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Palestinian Authority to sever relations with US and Israel

What happened: Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said that he will cut all ties with the US and Israel, including security cooperation. The move is part of his response and rejection of President Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian plan.

  • Abbas made the announcement in Cairo on Saturday when he addressed a meeting of the Arab League that backed the Palestinians in their opposition to the US plan and called for a Palestinian state based on the pre-67 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.
  • Abbas said that Palestinian institutions decided in 2015 to end security coordination with Israel, but hadn’t yet implemented that decision. “Now, following the gross violation of the agreements by Israel, we have made it clear that it will bear responsibility for all of its acts.”
  • Abbas continued, “You’re the ones who violated the agreements that served as the basis for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, so we aren’t going to have anything to do with you anymore. And you, as the occupying force, will bear responsibility for everything that happens on the ground. I’m not running things anymore. We won’t protect you and we won’t respond to security threats against you.”
  • Abbas said he refused to discuss the plan with Trump by phone, or to receive even a copy of it. Abbas added: “Trump and his administration want me to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.  But it is neither Jewish nor anything else. There are two million Christian Russians in Israel and even among the Ethiopian immigrants who moved to Israel, only a small percentage are Jews. So what recognition of a Jewish state are they talking about?” Prime Minister Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz strongly condemned Abbas’s speech.
  • Mortars, rockets and explosive balloons were fired from the Gaza Strip and in response the Israeli Air Force attacked Hamas military targets. There were also minor clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli troops at a number of locations in the West Bank.

Context: Security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) and the IDF has proved vital in preventing terrorist activity by Hamas in the West Bank and other violent activity directed against Israelis.

  • The PA also has intelligence cooperation agreements with the CIA, which continued even after the Palestinians began boycotting the Trump administration in 2017.
  • On Thursday, CIA Director Gina Haspel secretly visited Ramallah and met with PA General Intelligence Service Director Majed Faraj.
  • In private discussions before the Arab League meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit urged moderation, while the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister called on Abbas not to reject the US plan outright.
  • Diplomats from three Gulf Arab states – Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – attended the unveiling of the plan at the White House, but have since claimed that they were not privy to the details of the plan before the event.
  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt issued statements that called for renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians without directly criticising the plan.
  • Prof. Eyal Zisser from Tel Aviv university assessed Abbas’s response: “He is an 85-year-old leader who is nearing the end of his political career; he is out of touch with reality and is primarily preoccupied with the question of how he will be remembered by history and with the legacy that he will leave for the Palestinian people once he’s gone.”
  • According to Alex Fishman, the security analyst in Yediot Ahronot: “From Israel’s perspective, this is a strategic warning about impending chaos in the West Bank, at least until after the elections in Israel. Abbas apparently expects such a deep breakdown in Israeli-PA relations to create a sense of security emergency in Israel: the West Bank will begin to bubble over, the crisis in the economic relations between the two sides will worsen, and the Palestinian issue will dominate the Israeli conversation.”
  • Israeli officials have in the past been dismissive of Abbas’s threats and it is unclear if they will now be implemented. The Palestinian Authority has not yet halted security coordination with Israel, a senior Palestinian official told the Times of Israel: “Until now, the coordination is ongoing, but relations are extremely tense.”

Looking ahead: Abbas has announced that he will present his own peace plan, based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative, to the UN Security Council on February 11.

  • Later this week a PLO delegation is expected to visit Hamas leaders in Gaza to agree a joint position against the US plan.
  • Israel’s Blue and White party intends to put the US plan to a vote in the Israeli Parliament shortly. A new poll published this morning by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 45 per cent of Israelis believe Israel should recognise a Palestinian State and 38 per cent say it should not.

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