Palestinian reactions to Israel’s sovereignty plans

Update from AIJAC

05/20 #04

In response to Israeli government discussions about a possible extension of Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank as part of the Trump Administration’s peace plan, on Wednesday,  Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas announced that the PA is ‘absolved’ of all agreements and understandings with Israel and the US, including security agreements. Moreover, unlike on past occasions where he has made similar threats and pronouncements, reports from Israel security sources say security cooperation between Israel and PA may actually be being suspended. This Update looks at this development, and alternative ways the Palestinians could respond to the Israeli plans.

We lead with a backgrounder from BICOM which lays out exactly what was said by Abbas, and what provisions he has reportedly put into place as a result. BICOM also lays out some history of the sovereignty extension proposal and the Trump peace plan, plus provides some informed discussion about what might happen in the coming months, as the US, Israel and the Palestinians engage with the sovereignty extension idea. For all the background you need to understand what is going on,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is an editorial from the Jerusalem Post pointing out that any genuine cutoff of security coordination will hurt the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian people at least as much as it will hurt Israel. The paper cites the Gaza takeover by Hamas in 2007 to argue that “Hamas terror is as much of a threat – if not more – to Abbas’s control and to the Palestinian Authority as it is to Israel.” The paper also makes a strong case that ending security cooperation risks escalating West Bank violence in a way likely to potentially get many Palestinians killed. For the Post’s full argument that ending security cooperation would be folly on Abbas’ part,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, we offer a suggestion for an alternative Palestinian strategy from distinguished American foreign policy expert Walter Russell Mead, who recently was a guest at an AIJAC webinar. Mead looks at a variety of circumstances that he says have decisively shifted the balance of power against the Palestinian national movement in recent years, contradicting the traditional Palestinian view that time was on their side. Mead suggests the Palestinians need to preempt any Israeli sovereignty move and win back Arab and US  support by accepting one of Israel’s several previous offers of peace if they want to avoid being even more marginalised. For Mead’s detailed analysis,  CLICK HERE.

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Abbas announced end to agreement with Israel and US

BICOM, 20th May 2020

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 19, 2020 (photo credit: ALAA BADARNEH/POOL VIA REUTERS)

 

What happened: Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has declared an end to agreements with the United States and Israel over the potential annexation of parts of the West Bank.

  • In a speech to Palestinian leaders in Ramallah last night, he said: “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 … the Israeli occupation authority, as of today, has to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine, with all its consequences and repercussions based on international law and international humanitarian law.”
  • Abbas added: “We hold the American administration fully responsible for the oppression befalling the Palestinian people and we consider it a primary partner with the Israeli occupation government in all its aggressive and unfair decisions and measures against our people.”
  • A high-ranking Palestinian source told Kan Radio News that Abbas has instructed the commanders of the Palestinian security organisations to halt security coordination with Israel immediately. The source said that the two senior Palestinian officials who are routinely in contact with Israel, Hussein al-Sheikh and Commander of the General Intelligence Service Majed Faraj, have been instructed to sever contact with their Israeli counterparts. The Palestinian source said that Israeli officials tried to dissuade the PA from taking this measure.
  • However, a senior PA security official told the Jerusalem Post that he was unaware of any instruction from the Palestinian leadership to halt security coordination with Israel. “We only heard from the Israeli media that security coordination has been stopped,” he said. “But so far we haven’t received any order from our political or security leaders.”
  • At the swearing-in ceremony of the new government on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated that now is the time to annex the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israel’s new Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, related to the Trump plan in his opening address, saying, “The plan will be advanced responsibly, in full coordination with the United States and maintaining all of the State of Israel’s peace agreements and strategic interests.”
  • Yesterday the Democratic presidential candidate and former American Vice President, Joe Biden, also warned that any annexation of territories would “choke off any hope for peace.”

Abbas has reportedly ordered his security service chiefs, such as Hussein al-Sheikh, Head of the PA’s General Authority of Civil Affairs, above, to cease being in contact with their Israeli counterparts. 

Context: The new Israeli coalition agreement states that Israel can move annexation to a vote beginning on July 1, but notes the need to “engage in dialogue” with the international community “with the aim of preserving security and strategic interests including regional security, preserving existing peace agreements and working towards future peace agreements.”

  • The US administration has recently signalled that annexation must be carried out in the framework of President Donald Trump’s peace initiative, which includes provisions for Palestinian independence.
  • Despite the lack of progress on the diplomatic track, Israel and the PA have so far maintained security coordination in the West Bank, considered to be in both sides interest. But the PA cut ties with the Trump administration in December 2017 after the US declared it was moving its embassy to Jerusalem, which it did in May 2018.
  • Israel’s Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev explained earlier this month that, “the goal of the government, and of the American plan, is not to incorporate into Israel any area where there is a large Palestinian population… if there is to be the extension of Israeli law to parts of the West Bank, my presumption is that people living in those areas will be given the option of full Israeli citizenship, I think that’s only fair.”
  • Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer tweeted yesterday, “Not only will there be no annexation in the West Bank, but Netanyahu is going to let all those now rallying against annexation believe that it was their ‘pressure’ which stopped it and feel good about themselves, so the current status quo which works well for him then continues.”

Looking ahead: Abbas has made similar threats several times in the past, so it remains to be seen if and how his latest comments will be implemented.

  • Ahead of 1 July and any announcement on annexation, a joint US-Israel team is expected to complete its mapping process and make their recommendations. A senior US administration told Israeli media that 1 July “isn’t a sacred date” from the US perspective. Moreover, “The Israelis’ timetable isn’t firm from our perspective and this isn’t do-or-die for us.”

Ending security arrangements will harm the PA as much as Israel

The cooperation between Israel and the PA benefits the Palestinians as much as Israel, by keeping a lid on Hamas’ activity outside of Gaza.

JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL, MAY 20, 2020 20:48

A thing of the past? Palestinian security officers and IDF soldiers on a joint patrol.

First, a simple truth.

If the Palestinian Authority does cut off all security cooperation with Israel to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated intent to extend Israeli sovereignty to the settlements – as PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday evening that it has already done – then that definitely is a bad turn of events.

One could argue that this security cooperation is one of the greatest benefits Israel got out of the Oslo accords, and something of enormous help in keeping a lid on West Bank terror.

But no one should fool themselves: As much as this cooperation benefits Israel, it also benefits the Palestinian Authority, since the terrorism that is being contained is largely Hamas terror. And Hamas terror is as much of a threat – if not more – to Abbas’s control and to the Palestinian Authority as it is to Israel.

How can that be? Simple – look what happened in the Gaza Strip. In 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from there, Hamas violently overthrew the Palestinian Authority and took control of the coastal enclave. Remember those grisly images of Hamas throwing a member of the elite Palestinian Presidential Guard from the rooftop of the tallest building in Gaza? Were it not for security cooperation with Israel, Hamas would be threatening Fatah in the West Bank as well.

True, the security cooperation saves Israeli lives, but it also saves Palestinian lives and helps Abbas and his colleagues remain in power. How does it save Palestinian lives? Because if violence flares up again in the West Bank – if there is another wave of terrorism – it will not only be Israelis killed in attacks. In the event of a third intifada, as some Palestinians are threatening, Israel will defend itself, just as it has done in the past. And in that defense, Palestinian lives will be lost.

So if Abbas does indeed tear up all agreements with Israel and the Americans, it is not only Israeli interests that will be harmed, but his and Palestinian interests as well. But that is a huge “if.”

Which brings us to a second truth. Abbas has threatened to cut off security ties with Israel, or declared that he has already done so, on untold occasions in the past.

He did so most recently in February. US President Donald Trump had just rolled out his “Deal of the Century,” which green-lighted Israel extending sovereignty to the settlements and the Jordan Valley as part of a package that also included the establishment of a de-militarized Palestinian state on 70% of the West Bank. Abbas said he was going to cut off those ties. He didn’t.

And in July 2017, during the crisis that erupted after Israel placed metal detectors on the Temple Mount following the murder of two Border Police officers there, he said that the Palestinians already did away with the security coordination. They hadn’t.

Why not? Because the cooperation, regular meetings and phone calls between IDF officers and Palestinian security officials serves Abbas as well.

Jordan’s King Abdullah also benefits from this security cooperation. In recent months, Abdullah has been as loud as Abbas in his protest against any Israeli annexation move, obviously worried that such a move could set the West Bank on fire – and that those flames could easily spread to the east bank of the Jordan and burn him as well.

Which is why the king, as he warns Israel against annexation moves, would be wise in also warning Abbas that ending security cooperation is not the way to oppose such moves. Regardless of whether or not Israel annexes any of the territory, another round of violence on the West Bank will not do anybody any good.

It won’t deter Israel – which if it decides to annex, will be doing so while being well aware that the move could lead to violence. It won’t help the Palestinian Authority, which could be overtaken by Hamas as a result of the violence. And it could further shake Abdullah’s regime, already under intense pressure from the Islamists within, from Iran via Iraq to its east, and from the influx of Syrian refugees to the north.

The Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation benefits all. To scupper it would be folly.


The Palestinians Need to Make Bold Moves

 

Facing crisis, they should follow Arafat’s example by agreeing to negotiations.

By Walter Russell Mead

Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2020 6:58 pm ET

As speculation intensifies over possible Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank, the Palestinian movement faces its greatest crisis since Israel became a state. The underlying problem for the Palestinian Authority is that the balance of power has shifted massively in favor of Israel, and as other countries recalibrate their policies in light of this reality, Palestinian options are narrowing faster than the authority’s leaders can adapt.

Ever since they turned to the Arab countries to prevent the emergence of a Jewish state in the late 1940s, the Palestinians have needed the support of allies to even the scales against the Zionists. That need is more urgent and pressing today than ever, but allies are getting harder to find.

In the Middle East, two of the most important Arab states—Syria and Iraq—are so torn by internal strife that they can no longer project power beyond their borders. Egypt is too concerned with maintaining stability and nurturing a fragile economy to be interested in confrontations with Israel. The Gulf states are struggling with the oil-price implosion which, together with their rising populations and their fear of Iran, is dramatically curtailing their freedom of action even as their need for allies grows.

With the U.S. looking to reduce its regional commitments, these circumstances have made Israel a vital strategic ally for the Sunni Arab world. Despite continuing sympathy for the Palestinians, Arab governments cannot escape the reality that for now, and likely for some time to come, the existence of a strong Israel is a pillar of their own independence.

Iran offers itself to Palestinians as an ally, but support from such a cash-strapped friend comes with a low payoff at a high price. Both the U.S. and Israel would take a very hard line against a Palestinian Authority that turned to Tehran for support, as Hamas has. The sanctions and financial blockade that would follow such an alignment would be crippling. Support in Israel and the U.S. for tough policies and annexations on the West Bank would grow—and the Arab world’s sympathy for Palestinians would be diminished by the perceived treachery of an alliance with the Persian enemy.

Farther afield, the list of potential allies is short. Turkey’s ties to Hamas make it an unattractive partner for the Palestinian Authority, and in any case Ankara’s financial resources and political influence are limited. The Kremlin may see itself as a rival to the U.S., but Russia’s ties to Israel are deep. The Palestinians have nothing to offer Russia to offset what it gains economically, politically and technologically from its ties to Israel.

The European Union has long been a focus of Palestinian diplomatic efforts, but Europe is both divided and preoccupied with crises closer to home. Last Friday, Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign-policy chief, carefully noted that while the EU considers annexations on the West Bank illegal, they aren’t comparable to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Since the strongest sanctions require unanimous support from EU countries, and both Hungary and the Czech Republic stand ready to veto sanctions on Israel, any EU support for the Palestinians will be limited. As despairing anti-annexation Israeli columnist Gideon Levy writes in Haaretz, if Israel moves toward annexations, “Europe will not stand in its way.”

Meanwhile, India continues to deepen economic and political ties with Israel. China’s $2 billion investment in the port of Haifa and a Chinese company’s plans to build the world’s largest desalination plant in Israel may annoy China hawks in Washington, but they also demonstrate Beijing’s stake in good relations with Israel.

The Palestinians have always believed that time was on their side: Eventually, the Arab world would grow stronger, and world opinion would isolate Israel. That confidence was misplaced. As Israel has grown into a tech giant and a regional superpower, the Palestinian bargaining position continues to erode.

Yasser Arafat marginalised himself by backing Saddam Hussein during the Kuwait invasion, but then got back in the game through the Oslo accords.

History offers the Palestinian Authority some hope. In the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet bloc deprived the Palestinians of funding and diplomatic support. Yasser Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait enraged the Gulf Arabs. Isolated and broke, Arafat got back in the game by recognizing Israel and signing the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995.

Faced with a worse crisis today, Arafat’s successors should be equally bold and accept one of the peace plans put forward by Israeli prime ministers since 2001 as the basis for negotiations for a final peace. This would shift perceptions in the U.S., rally Arab support, and blunt the annexation drive in Israel.

Unfortunately, a weak and divided Palestinian Authority is unlikely to take such a controversial step on its own. Friends of a two-state solution should weigh in from abroad. If the Palestinian Authority doesn’t move fast and move soon, much will be lost. Time will continue to work in Israel’s favor, and Palestinian options will only narrow as hope grows more forlorn.

Walter Russell Mead is the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College, the Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship at the Hudson Institute, and The Wall Street Journal’s Global View columnist.