Will Mahmoud Abbas really stop PA collaboration with Israel ?

Palestinian security forces parade (AFP)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  May 20, 2020

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas announced for the umpteenth time on Tuesday that he is cancelling all agreements with Israel, in protest over the occupying power’s plans to forge ahead with annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, the European Union has bowed to Israeli pressure once again.

“The Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Palestine are absolved, as of today, of all agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments,” Abbas told a gathering of officials in Ramallah, adding that this included security agreements.

I told Al Jazeera that Abbas routinely makes such statements, but that there was no reason to take this one any more seriously than previous announcements.

Guns to be turned only on Palestinians

The Palestinian Authority, created after Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo accords in 1993, exists for only one purpose: to act as a native auxiliary police force for Israel.

I pointed out that Israel allows Palestinian Authority security forces to carry guns, but these guns are only for use against other Palestinians. This collaboration between the PA and Israel is officially known as “security coordination”.

Notably, even as Abbas was making his announcement, PA officials were reassuring Israeli media that little was likely to change.

Haaretz reported that “Palestinian officials who attended the meeting said the president intends to stop coordination, but had not yet ‘closed the door’”.

According to the Tel Aviv newspaper, a Palestinian official informed it that “the security forces may lower the level of engagement with their counterparts in Israel, but it is not yet possible to determine that coordination will be completely stopped”.

“A Palestinian security official said that despite Abbas’ statements, every move taken by the PA requires coordination with Israel,” Haaretz reported.

According to the same source, “Abbas stated that the authority is committed to combating terrorism, as defined, which requires continued security coordination between the states”.

The Al Jazeera host asked me if Abbas’ statement amounted to mere sabre-rattling. My response: You can’t rattle a sabre you don’t have.

The only meaningful move Abbas could make would be the one the PA leadership has ruled out: dissolving the authority and forcing Israel to bear the full legal responsibilities, costs and consequences of its occupation of millions of Palestinians and their land.

EU caves in to Israel, again

Meanwhile the European Union appears to have completely backed off any threat to hold Israel accountable over its annexation plans.

On Monday, the 27-nation bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell issued a statement welcoming the swearing in of Israel’s new unity government.

Borrell noted that the EU looked forward to working with Israel to “develop our relationship in all areas, in particular in matters such as COVID-19, education, research and development and any other area of mutual interest.”

But he also expressed the bloc’s “grave concern” over the Israeli government’s plan to annex large parts of the West Bank.

“We strongly urge Israel to refrain from any unilateral decision that would lead to the annexation of any occupied Palestinian territory and would be, as such, contrary to international law,” Borrell added.

This toothless, boilerplate language of “urging” and “concern” is identical to countless statements issued by the EU over the decades objecting to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, while rewarding Israel with billions of euros in trade, aid and weapons.

Completely absent from the EU’s latest statement is any mention of consequences.

Recall that back in February, Borrell had warned Israel that “steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged”.

However, Israel mobilized a major diplomatic campaign to undermine Borrell and drive a wedge between EU states – all of which are very pro-Israel, but by slightly varying degrees.

Austria and Hungary reportedly blocked a more forceful EU statement warning Israel against annexation.

The foreign minister of France, whose government staunchly supports Israel, issued its own statement on Wednesday using the stronger language abandoned by the EU.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that annexation of the West Bank “could not be without consequences for relations between the EU and Israel.”

Germany, meanwhile, affirmed its full agreement with the completely toothless statement issued by Borrell.

In theory, a unified EU foreign policy is supposed to strengthen the clout of the bloc on the world stage. In reality, the combined position tends towards the lowest common denominator and the status quo.

That is always to the advantage of Israel.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books