Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / May 26, 2020
The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has announced its withdrawal from agreements with Israel, including security coordination. Although this is not the first time that he has talked about doing this, such a move must still be evaluated. It raises the possibility of a new era in Israeli- Palestinian relations and serious repercussions on the ground. Will we see armed attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank, including illegal settlers, in the coming days, for example? And what is Israel’s response to Abbas’s position?
As the Israeli army prepares for an immediate end to security coordination with the PA, it has warned that if such attacks resume, soldiers will be deployed across the occupied West Bank. Senior officers will have to warn Israel’s politicians that the country is being dragged towards a military confrontation.
According to Israeli security circles, the behaviour of the politicians left Abbas no option but to end security coordination, as he faced accusations of collaboration with the occupation. The redeployment of the army is the last thing that the PA wants to see, which suggests that it may well, in exceptional circumstances, take steps before Israel does in order to ensure that the security situation does not deteriorate.
Coordination between the PA and Israel is ongoing in several areas, enabling the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to enter Palestinian-controlled areas to make arrests and carry out patrols. Intelligence about resistance activities is also shared. Moreover, settlers entering Area A by “mistake” are removed swiftly and securely in cases classified by the army as a red line. Without security coordination, such incidents could lead to an immediate clash with the Palestinians.
Israel is concerned about Abbas’s decision for senior officials such as Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh and the head of the General Intelligence Service, Majed Faraj, to discontinue their regular contacts with the occupation state. Many Israeli and international officials are believed to have tried to persuade Abbas from taking this step.
A number of Palestinian and Israeli observers believe that the ending of security coordination is simply a move by Abbas to dissuade Israel from its annexation plans in the West Bank. It is, though, a more serious move than any made previously.
According to Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat, “Despite the suspension of security coordination, we are not concerned with what has been described as ‘chaos and violence’, which is resistance ‘code’. And if an Israeli settler is injured in a traffic accident near the West Bank city of Jericho, we will not let him bleed.”
Amir Boukhboot, the military correspondent of Hebrew language website Walla News, believes that, “The PA does not intend to break the relationships with Israel, and will take steps to prevent any deterioration. If a settler accidentally enters the Palestinian cities, the Palestinian security services will return him to us.”
The political correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, Itamar Aichner, quoted Palestinian officials as saying that, “Even when the security coordination stops, security operations against Hamas in the West Bank will continue, for fear that the movement will take advantage of the new situation to restore its military and civilian structures.”
It has apparently been agreed that the PA and Israel will continue their activities, separately or jointly, against Hamas in the West Bank, as both fear that the movement might take advantage of any new situation to rebuild its military and civil infrastructure. When security coordination was frozen in the wake of the Al-Aqsa Mosque crisis in 2017, the PA continued its operations against Hamas. Nevertheless, Israel’s concern about the move announced by Abbas, whether it is a serious or rhetorical threat, cannot be disguised as the timetable for ending security coordination works its way down on the ground in the coming days.
Abbas’s statement remains to be tested on the ground, though it will be probably happen in the coming days and nights when the IDF enters the Palestinian territories to carry out routine arrests. We should not forget that the complete suspension of security coordination by the PA would practically annul its legitimacy based on the Oslo Accords.
Israel will have noted the mild Palestinian reactions to Abbas’s threat, which he has made on dozens of occasions without it having any corresponding effect on the ground. The Palestinians are clearly not very excited about this old-new statement, and are waiting to see what it really means. Security coordination has never been ended. Is this occasion likely to be different? Probably not. Israeli commentators think that it might simply be a message to the Israeli Prime Minister-in-waiting, Benny Gantz, given that the ending of security coordination would lead almost inevitably to the dissolution of the PA itself, which is an unlikely option, at least for now.
Despite Abbas’s statements, any step taken by the PA would need to be coordinated with Israel. If the PA leader wants to get help from any country, he needs that coordination, which provides him with a new dilemma.
It is clear that Mahmoud Abbas chose his words carefully, leaving himself room to manoeuvre, which means that today’s situation does not necessarily differ from yesterday’s with regard to security coordination with Israel. Parties close to him confirmed a few hours ago that if the PA receives a hint from Israel that annexation will also be suspended, then we can expect to see security coordination continue as normal. Will the PA really end security coordination? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Adanan Abu Amer is a Palestinian academic