PA Weighs Next Steps Against Israeli Annexation Plan
Palestinians gather to protest against Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank, June 3, 2020, in Nablus, West Bank. (Nedal Eshtayah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

PA Weighs Next Steps Against Israeli Annexation Plan

Palestinian Authority presidential adviser warns that the earth will tremble if Israel proceeds

The Palestinian Authority has reached a crossroads in its bid to counter Israeli annexation plans for parts of the West Bank, as a Palestinian official warned of a major upheaval and a commander in a refugee camp warned that groups are stockpiling weapons.

The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday that it would no longer accept tax monies that Israel collects for it after previously announcing that Palestinian security cooperation with Israel would end.

Mahmoud al-Habash, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ religious affairs adviser, warned that if Israel goes forward with its plan to annex Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley, the Palestinian reaction will be an “earthquake” for which “Israel will have to bear the consequences.”

Habash told The Media Line he did not know exactly what would happen, “but I expect that it will be very difficult and something that no one can afford.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had said that on July 1 he would implement the plan, part of US President Donald Trump’s peace deal for Israel and the Palestinians. In return, Israel was expected to agree to a Palestinian state, with land swaps. However, there have been recent reports that US officials are asking Israel to wait.

Fiery rhetoric from Palestinian officials reflects their high degree of concern that Israel is proceeding with the “deal of the century,” which the Palestinians have rejected.

“Our struggle will continue, and our people will thwart Israeli plans,” Habash said. “Each action has an equal and opposite reaction. No one expects the Palestinian people to be exposed to aggression and not respond.”

“We have declared more than once that we will resist the occupation by all legitimate, possible and available means, including popular resistance, and work on the international stage politically and legally against the Israeli occupation.”

At the same time, Habash called on Israel to assume responsibility for Palestinians under its control.

“As an occupying power Israel must be responsible in the territories in accordance with international law,” he said.

Ayman, who commands Fatah forces in Balata refugee camp near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, told The Media Line that many well-known Fatah leaders are organizing their “men” and making sure they are buying all the weapons they can get.

Although President Abbas is also a member of the Fatah party, Palestinians have little trust in the current Palestinian leadership, said Ayman, who refused to give his last name.

“They have not accomplished anything in decades, why should we think that this time is any different.”

“We have entered a new and critical phase in internal Palestinian politics. It’s interesting to see all the deals being cooked in secret for life after Abbas,” he said. “They want to be in a position to take over by force if need be.”

Majed Al-Arouri, executive director of the National Authority for the Independence of the Judiciary in Palestine, confirmed Ayman’s assertions.

“The possibility of entering into internal chaos is very high,” he told The Media Line.

Although the Palestinian Authority relies on tax-revenue transfers from Israel, it said that it will no longer accept the money.

PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhim told The Media Line that the reason for the rejection was that Israel tried to condition the revenue transfer on resuming security coordination, but the Palestinians will not give in to “blackmail.”

Abbas announced last month that the PA would no longer uphold its part of the agreements signed with Israel and the United States because of Israeli annexation plans.

“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 security,” he said in a televised speech.

Arouri said that this time, the PA “appears more serious in its declarations about security coordination than in previous times” when it had issued similar threats.

“The decision not to accept and to reject the tax money is an indication that the PA is proceeding this time with a boycott decision,” he said. There is a serious debate taking place among Palestinian decision-makers about what to do next.

“I believe the discussion revolves around dissolving the PA if Israel makes good on its plan. The PA will continue carrying out some [Palestinian] functions from before it came into being, such as the community civil police and the judiciary.”

One analyst said that Abbas was making a high-stakes gamble.

Neri Zilber, a Washington Institute for Near East Policy adjunct fellow, told The Media Line that he was “surprised” by Abbas’ “extremely risky” decision.

“Most people did not think that the PA would touch the economic situation and reject money that it desperately needs.”

Zilber said there are two reasons for the PA’s rejection of the tax funds, to show that it is serious about severing security ties with Israel and to prepare the Palestinians for fresh financial hardship.

Many Palestinians are skeptical about the leadership’s response, saying it shows political confusion and chaos.

Arouri, head of the National Authority for the Independence of the Judiciary in Palestine, said Palestinians are having a “crisis of confidence concerning the PA.”

“There are real differences, and there is competition. Some have good intentions, some parties find that the current situation offers an opportunity for survival and a political future, while others work for their own personal interests.”

Arouri says political stability depends on Abbas’ ability to control matters.

“Right now the whole thing is in Abbas’ hands. He needs to make decisions that will not lead to his political isolation at the global level, which may lead to the emergence of a new current that takes over.”

Palestinians do not expect much of a delay in the annexation plan.

Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian-Israeli conflict from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, says reports of US pressure on Israel to postpone annexation are exaggerated.

“Israel is taking advantage of America’s preoccupation with its domestic issues and doing whatever it wants,” Awwad told The Media Line. “Israel is moving toward annexation by leaps and bounds.”

The PA is weaker than ever, and its decision to cut security ties with Israel was done to prolong its life, he said.

“Things are heading towards security chaos and score-settling among Fatah leaders, who are positioning themselves to succeed Abbas.”

However, Abbas adviser Habash disagreed.

“These are just the delusions of the Israelis and those behind them,” an irritated Habash said. “The Palestinian leadership is coherent and united, and the Palestinian people stand behind it.”

But facts on the ground point in a different direction. Sources in the know in Ramallah have told The Media Line that several European embassies, including Germany’s, have informed their citizens and staff to prepare for a rapid evacuation this summer.

Most Palestinian analysts say security deterioration will impact everyone.

“If things get out of control, they will affect Israel and its security,” Arouri said.

On Wednesday, President Abbas extended the PA’s state of emergency for another 30 days; the official reason was to continue efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Habash said the real reason was political.

“It has a direct relationship to the political situation. We are in a national emergency connected to the Israeli decision on annexation, and if we do not enter a state of emergency [now] to face this challenge, when?”

“The state of emergency puts us all on full alert for any Israeli repercussions from the annexation decision.”

Although Palestinian officials are trying to project strength and confidence, the PA is on shaky ground, Arouri said.

“The PA is facing its greatest existential threat since its establishment,” he said. It is passing through a very critical stage and stands at a crossroads. It is unable to fully control all the territory under its control. I noticed it’s losing the confidence of the masses. The people don’t trust the PA.”

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