Analysis | Palestinians in No Hurry to End Security Coordination With Israel

Abbas aide says that after the process at the UN, the PA 'will revisit the entire constellation of relations with Israel, and that includes security coordination.'

Jack Khoury
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Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas delivers a speech during a ceremony marking 10 years since the death of veteran leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, Nov. 11, 2014.Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury

Recent events signal a watershed for the Palestinians. The time for rhetoric has passed, and now it is the situation on the ground that is dictating the terms.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other members of the Palestinian leadership are following rather than leading. The rage and frustration that burst forth in the form of the recent terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank and the clash in which a young Palestinian was killed near Hebron on Tuesday require the Palestinian Authority leadership to provide the Palestinian public with a swift response. The pressure was evident yesterday against the symbolic backdrop of the tenth anniversary of the death of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

On Tuesday, as Abbas set the pursuit of a Palestinian petition to the United Nations Security Council as a top priority, calls for more concrete action were already being voiced in the background, in the form of a halt to cooperation between Palestinian security forces and Israel. And on top of all this, the reconciliation between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Gaza-based Hamas seems more fragile than ever.

At a memorial ceremony marking the anniversary of Arafat’s death, Abbas blamed Israeli policies for leading the region toward a “destructive religious war,” with barely a reference to the peace process. He made it clear the Palestinian leadership was determined to lodge a petition this month with the Security Council. And if the effort fails due to a lack of majority support or an American veto, the Palestinians would seek the help of other international agencies, including the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

“We’ll turn to the International Court to defend our people and will not be deterred by the major pressure that is being exerted upon us,” he said. “The Palestinian territories conquered in 1967 [by Israel] are not disputed but rather occupied territory, and Israel is trying to create facts through the settlements. We view all of the settlements as an illegitimate enterprise that is contrary to international law. And Israel must remove them, because we want a Palestinian state without the settlements.”

And then there is Marwan Barghouti, the former Fatah Tanzim militia leader who has been in jail in Israel for more than ten years and who, unfettered by political considerations, hasn’t been afraid of using harsh rhetoric. Barghouti, who has maintained his status as a leader with popular support, released a message on Sunday on the occasion of the anniversary of Arafat’s death in which he called for ties with Israel to be severed. He also called for “strengthening the resistance, the only way to lift the occupation, to obtain our freedom and the return of the refugees and independence.”

Barghouti expressed support for Palestinian requests to international organizations, particularly the international court in The Hague. He also called for the Palestinian leadership to strengthen boycott efforts against Israel instead of sticking to negotiations as an approach, which he said had so far achieved nothing for the Palestinians. The role of the Palestinian Authority should also be reconsidered, he suggested, saying its foremost commitment should be to resistance and not cooperation with Israel.

Barghouti’s comments did not fall on deaf ears. The pressure on Abbas to take steps related to operational matters, notably security cooperation with Israel, is not new. A Barghouti associate from Fatah explained that the jailed Palestinian leader’s comments were designed to convey a clear message to Abbas and to Fatah’s members, some of whom cannot make open declarations of this nature.

There are also others within Fatah who don’t hesitate to make similar comments even if they do fall into line with Abbas’ position seeking to pursue the approach to the United Nations before halting security cooperation. “If the process at the UN fails, the entire constellation of relations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel will change,” senior Fatah member Tawfiq Tirawi told Haaretz on Tuesday. “We will stop the security cooperation – period – because it will have no significance without a diplomatic horizon.”

Associates of Abbas related to the matter cautiously, using noncommittal language. “This matter will undoubtedly come up for discussion after the process at the UN to know where we’re heading, but there is still no clear decision,” an Abbas associate who is a member of the Fatah central committee told Haaretz on Tuesday. “[Abbas] stated explicitly that we will revisit the entire constellation of relations with Israel, and that includes security coordination.”

Security cooperation, the same source said, has taken on a negative connotation for the Palestinian public even though it also serves the public’s benefit. “People look at this, as if the Palestinian Authority, through its security forces, is an executive arm of Israel’s security forces, but they need to remember that every step that relates to day-to-day life contains an element of security cooperation,” he said. “Ultimately, the entire PA is based on security coordination. Scrapping or halting it would mean that the PA as a government arm had ceased to act and would be turning in the keys to the Israeli government. Therefore a decision like this is not just a matter of stopping the meetings between intelligence chiefs or with the [Israeli] Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.”

Meanwhile, Hamas continues to challenge Abbas. If last month the talk was about a Palestinian government of reconciliation, this week things look entirely different. On Tuesday, Abbas explicitly accused Hamas of laying explosives in the homes and cars of senior Fatah members in the Gaza Strip, thereby scuttling the memorial commemoration for Arafat that had been planned there on Monday. Hamas’ conduct both in Gaza and the West Bank was doing damage to efforts to rebuild the strip following last summer’s war and does not portend readiness on Hamas’ part to pursue reconciliation, the Palestinian president added.

On Tuesday, a close adviser to Abbas told Haaretz the accusations that the Palestinian president made regarding Hamas were not a political attack and were based on information about Hamas’ operations, carried out by a Hamas wing in Gaza threatened by reconciliation. “There is no doubt that such an incident delays the implementation of the reconciliation and the work of the government as well as the reconstruction that Gaza residents are so desperate for.”

For its part, Hamas officials countered that Abbas’ policies were leading to a dead end. “The information on the ground clearly shows that the resistance in the West Bank is growing,” a senior Hamas official in the West Bank, Hussein Abu Kwaik, said, “and this means the collapse of the humiliating security cooperation that is meant to provide a defense for the occupation and the settlements. The young generation of Palestinians is determined to adopt the line of resistance to obtain its rights. This is the only way to assure it.”

Despite the air of disappointment in Ramallah and the pressure to act, the Palestinian leadership is not prepared to call it quits and take steps that would inflame the situation on the ground as long as the fate of the Palestinian request to the UN has not been decided. “We are going to the UN to ask for a state. The West Bank and Gaza can’t look like Somalia at the same time, with armed and masked men everywhere. Otherwise the world will not listen to us,” a senior official in Abbas’ office told Haaretz. “We have therefore warned that the international community needs to halt the move toward extremism in Israel. Otherwise the situation will only worsen until there is a loss of control.”

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