Cutting security ties, Abbas shows he’s serious — even if it risks everything

Ending coordination will hurt and endanger both Israel and the PA, but faced with Israeli annexation, the Palestinians are increasingly willing to employ desperate measures

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian policemen participate in a training session at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Hebron on January 30, 2019. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
Palestinian policemen participate in a training session at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Hebron on January 30, 2019. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Israelis, particularly Israeli politicians, tend to be dismissive of grandiose pronouncements made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. And perhaps they are justified.

In response to Israeli actions he has deemed hostile, Abbas has more than once threatened to dismantle the PA, cut off security coordination with Israel and tear up international agreements such as the Oslo Accords. He’s never followed through before. But this time appears to be different.

This time, Abbas has moved to back up his words. After announcing earlier this week that the PA was no longer bound by agreements with Israel as a result of its plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Abbas has taken action to really and truly halt security coordination with Jerusalem. Israeli sources in the past 24 hours have confirmed that the PA has stopped all facets of coordination.

This is a dramatic move.

To many, “ending security coordination” may sound like a meaningless slogan. But a step like this can have serious ramifications for both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

For the Palestinians, their preventative security forces rely to a large degree on this coordination.

Israel has on a number of occasions passed information to the Palestinian forces on plans by Hamas or some other group to take action against the PA, or even to harm its leader.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas heads a leadership meeting at his headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 19, 2020. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)

The PA also needs coordination with Israel in order to ensure freedom of movement for senior officials and forces. Any movement between the West Bank’s Area A (under PA control) to Area B (under Israeli security control), or even from Area A to another part of Area A (such as from Ramallah to Nablus), requires full coordination with Israeli authorities and movement through areas under Israeli control. The PA needs Israeli permission to move weapons or military vehicles around. Without this coordination, the PA security forces will be weakened, and opposition forces in the West Bank will gain strength.

For Israel, the matter is also far from being insignificant.

PA security forces have been extensively involved in thwarting terror attacks in recent years, and are generally credited with stopping about one-third to one-quarter of attempted attacks. They have also repeatedly helped Israelis who’ve wound up in PA-controlled areas, and have on numerous occasions ensured that soldiers who mistakenly entered PA areas were extracted harmlessly.

What will happen the next time a soldier makes a wrong turn and there is no such coordination? And what will happen if Israeli forces need to enter PA areas to carry out an arrest raid and are met with resistance from the preventative security forces?

Confusion of this type has occurred in the past, but it’s only in the last 24 hours that Palestinian police have suddenly been surprised with actual orders to stop certain Israeli activities in Area A.

A video shared by the PA-ruling Fatah movement on social media Thursday claimed to show Palestinian security forces preventing Israeli soldiers from entering a part of Hebron.

Palestinian policemen participate in a training session at their headquarters in the West Bank city of Hebron on January 30, 2019. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Under the new conditions, an armed showdown between Palestinian forces and Israeli troops could be just around the corner, and could easily turn into a pitched battle with casualties.

So why did Abbas put his money where his mouth is this time? It seems that, faced with unprecedented steps by Washington and Jerusalem to cement Israeli rule in the West Bank, the Palestinian leadership has finally had enough.

Ignored and humiliated repeatedly in recent years by both Israel and the US, PA leaders are now flexing their muscles, wishing to demonstrate they are willing to gamble everything, even to cause real harm to themselves, to prove they will not capitulate to American and Israeli pressure.

Encouraged by the words of Jordans’s King Abdullah, who last week warned of “massive conflict” and a possible end to peace should annexation move forward, Palestinian officials are now openly speaking of further desperate measures: even a willingness to collapse and disintegrate their very structures of power in the West Bank if annexation moves forward.

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