Palestinian officials are scheduled to hold a series of meetings in Ramallah this week amid reports that the Palestinian Authority is considering cancelling all signed agreements with Israel in response to the Israeli government’s plan to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
Palestinians, however, do not seem to take seriously repeated threats by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PLO institutions to renounce the agreements or suspend security coordination with Israel.
In the past few years, Abbas and some Palestinian officials have threatened to abandon the agreements, including the 1993 Oslo Accords, and revoke the PLO’s recognition of Israel. On several occasions, Abbas has also threatened to dismantle the PA in response to Israeli and US policies and measures towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Besides boycotting the Israeli government and the administration of US President Donald Trump, Abbas has failed to carry out any of his other threats, and he has good reason not to do so.
The PA was created by the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, pursuant to 1993 Oslo Accords. The termination of the Oslo Accords will lead to the dismantlement of the PA and its institutions, with Abbas losing his status as PA president.
In addition, such a move is likely to result in a sharp decline of international financial aid to the Palestinians, who will be left without a governing body. This is a move that the Palestinians can’t afford, particularly during an economic crisis resulting from the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Palestinian officials said on Sunday that terminating the agreements with Israel would have “catastrophic consequences” on the Palestinian economy. Under the terms of the Paris Protocol of 1994, the PA and Israel work together on various trade and economic projects that are significant for the Palestinian economy. If the Oslo Accords are cancelled, Israel, for its part, would no longer be obliged o issue work permits for Palestinians and could halt the import and export of Palestinian goods.
“I don’t think the PA is capable of taking such a decision,” Palestinian economic expert Firas Shehadeh told The Jerusalem Post. “We are too dependent on the Israeli economy. Our leadership needs to be very careful when it come to the economy, especially during these critical times when we are facing economic hardship because of the coronavirus.”
In 2014 Abbas told Israelis during a meeting in his Ramallah presidential compound that security coordination with Israel was “sacred.” But he and other senior Palestinian officials have since repeatedly threatened to suspend the security coordination, which has been denounced by many Palestinians as an “act of treason.”
Last year Abbas announced that a special committee has been set up to study the mechanisms for implementing previous decisions by the PLO to “halt work related to the agreements signed with the Israeli side.” The announcement came after PLO and Fatah institutions recommended that the Palestinians end security coordination with Israel.
Needless to say, Abbas has refrained from halting security coordination with Israel, fearing that such a move would harm the PA more than Israel.
A PA security official told the Post that security coordination with Israel was continuing, notwithstanding the announcements and threats of PLO and Fatah institutions and officials. “I’m unaware of any decision to stop working with the Israeli side on security issues,” the official said. “I’m also no sure this would be good for the Palestinians.”
According to the official, security coordination with Israel has actually increased in the past two months in light of the coronavirus crisis.
When Abbas described the security coordination with Israel as “sacred,” he obviously knew what he was talking about. The PA and Israel have a common enemy in the West Bank: Hamas.
“For Abbas, halting security coordination with Israel would be tantamount to suicide,” said Palestinian political analyst Abdel Jawad Burhan. “Without the security coordination, the Palestinian Authority will collapse. Without the security coordination, Abbas and most of the senior Palestinian officials would not be able to leave Ramallah because they need permission from Israel.”
For now, it appears that the threats to nix the agreements with Israel have two goals. First, to contain growing Palestinian public resentment not only towards Israel and the US, but also towards the perceived incompetence of the PA. Second, to exert pressure on the international community to force Israel to abandon the annexation plan.
Palestinian officials have expressed satisfaction with the support they have received from the Arab League, EU, UN, Russia, China and other countries for their opposition to the annexation plan. These officials, nonetheless, are worried that the statements of condemnation won’t stop Israel from proceeding with its plan.
“We already saw that condemnations and warnings didn’t stop the Trump administration from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or removing the US Embassy to Jerusalem or cutting financial aid to the Palestinians,” a veteran Fatah official told the Post. “The ball is now in Abbas’s court, and we will soon see whether he has the courage or will to take historic and fateful decisions. If you talk the talk, you better walk the walk. Otherwise, you lose what’s left of your credibility.”