Israel unfazed by PA threat to end Oslo accords, declare Palestine occupied state

Palestinian Authority always warning it will ‘jump off a cliff,’ says official, accusing Abbas of engaging in ‘brinkmanship’ while refusing to negotiate

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas, right, meeting with French politician Bruno Lemaire in Ramallah on September 5, 2015. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)
Mahmoud Abbas, right, meeting with French politician Bruno Lemaire in Ramallah on September 5, 2015. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

Israel is unimpressed by reports about the Palestinians reportedly threatening radical unilateral moves at the United Nations, a senior Israeli official said Monday, accusing the Palestinian Authority of “brinkmanship” while reiterating Jerusalem’s willingness to immediately resume bilateral peace negotiations.

“We view these threats with a certain amount of skepticism,” the official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the press. “The Palestinians routinely negotiate through brinkmanship. If they don’t get what they demand, they threaten to jump off the cliff.”

The Palestinian leadership has threatened to resign, to dismantle the PA and even to dissolve the Oslo Accords several times over the last few months, the official added.

New reports indicate that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is planning to make a drastic announcement at the United Nations General Assembly this month, declaring Palestine a state under occupation and dissolving the Oslo Accords and other bilateral agreements with Israel. While it remains unclear what implications such a move would entail, some warn that it could spell the end to Israeli-PA security coordination and place all responsibility for the governance of the West Bank in the hands of Israel as the occupying power.

“The prime minister is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions, but the Palestinians refuse to engage,” the Israeli official said. “By placing unnecessary preconditions on the talks, they make the resumption of talks impossible. Then, after preventing talks from happening, they run to international community and say no negotiations, crisis, drastic action is required. But it’s a charade.”

The only reason for the absence of meaningful negotiations is the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate, the official added. “It’s time the international community refused to accept this charade and told the Palestinians that it’s time to return to talks with Israel. It’s the only way to move forward.”

Israeli officials on Monday refused to comment on the record about the Palestinians’ possible démarche at the UN. In private conversations, they deemed it a toothless “provocation,” but acknowledged that they were nevertheless concerned, because no one really knows what exactly Ramallah is up to and how Jerusalem will react.

While generally considered an unlikely scenario, the Palestinians’ annulment of the Oslo Accords could have serious implications, as they regulate security and economic cooperation between Israel and the PA.

On the other hand, the threat to declare Palestine “a state under occupation” appears less threatening, as it might have no concrete implications.

“It’s an empty statement,” said Alan Baker, a retired Israeli diplomat and former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry. “I don’t think it has any significance whatsoever. Nothing Abbas says, no declaration he makes at the UN, will change anything on the ground.”

The only thing it would achieve, Baker said, is to invalidate his status as president of the PA, as well as the legitimacy of the Palestinian parliament and courts. “It would also open up the opportunity for Israel to do whatever it deems necessary to protect its security and political interest, and could even cause possible termination of security and economic cooperation and other measures that are intended for the benefit of the Palestinian people.”

Is it even possible for Palestine to become a “state under occupation”? In his speech in New York later this month, Abbas will point to the General Assembly’s 2012 decision to accept “Palestine” as a non-member observer state and argue that Israel refuses to end the occupation of his state.

However, some argue that only existing states can be considered occupied, such as France during World War II or, more recently, Ukraine’s Crimea, which was occupied by Russia. But “Palestine” seeks to achieve statehood while under occupation, a situation without historical precedent. A state can only become “occupied” if parts or all of the territory it controlled is in effective control of another power, some legal scholars argue. That would not be the case here.

The Palestinians, however, are likely to argue that a sovereign “Palestine” existed before the 1967 Six Day War, when Israeli captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even though that appears to be a difficult position to defend among international law scholars.

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