Middle East Monitor / June 9, 2020
Three weeks have passed since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that ties with Israel were being cut. It was an impossible thing to suggest, as such a move would have serious implications for the existence of PA institutions, including the security services whose main role is to protect the occupation state. With no coordination with Israel (as there is now), would they confront occupation forces during military incursions into Palestinian areas? Would Abbas himself be able to move freely between cities and go abroad without security coordination with the Israelis?
Some Palestinian officials have said that they will not allow Israel to destroy their institutions which for over 20 years have been supported financially by international bodies, Washington, the EU and Gulf countries. Indeed, if the PA was to be shut down, around 180,000 civil servants and employees would lose their salaries, and we would probably see a return to armed resistance by Fatah’s armed wing as well as Hamas. Abbas is also the President of Fatah.
If links are not, after all, going to be cut, what is the PA going to do that will have any credibility attached? We are only three weeks away from the start of the annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank where Israel plans to impose its sovereignty.
“The Palestine Liberation Organisation and the State of Palestine are absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones,” Abbas announced in a televised speech on 20 May.
However, Palestinians are sceptical if this will ever become a reality. Many such threats have been made in recent years, including one in February in response to Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”; none have been followed through.
On the ground not much has changed. Coordination with Israel to meet Palestinian needs still continues, not least in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. Civil matters across the occupied Palestinian territories continue to rely on Israel; the New Israel Shekel is the stock currency in circulation; and Palestinians rely on Israel for imports and exports.
Importantly, the International Criminal Court has asked for clarification about the PA’s supposed withdrawal from agreements including whether or not this includes any of the Oslo agreements between Palestine and Israel. Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki’s response was ambiguous: “The President’s statement does not change the situation of the occupied Palestinian territory, but rather reaffirms Israel’s responsibility, as an occupying power, as per the Geneva Conventions and international law.”
The overall picture remains complicated, so we should be realistic and avoid patriotic slogans. Ending all agreements would mean ending the PA’s role and push Israel to take up its legal responsibility as the occupying power to look after the welfare of five million Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. It’s not easy to simply tear yourself away from an occupying power upon which you rely for almost everything, including basic essentials, so did Abbas really mean what he said?
His concern will be not to allow chaos to prevail across the West Bank, which is a smart move from his point of view because if Israel is to take up its responsibilities, then it will be even harder for Hamas to take control of the West Bank. That is what happened when the movement won the last free and fair elections in 2006. Thus, Abbas is actually still serving Israeli interests having absolved it for decades of its duty to bear the consequences of its colonial-settler policies.
In an attempt to reassure the Palestinian public of the PA’s commitment to stop security coordination, a senior official has said that if his Israeli counterparts try to contact the authority, their calls will be blocked. Moreover, Adnan al-Damiri, the General Palestinian Political Commissioner and spokesman for the Palestinian security agencies, has claimed that they have completed the process of ending contacts with the Israelis, including security coordination.
“If any settler enters the areas of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian security services will hand him over to the Red Cross and not to the Israeli security forces, pursuant to the principle of a state in exchange for a state,” he told a press conference. “Whoever wants to eradicate our dream of freedom, independence and building our project in Jerusalem the capital of Palestine they will not be given legitimacy from us to exist.”
Al-Damiri’s announcement came a few days after an online campaign was launched by activists urging ordinary Palestinians and Arabs across the region to boycott and “unlike” the social media pages of Major General Kamil Abu Rokon, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) responsible for communicating with the Palestinians. This was a boost to Abbas’ stance in his “brave” decision. The main goal of the campaign is to end the “dangerous portal for security and intelligence recruitment.”
Time is running out; 1 July is almost upon us and the start of the annexation process awaits. Will we really see an end to the agreements and security coordination with Israel, and will this bear fruit and pressure Israel not to carry out its annexation plan knowing that it will pay a heavy price if it goes ahead regardless?
It is not in the interests of Israel and the US to let the PA dissolve itself, even if Washington no longer has much leverage over Abbas since Donald Trump cut almost all financial support apart from money for security cooperation. Israel is, therefore, racing against time and the PA is holding its breath ready to take another move in protest. In the meantime, Abbas will not try to leave the West Bank to avoid the embarrassment of having his travel permit refused; it does, after all, need security clearance and coordination with Israel.
Yousef Alhelou is a Palestinian journalist based in London