Some holding out for Trump defeat in November; others say Abbas running out of options
With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promising to annex parts of the West Bank sometime after July 1, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are on the increase and the region is bracing for increased violence this summer.
According to multiple reports, Yossi Cohen, the director of the Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, traveled to Cairo recently for a secret meeting with top Egyptian officials to discuss the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank and the repercussions of the controversial step.
In response, earlier in May, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced an end to security coordination with Israel.
Many analysts say the Palestinian leader is running out of options as he gets weaker politically amid fear that he may lose his grip on power.
Bassem Zubaidi, a professor of political science at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, said Abbas’ declaration was intended to appease his domestic audience and to pressure Israel to reconsider annexation.
“The PA may have exhausted all of its cards, especially after the cessation of security coordination with Israel,” he said.
Zubaidi argues that Abbas views his policies and “political investment” in the Oslo process as a lost cause and that he should rethink his strategy.
“The PA is in real trouble. What can the Palestinian leadership tell the people? They have not produced any real, tangible steps in the 25 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords,” he said.
Abdul Majeed Swailem, a professor of regional studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, disagrees, telling The Media Line that the PA still has a lot of things going for it.
“The PA may have exhausted a few of its cards, but it still has few more remaining that it will use to confront the annexation plan and to defy the ‘deal of the century,’” he said.
Despite the apparent lack of options, and lukewarm support from many key Arab states, Abbas will remain relevant, Swailem said.
“The PA still has a lot going for it. It has the Palestinian people, who reject the American plan and reject annexation. Therefore, it will challenge everything on the political level, the diplomatic level and the popular level with popular confrontations and the boycott of Israel,” he said.
Swailem added that the Palestinians would confront Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
As for the Arab governments, he said their stances differed from one another.
“Their alliance with the United States may be so urgent that they are not prepared for a confrontation with Washington on this plan. And with their priority being the Iranian issue, it may compel them to pursue cautious and nonconfrontational policies, as they may be powerless [to face off against the US regarding Israel],” Swailem said.
But he said one country was particularly concerned by the Israeli intentions.
“Amman has a real interest in stopping the annexation plan, and this has been stated and confirmed,” Swailem said, adding that the Palestinians were asking the Jordanian government to “stick to its guns.”
“What we ask of Jordan is to remain steadfast in the face of this plan, because it targets Jordan as much as it targets Palestine, and there is a real threat to Jordan’s higher interests and national security, and to the Jordanian people,” he said.
Abbas once described the security coordination with Israel as “sacred,” and many argue that the PA’s seeming abandonment of it may have seriously weakened the Authority.
Zubaidi said: “This is a myth. The PA was never strong in the past, so one cannot characterize it as becoming weak now.”
He said the PA had been powerless since its inception back in 1994.
“There was an illusion that was built up by the US and Israel that the PA was strong because that was convenient for them and served their interests,” he said.
Abbas was counting on European Union, Russian and others’ support, and hopeful that his staunch stance on annexation would galvanize international opposition to it, Zubaidi said. But all that would be meaningless unless Abbas had his people united behind him, the professor continued.
“Palestinian national conciliation must take place; the division between Fatah and Hamas needs to come to an end in order for the Palestinian people to trust the leadership,” he said.
Abbas has issued similar threats in the past to scrap security coordination, yet he has never fully pulled out of the cooperation. That has created skepticism among Palestinians that he really intends to do so.
“If the PA wants to do something serious and for its decision to be credible, it must first eliminate the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which is the body responsible for the entire relationship between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Zubaidi said.
Keeping the ministry and its team intact would demonstrate that everything the Authority had built up until now had been specious, he said.
The West Bank has been relatively stable since Abbas took office in 2005, in part thanks to the close security ties with Israel, but Zubaidi said this could change.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” he said. “It [annexation] is going to create a new dynamic for confrontation between the two parties.”
“In the absence of security coordination, it might open many fronts with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other factions,” Zubaidi said.
Some Palestinian officials are cautiously optimistic that US President Donald Trump’s days in the White House are numbered and that a Democratic president after November’s election will reduce US support for Israel, the professor said.
“But this is the height of stupidity and bankruptcy and does not deserve our attention. [Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe] Biden won’t be able to change a thing [if Israel annexes part of the West Bank before the election]. If we look at history, [we see that] the facts imposed on the ground will not be changed or reversed,” Zubaidi said.