Bowing to PLO, Abbas sets stage for successor to take dramatic action on Israel
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Analysis

Bowing to PLO, Abbas sets stage for successor to take dramatic action on Israel

PA leader, 82, has been unwilling to follow through on threats to suspend recognition of Israel, but he's laying groundwork for eventual heir to do so

Dov Lieber

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

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on January 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on January 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spent much of his political career safeguarding the status quo with Israel, despite popular Palestinian opposition to the current relations.

Sure, the PA leader has issued impassioned threats to overturn agreements: He has threatened to suspend security coordination with the Jewish state countless times, and warned on numerous occasions he would dissolve the Oslo agreements that secure Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel.

But his repeated failure to act on his fiery rhetoric anchored a sense that, however furious, Mahmoud Abbas would never follow through on his threats.

Then came Abbas’s now-famous speech this week, which underlined that the 82-year-old PA leader’s 13-year-old reign may be nearing its end. Abbas himself casually remarked that his speech might be the last time the Palestinian leaders see him at that forum.

But in his ostensible swan song and ensuing Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council (PCC) resolutions, the aging Palestinian leader has firmly set the groundwork for his successor — whoever it may be — to uproot existing agreements between the PA and Israel.

Palestinians threaten to cancel Israel recognition

The will and consensus of the Palestinian leadership based in the West Bank has shifted drastically over the past two years.

In 2015, when the PCC — the second highest decision-making body in the PLO — last met, its most status quo-breaking decision was to suspend security coordination with Israel. A decision that was, without explanation, never implemented.

Two years later, on Monday, the PCC voted not only to renew its decision to end security coordination with the Jewish state but also recommended the Palestinian leadership suspend recognition of Israel altogether until it recognizes the state of Palestine, cancels its annexation of East Jerusalem, and stops settlement activity.

The PCC also declared that the Oslo agreements — the basis for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians — “no longer stand,” arguing Israel has not kept its side of the deal, thus relieving the Palestinians of their side of the bargain.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Abbas backed the PCC decisions.

And in so doing, the PA leader has created the tools to dismember the status quo he has so diligently protected.

What happens next?

The consequences of annulling the Oslo accords and suspending recognition of Israel are not clear.

Neither the Palestinian leadership nor the Israeli government have laid out a vision for what a post-Oslo world would look like.

The Oslo agreements created the Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for running much of daily life in the West Bank. The PA is the accepted Palestinian body through which Israel works to coordinate on security, joint economic interests and the distribution of resources such as electricity and water.

Israel’s National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz (wearing red tie) and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah cut the ribbon to mark the first ever commercial agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian energy companies to increase provision in the West Bank area of Jenin, July 10, 2017. Yoav Mordechai, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, stands behind Steinitz, with Yiftach Ron Tal, Israel Electric Corporation head, on the far right.(Yossi Weiss).

How any of this can function outside of the Oslo paradigm remains an enigma.

Moreover, Abbas is the last surviving Palestinian leader of the generation that created the Palestinian national movement and controlled the PLO since the 1960s. As a result, he has enjoyed political clout to both fend off public pressure for drastic measures and suppress rivals.

But whoever fills Abbas’s shoes will likely not enjoy such veto power. The successor will take the reins of leadership with the clear knowledge that his or her peers support rolling back the Oslo agreement.

Should Abbas’s successor want to carry out those measures, he will have the legitimacy to do so.

And even if the successor personally opposes those measures, opposing the cancellation of Palestinian recognition of Israel will be more difficult in a post-Abbas world.

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