Abbas assures US security ties with Israel only partially cut, can be restored

PA president tells CIA chief announced freeze aimed at pushing Netanyahu to moderate settlement expansion, said to fear condemning Jerusalem attack would be ‘political suicide’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

CIA director William Burns meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the latter's Ramallah office on January 29, 2023. (Wafa)
CIA director William Burns meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the latter's Ramallah office on January 29, 2023. (Wafa)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told CIA director William Burns Sunday that parts of a security coordination apparatus with Israel have remained in place, despite announcing a total freeze on cooperation last week following a deadly IDF raid in Jenin.

The comments to Burns during a meeting in the West Bank Sunday came as the Biden administration has pressed the PA to rethink the move as it attempts to deescalate tensions following the Thursday morning raid, which sparked clashes in which nine Palestinians were killed, many of them members of terror groups but including at least one civilian. Israel insists that the raid was a necessary anti-terror operation.

Abbas told Burns on Sunday that intelligence sharing with Israel — a key component of the sensitive security ties — has continued, according to an official familiar with the details of their meeting who confirmed a Channel 12 report.

On Thursday, Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said that “security coordination with the occupation government no longer exists as of now.” Israel, the US and PA view the coordination mechanism as a key element helping to tamp down terror activity and promote stability in the West Bank, though Ramallah has repeatedly threatened to suspend cooperation in response to Israeli moves.

Among other elements, the security coordination includes regular communication between Israeli and PA security forces to prevent entanglements when the IDF enters Palestinian towns. The PA also assists in extracting Israelis who mistakenly enter Palestinian areas and carries out arrests of terror suspects on Israel’s behalf.

The official who requested anonymity said the PA president also assured Burns that PA security forces will continue arresting terror suspects and that the security coordination would be fully reinstated once calm is restored.

Tensions have amped up in recent days, adding urgency to the visit to Israel by Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. On Friday, a Palestinian gunman from East Jerusalem opened fire on Israeli civilians outside a synagogue in the capital, killing seven people and injuring three more.

Security and rescue forces at the scene of a deadly terror shooting attack in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, January 27, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Abbas rebuffed Burns’s request that he condemn the Friday night attack, saying it would amount to “political suicide” amid heightened Palestinian anger over the Jenin raid, Channel 12 reported.

In response to the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new hardline government passed a series of punitive measures along with a pledge to “strengthen settlements” in response.

According to Channel 12 news, Abbas told Burns in the meeting Sunday that Ramallah hoped its announcement on cutting security coordination would lead the Israeli government to adopt a more measured approach regarding settlement expansion in order to prevent the feared collapse of the PA.

Unlike the previous government, Netanyahu’s administration has voiced little support for bolstering the PA as a bulwark against less moderate Palestinian factions vying for supremacy in the West Bank. Most members of the government oppose a two-state solution and many support annexing large parts of the West Bank.

Abbas is slated to host Blinken in Ramallah on Tuesday, where he is expected to reiterate many of the messages he passed along to Burns, the official said.

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