Palestinians skeptical about Abbas's move to 'halt' agreements with Israel

The decision to “halt work” on all agreements with Israel was announced on Thursday night by PA President Mahmoud Abbas during an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

July 28, 2019 01:17
4 minute read.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a ceremony marking the 54th anniversary of Fatah's founding, in Ramallah on December 31. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A committee entrusted with carrying out the Palestinian leadership’s decision to end all agreements with Israel is expected to meet in the coming hours, PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani said on Saturday. However, Palestinians expressed skepticism that the Palestinian Authority would proceed with its intention to suspend signed agreements with Israel. The committee itself has not yet even been formed.

Majdalani said that the proposed committee, consisting of senior PLO and Fatah officials, would lay “concrete mechanisms with a fixed time ceiling” for implementing the decision. “We are facing a new phase that requires serious measures,” he told the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station.

The decision to “halt work” on all agreements with Israel was announced on Thursday by PA President Mahmoud Abbas during an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. He said that a special committee will be formed to device mechanisms for ending the agreements, but did not provide further details.

The meeting was called to discuss last week’s demolition by Israel of 10 Palestinian buildings in the Wadi Hummus area near the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher. Located in Areas A and B, the multi-family apartment blocks had building permits issued by the PA, but Israel said that they were located too close to the West Bank security fence.

Abbas strongly condemned the demolitions, calling them a “crime against humanity” and “ethnic cleansing.” He also accused Israel of negating all agreements signed with the Palestinians.

Abbas’s announcement, however, has been received with a grain of salt by several Palestinian political analysts and activists, who pointed out that this was not the first time the Palestinian leadership had taken such a decision.

“In the past, they have formed at least eight committees to look into ways of ending the agreements with Israel,” a Ramallah-based Fatah official told The Jerusalem Post. “We never heard about the findings of these committees. That’s why it’s hard to find any Palestinian who is taking Abbas’s announcement seriously.”

Two senior Fatah officials, Mahmoud al-Aloul and Abbas Zaki, claimed over the weekend that the decision taken by the Palestinian leadership includes the suspension of security coordination between the PA security forces and IDF in the West Bank.

Two key decision-making bodies, the Palestinian Central Council and the Palestinian National Council, had previously authorized the Palestinian leadership to halt security coordination and revoke Palestinian recognition of Israel.

In 2015, the PLO Executive Committee voted in favor of suspending security coordination with Israel “in light of Israel’s non-compliance with its obligations under signed agreements.”

The Fatah official told the Post that “no one believes Abbas when he talks about suspending agreements with Israel.” He and other Palestinians see Abbas’s announcement as an attempt to stave off growing criticism of the Palestinian leadership because of its perceived failure to take tough measures in response to Israeli and American policies toward the Palestinians.

“The decision taken by the Palestinian leadership on July 25 is a complex political deception,” said former PA minister Hassan Asfour. “This fake decision represents a continuation of the approach of President Abbas and those who help him in formulating the texts: dealing with the Palestinians as a people who have lost the ability to think and demand accountability.”

Ibrahim Daoud, another political analyst, pointed out that Abbas was careful with the words he chose to announce the decision. “He didn’t talk about canceling the agreements,” he told the Post. “He’s saying that the Palestinians will stop honoring the agreements because of Israel’s failure to adhere to the agreements. In other words, he’s saying that as long as Israel does not commit to the agreements, the Palestinians will do the same thing.”

Other analysts described Abbas’s announcement as an “empty threat” and that canceling agreements with Israel would effectively lead to the dismantlement of the PA, which was established in accordance with the 1994 Oslo Accords.

“I don’t believe Abbas is serious,” said a Palestinian academic from east Jerusalem. “How many times have we heard similar statements by Abbas and other Palestinian leaders? They know that if they cancel the agreements, that would lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. I’m not sure they want to go that far.”

Maher Muzher, a senior official with the PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said that Abbas’s announcement “requires practical steps and measures on the ground.” The Palestinians, he said, “don’t need slogans and speeches and rantings.”

Muzher said that if Abbas was serious about his announcement, he should start by immediately halting security coordination with Israel, releasing all “political detainees” from PA prisons in the West Bank, and lifting financial sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip two years ago, as well as lodging complaints against Israel with the International Criminal Court.

Hamas, for its part, praised Abbas’s announcement, saying it reflects the aspirations of the Palestinians. “The announcement by President Abbas needs practical steps and unity to face the threats endangering national unity and reconciliation,” said Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official. In a statement published shortly after Abbas’s announcement, Hamas praised the move as a “step in the right direction,” but added that it “needs to be immediately translated into deeds.”

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