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Abbas threatens to halt security coordination over settlement push

In Paris, PA leader insists states must recognize Palestine in response to new outpost law; France says it’s not ‘in the mood’ to take that step

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during a joint statement with French President following their meeting on February 7, 2017 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. (AFP/Stephane de Sakutin)
Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during a joint statement with French President following their meeting on February 7, 2017 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. (AFP/Stephane de Sakutin)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened Wednesday to halt security coordination with Israel over a series of steps boosting the settlement enterprise in the West Bank.

“If the colonization continues, I would have no other choice [but to halt security coordination]; it would not be my fault,” Abbas told France’s Senate during a visit to Paris, according to Reuters.

The threat does not appear in the official text of Abbas’s speech posted on Wafa, the PA’s official news outlet, which indicates it was made off the cuff.

There is widespread and deep security coordination between the Israeli army and Abbas’s forces in the West Bank aimed primarily at ensuring that Hamas and other terror groups do not expand their presence there.

On Monday Israel passed the so-called Regulation law, which retroactively legalizes Israeli West Bank outposts and homes in settlements built on private Palestinian land. Israel also recently announced the building of thousands of new homes in West Bank settlements, as well as the first new settlement in 25 years.

The law has been widely denounced by the international community, including the United Nations, the European Union, Germany, France, Britain, Turkey, Jordan, Japan and others. Even some on Israel’s right wing have expressed concern about the law, including some members of the governing coalition who voted in favor of it and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has reportedly vowed to fight it in court.

Abbas has threatened to cut off security coordination in the past over continued Israeli military operations in Palestinian cities, but has not followed through.

France ‘not in the mood’ to recognize Palestine

While addressing the French senators, Abbas argued that in light of the new Israeli measures regarding settlements, states that want to preserve the two-solution should officially recognize Palestine.

“As you know, 11 European Parliaments have recommended that their governments recognize the State of Palestine, on the grounds that maintaining the two-state solution, in the absence of the possibility of reaching a political solution, requires states that recognize Israel to recognize two states, and not just one state,” Abbas said to the French senators.

France’s parliament voted to recognize Palestine in 2014.

French President Francois Hollande, right, welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on his arrival on July 21, 2016 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. (AFP File Photo/ Pool/ Stephane de Sakutin)
French President Francois Hollande, right, welcomes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on his arrival on July 21, 2016 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. (AFP File Photo/ Pool/ Stephane de Sakutin)

 

Abbas’s appeal to France was a follow-up to the Paris peace conference in January, which ended with an agreement by the 70 participating countries that a two-state solution is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the conference and its conclusions.

Officials pose for a group photo during the Mideast peace conference in Paris on January 15, 2017 (AFP Photo/Pool/Bertrand Guay)
Officials pose for a group photo during the Mideast peace conference in Paris on January 15, 2017 (AFP Photo/Pool/Bertrand Guay)

When Paris first announced its peace initiative at the beginning of last year, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that if it failed, France would be forced to recognize Palestine.

There was some speculation that during Abbas’s visit to Paris this week, he would ask France to make good on Fabius’s promise.

But shortly after Abbas’s speech, France said it was not ready to recognize a Palestinian state.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Wednesday, French Ambassador to Israel Helene Le Gal said, “We are not in the mood [to recognize Palestine].”

She added Paris would like both sides to “go back to negotiations and act accordingly.”

During his speech, Abbas called on the international community to create a follow-up mechanism this year, with a specific time frame, to “help the two sides reach a final peace agreement.”

In this context, Abbas expressed his “desire” and “readiness” to work with US President Donald Trump “in order to create peace based on legitimate international decisions, and ensure the realization of the two-state solution.”

The Trump administration has only informally communicated with Ramallah so far, and has not yet committed to supporting the two-state solution, though it has expressed a desire to make peace.

‘Holocaust the worst human disaster’

Addressing recent criticism from Israel against a UNESCO vote that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Abbas said, “We affirm our vision for East Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, is that we want it to be open to all the Abrahamic faiths — Jewish, Christian and Islamic.

“We are not against the Jewish religion,” added Abbas. “Rather we respect it and consider what happened to Jews in the Holocaust the worst human disaster.

“We have Jewish citizens in Palestine, the Jewish Samaritans, and they are an essential part of the Palestinian people.They enjoy their full rights just as Muslim and Christian Palestinians do,” said Abbas, referring to the small Samaritan community living near Nablus.

Samaritans consider themselves the true descendants of the ancient Israelites.

Abbas, whose doctoral thesis questioned whether 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, has in recent years repeatedly described the Holocaust as the “worst human disaster.”

Surprise over Balfour Declaration celebrations

During his speech, Abbas also atacked British Prime Minister Theresa May over her invitation to Netanyahu to attend November’s centenary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in London.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street in London, February 6, 2017. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street in London, February 6, 2017. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“We were surprised by and we condemn [the invitation to Netanyahu], and we call on Britain to apologize to the Palestinian people for the destruction and the displacement committed to our people,” said Abbas.

“We ask [Britain] to recognize the State of Palestine in accordance with the recommendation of the British House of Commons in 2014,” he added.

Responding to the invitation from May, Netanyahu said, “While the Palestinians want to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration, the British prime minister is inviting the Israeli prime minister to an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the declaration. That speaks volumes.”

In July, the Palestinian Authority announced its plan to file a lawsuit against the British government over the 1917 document that paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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