PLO leaders on Thursday night called on the Palestinian Authority to halt all forms of security coordination with Israel in spite of a series of gestures Jerusalem has made in the past week to prevent such action. It was not clear whether the PA leadership would accept the recommendation.
The Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem did not have any immediate response to the move.
The decision was issued at the end of a meeting of the PLO’s 124-member Central Council, which consists of representatives from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and several Arab countries.
The discussions covered the future of relations between the PA and Israel in light of the Israeli government’s decision to withhold tax revenue belonging to the Palestinians and the ongoing stalemate in the peace process.
Several PLO representatives demanded during the twoday gathering that the PA leadership take “harsh” decisions in response to the withholding of the tax revenue such as cutting political, economic and security ties with Israel. Others called for abrogating all agreements signed with Israel.
A statement issued by the council said that the PLO leaders have decided to “halt all forms of security coordination with Israeli occupation in light of its failure to abide by agreements signed between the two sides.”
Israel should assume all its responsibilities toward the Palestinians as an “occupation force” and in accordance with international law, the council said.
The council also reiterated Palestinian opposition to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
A senior Western diplomatic official told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday that Israel had taken steps to ease conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza because the government is not willing – before the March 17 election – to unfreeze the hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian Authority tax revenue that Israel has held up since January in reaction to the Palestinian decision to join the International Criminal Court.
Releasing the revenue at this time would be a high-profile move that would likely hurt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among right-wing supporters.
On Thursday, Israel announced that it would partially lift the ban on the sale of produce from Gaza to Israel.
Palestinians in Gaza have been prohibited from marketing their goods to Israel since Hamas took over the Strip in a bloody coup in 2007.
The decision to allow tomatoes and eggplants from Gaza into Israel and to expand that to include a wider variety of produce in the coming months marks one of the first exceptions to that ban.
The restoration of trade between Gaza and Israel is seen as one of the key component necessary for the revival of the economy in the Strip.
On Wednesday, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai promised to double Israel’s water sales to the Gaza Strip, from 5 million cubic meters to 10 million cubic meters by putting on line by next week new pipes and infrastructure that have been ready for operation for the last few years.
Last week, Netanyahu agreed to hook up the new Palestinian city of Rawabi to Israel’s water grid, a move that unfreezes the project and will allow the city’s first residents to move in by the end of May.
But none of these gestures made an impact on the PLO, which emerged from the meeting in Ramallah with the recommendation to cut security ties.
The decision will be referred to another PLO body, the Executive Committee, to decide on the timing of its implementation.
Palestinian sources noted that the US has warned PA President Mahmoud Abbas against taking dramatic decisions before the upcoming election in Israel.
On Thursday, Mordechai said the IDF was committed to supporting “the reconstruction and economy of the Gaza Strip.”
The steps his office has taken, he said, “are meant to support the Palestinian population while segregating the Hamas organization, which is a terror entity which prevents the reconstruction of Gaza and uses its resources.”
Dutch Ambassador to Israel Caspar Veldkamp welcomed the news that Gazans could begin to sell produce in Israel.
“Easing these trade restrictions has always been important to my country. We support projects for farmers who grow so-called high-value crops in the Gaza Strip. Developing Gaza’s economy provides the hope that is so much needed in Gaza’s cumbersome situation, especially since last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. We believe it ultimately also serves the security situation,” Veldkamp said.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories worked with the Agriculture Ministry, the Tax Authority and representatives of the Palestinian Authority on the issue of Gazan produce.
Israel targeted fruits and vegetables that could replace Israeli agricultural products that religious Jews can’t eat this year because of shmita.
Once the list of acceptable produce for trade has expanded beyond tomatoes and eggplants, it could total between 1,000 tons and 1,500 tons, according to COGAT. Each ton is valued at approximately NIS 3,000.
“The movement of the agricultural produce to Israel shall be operated under severe and strict enforcement,” Mordechai said.
The sale of produce to Israel was welcomed by Jamal Abu al-Naja, director of the Gaza Vegetable Production and Export Association, who said he hoped it would help make up farmers’ losses and eventually encourage working farms to seek bank funding to expand their production.
Naja said Israeli authorities had already carried out quality tests on tomato, eggplant, cucumber and zucchini samples.
“If implemented, it will help farmers make up for their losses, increase the number of workers and encourage investment in the agricultural sector,” he said.
Some Palestinian farmers stopped cultivating their fields or sold their land to housing developers after Israeli markets were closed to them in 2007.Reuters contributed to this report.