Palestinian president makes late-night stand against annexation

Palestinian president makes late-night stand against annexation
Palestinian president makes late-night stand against annexation  

This article was originally published in Letter from Jerusalem, our weekly newsletter which takes a deeper look at the people and places of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can sign up for free here.

Late on Tuesday night, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, declared that the Palestinian Authority was no longer bound by its agreements with Israel and the US - including those on security cooperation.

The dramatic announcement was delivered around midnight after a meeting of Palestinian leaders in Ramallah. It reflects deep anxiety across the Arab world about proposals for annexation of the West Bank.

"The Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] 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 commitments based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones," said Mr Abbas.

On the surface, it sounds like a big shift in policy that could have severe ramifications for stability in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

And it is true that the proposed annexation of up to 30 per cent of the West Bank, as envisioned by President Donald Trump's peace plan, risks triggering a wave of violence in the region.

But first, some caveats: the Palestinian Authority has threatened to scrap the current terms of its relationship with Israel many times before.

It is not immediately clear whether Mr Abbas will now follow through with his latest threat, and he has not given specific details on what happens next.

For example, does this mean Palestinian security forces will cut all ties with their Israeli counterparts and offer no assistance on counter-terrorism or maintaining public order?

The short answer is that we don't know yet, and until we do it is difficult to predict what the fallout from this latest announcement will be.

Secondly, it is not clear what the PA stands to gain by withdrawing from security cooperation with Israel - this focuses mostly on Hamas, which the PA increasingly regards as a political rival in the West Bank.

In other words, security cooperation has some mutual benefit for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

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That said, Mr Abbas' announcement does speak to the extreme sensitivity around annexation both in the West Bank and across the Arab world.

It follows, for example, a warning by Jordan that Israel would be on track for a "massive conflict" if it pushes ahead with annexation, which is unanimously opposed by the Arab League.

And then there is the issue of the EU, which may not be Israel's closest friend, but is nonetheless an important partner in trade and security.

Officials in Brussels are already mulling sanctions on Israel if the annexation goes ahead. Britain, now outside the EU, is also opposed on the grounds that it would undermine stability in the region.

Analysts believe that Mr Abbas' statement may have been intended mostly for domestic consumption, a pep talk for Palestinians who are understandably concerned about what annexation may bring.

But the timing of the announcement is unusual. We still don't know what form the Israeli annexation would take - will it mean huge swathes of the West Bank being placed under Israeli control? Or will the move be watered down significantly amid fierce opposition from world leaders?

The PA says that annexation in any form would be a crime. But at this stage, it is too early to know what exactly will take place after July 1, the date when Israel's prime minister will be allowed to call a vote on annexation.

And as a result, Mr Abbas' bold statement raises more questions than it answers.


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