerning security,” Abbas said in a televised speech after meeting with officials in Ramallah.

A knowledgeable source in Ramallah told The Media Line that “immediate” orders had been issued to security and intelligence officials and to the minister of civil affairs to stop holding some security meetings with their Israeli counterparts.

“Orders were given to reduce the level of communication with the Israeli side,” the source, a Palestinian official, said.

The source, who participated in Tuesday night’s meeting in Ramallah, said, however, that Abbas had not “completely closed the door” on continuing the security coordination with Israel.

The Palestinian president’s announcement came two days after the formation of a new Israeli government that is preparing to discuss the annexation of parts of the West Bank. The Israeli plans reportedly have the support of the Trump administration.

Wassel Abu Yusef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, described the leadership’s decisions as “historic.”

Abu Yusef told The Media Line that Abbas’ announcement would “turn the battle that the occupation [i.e., Israel] tried to impose on our Palestinian people back on them.”

Nashat al-Aqtash, a media professor at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, told The Media Line that Abbas’ “tough talk” was nothing new.

“The question is whether his rhetoric is going to be translated into real and meaningful steps on the ground. In my estimation the answer is no; it will not be implemented.”

Aqtash pointed out that, since 2014, the Palestinian Authority had repeatedly promised to end security coordination with Israel, but never followed through on the threat.

Jihad Harb, a political analyst who writes for several Palestinian media outlets, told The Media Line that the Palestinian leaders had concluded that they could not work with the Israeli leadership.

“I suspect that the issue is not related to seriousness or lack of seriousness on the part of Abbas, but it is clear that the president is convinced that it is not possible at this stage to negotiate with Israel or to reach peace with any Israeli government,” Harb said.

Severing all relations with Israel was easier said than done, he said.

“Total separation from Israel, I think, is not only difficult, it’s impossible, whether in relation to the economy or to civil affairs. While it is possible to stop security coordination by cutting off communication, it is not possible to stop dealing with pressing daily issues, from the issuance of a passport or a birth certificate, to entry or exit via crossings,” Harb said.

During the Palestinian leadership’s meeting, an argument broke out between Abbas of the ruling Fatah movement and Omar Shehadeh, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Afterward, Shehadeh characterized to local media what happened during the meeting as “terrorism” and a “dictatorship” that was “stuck in the quagmire of negotiations [with Israel].”

Others attending the meeting complained that Abbas did not want to hear their input.

Dr. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said Abbas’ declaration “will take effect immediately.” Erekat insisted that it was Israel that had “denounced the basic concept of the Oslo agreement by dismissing the two-state solution.”

The Media Line asked Erekat what Abbas means when he says the PLO is not “bound” by agreements signed with Israel and the US.

“Our goal is a just and lasting peace, which begins with the fulfillment of our inalienable rights under international law,” Erakat responded. “The Declaration of Principles known as the Oslo agreement specified an interim period of five years to achieve a final-status agreement, endorsed [UN] Security Council Resolution 242 and said that no unilateral actions should be taken to change the status quo of the territory before an agreement is reached.

“Yet Israel has tripled the number of settlers and now it is moving toward annexation,” Erekat continued. “Israeli leaders have repeated on countless occasions that they don’t abide by signed agreements, which in fact they continue to systematically violate. The message in the announcement [by Abbas] is that we are not willing to be the only party that will abide by the agreements.”

But if the PLO is not bound by the agreements with Israel, including the Oslo Accords, where does that leave the Palestinian Authority?

“The Palestinian Authority is an institution created to build the institutions of the State of Palestine and to provide services to the Palestinian people in the occupied homeland,” Erekat told The Media Line. “The announcement doesn’t say that we have relinquished our right to statehood or that we will stop providing services to our people. This is not an easy situation.

“What has been happening though is an effort by both Israel and the Trump Administration to weaken the Palestinian Authority as much as possible, whether through cutting funds, stealing our money or limiting our access to our natural resources and electromagnetic sphere, just to mention a few. It is Israel that is undermining the role of the Palestinian Authority, not our decision.”

Asked whether this abrogation of agreements include the security coordination, Erekat replied, “Yes, it does.”

Eli Nesan, an Israeli political analyst and an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The Media Line: “I do not know why Abu Mazen [Abbas] rushed to act over this issue because the Israeli government has not yet made any decisions [about annexation].

“Abu Mazen is fully aware that things on the ground will not have changed even if Israel implements Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank,” Nesan added.

Last Sunday, while addressing the Knesset before the vote approving his new government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said his incoming administration should apply Israeli sovereignty to all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“It’s time to apply Israeli law and write another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism,” Netanyahu said.

Nesan said: “It is true that there were statements by the prime minister on this issue, but there is a divergence in views between Netanyahu and [his coalition partners, Defense Minister Benny] Gantz and Foreign Minister [Gabi] Ashkenazi on this issue.”

Nesan argued that a final decision had yet to be made, adding that Gantz “wants to consult with the parties concerned in this matter: The [Palestinian] Authority, Jordan and the United States.”

The coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian security forces benefited both sides, Nesan said.

“The security coordination serves not only Israel, but also the Palestinian Authority. This is because of the threat posed to Abbas’ Fatah party by its rival Hamas,” he said.

Hasan Awwad, a Middle East expert at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, told The Media Line that Abbas was bluffing.

“I think this is a political maneuver by President Abbas to pressure the international community, and specifically the European Union, to take steps against the decision to reestablish Israel’s control over the territories occupied in ‘67,” he said.

Israel was trying to expedite annexation because it had a green light from the Trump administration for such a move, and the US president was facing an uphill battle for reelection because of criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Awwad said.

He added that the strong warning by Jordan’s King Abdullah that annexation could lead to “a massive conflict” between his country and Israel might also have had something to do with Abba’s rhetoric.

Harb argued that Israel would not move forward with annexation, for two reasons.

Israel “is more afraid of the International Criminal Court than of political statements from Palestinian or European officials, and it is also afraid of a popular Palestinian ‘explosion,’” he said.

Harb added that Israel’s security establishment had warned against annexation, “thinking that the ‘explosion’ is coming due to several factors, including the economic hardships the Palestinians are suffering, the absence of a political solution on the horizon, and that with the annexation plan, the Palestinians will lose hope of a Palestinian state.”

Nesan agreed, saying that the Palestinian leadership intentions are well known.

“Abbas, in creating this media hype, wants to push for an investigation against Israel in the International Criminal Court and also to push some anti-Israel countries such as Ireland and Spain and others to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a state,” he said.

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