Israel’s outgoing military liaison to the Palestinians said Thursday that Jerusalem should halt all of its security coordination with the Palestinians if the Hamas terror group prevails in next month’s Palestinian legislative election, as looks increasingly likely.
“We will stop everything,” Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories head Kamil Abu Rukun said in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster. “That, at least, will be my recommendation, based on things that happened in the past and on what I see in the field.”
The COGAT head, who is leaving office later this month, said he conveyed that stance to the Palestinians via indirect channels.
“It is a very big mistake to go to these elections due to the high risk Hamas will win, and therefore anything that serves this [a Hamas victory], my recommendation is to not go along with it,” Abu Rukun said.
Also in Thursday’s interview, Abu Rukun said that Israel should prevent the Palestinian elections from being held in East Jerusalem — a major sticking point for Ramallah, which has called on the US to ensure that Israel doesn’t interfere with the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinian residents in the national vote.
On Wednesday, Kan reported that Shin Bet security agency head Nadav Argaman recently urged PA President Mahmoud Abbas to scrap the upcoming elections for the Palestinian parliament if Hamas takes part. The PA president did not take the recommendation well, retorting that Israel was responsible for the strength of the terror group in the first place.
“I do not work for you, I will decide if there will be an election and with whom. You built Hamas, not me,” Abbas reportedly told Argaman during their meeting, according to Kan.
The two also reportedly discussed the International Criminal Court’s investigation into Israel and the Palestinians over alleged war crimes.
“Please, as far as I am concerned, you and I are sitting together in the same prison cell,” Abbas reportedly said.
Last month the ICC announced it would investigate possible war crimes committed by Israel and by Palestinians following a request by the Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015 after being granted nonmember observer status in the UN General Assembly.
Abbas issued a decree in January ordering the first national Palestinian elections in over 14 years. The last elections, held in 2006, resulted in a parliamentary majority for Hamas.
Hamas’s victory led to a year-and-a-half struggle for power, which ended in 2007 with the establishment of two rival Palestinian governments: Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
In a mid-January decree, Abbas set the legislative elections for May 22, while scheduling presidential elections for July 31. Many observers have been skeptical, noting that numerous pledges by Palestinian leaders to hold elections have fallen through. But anticipation has slowly been building that the Palestinians might actually hold a national vote for the first time in 15 years.
On Tuesday, a popular Palestinian leader imprisoned by Israel for terrorism registered his own parliamentary slate in a dramatic last-minute development that could weaken Abbas’s Fatah party and increase the chances of a Hamas victory in the legislative elections.
Marwan Barghouti is serving five life sentences in Israeli prison for masterminding terror attacks during the Second Intifada. But he is widely popular among Palestinians, many of whom see him as a symbol of resistance untainted by corruption.
His wife, Fadwa Barghouti, accompanied by leading Fatah dissident Nasser al-Kidwa, headed to the Central Elections Committee headquarters in Ramallah to officially submit their electoral list.
The slate of candidates, which is called “Freedom,” will see al-Kidwa take the top spot, while Fadwa will be second on the list.
Abbas has struggled to maintain unity within Fatah in the buildup to the vote. Fatah voters will now choose between Abbas’s list, Barghouti and exiled Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan.
Many Palestinians draw unfavorable comparisons between Barghouti and the 86-year-old Abbas. The Palestinian Authority is widely seen as corrupt and ineffectual by many Palestinians; Ramallah is also regularly assailed for its coordination with Israel. Opinion polls consistently find a majority of Palestinians demanding the PA leader’s resignation.
Al-Kidwa is a widely respected senior diplomat and Yasser Arafat’s nephew. Until recently, he served as a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, the Palestinian movement’s most powerful decision-making body.
Officials in Ramallah had speculated that Barghouti would not himself run in the upcoming legislative elections, instead keeping his eyes firmly locked on the presidential vote scheduled to follow them.
According to opinion polling, aging PA leader Abbas — who is his Fatah movement’s presumptive nominee — would likely lose to Barghouti in a faceoff.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report