Analysis |

The Real Danger in Palestinians' Threats to Cut Off Coordination With Israel

Security cooperation has not been canceled despite Abbas' fiery declaration. But Israel fears other factions may use it as a call to action

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fixes the microphones during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 25, 2019.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fixes the microphones during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 25, 2019.Credit: AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

A brief political storm broke out this week after the Kan news story on the cabinet decision to approve the construction of 700 new Palestinian homes in Area C, under full Israeli control, in the West Bank.

At first, the report worried the right wing because of what looked to be concessions to the Palestinians, in response to pressure from the Trump administration. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, praised the decision in an interview with CNN, but denied that it stemmed from a request from Washington. In practice, as in the rest of the administration’s actions in the Palestinian arena, it seems that here too lies a much deeper coordination with Jerusalem.

The American administration needs to make a gesture to the Palestinians if it wants to make progress on presenting the diplomatic components of its peace plan. The Israeli government also has a certain amount of interest in approving Palestinian construction, on a small scope, as part of the strategic move to demonstrate sovereignty in Area C, which the right wing is preaching about.

It is not a coincidence that the most right-wing member of the cabinet, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, defended the decision – after he voted in favor of it.

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The problem is that this move was seen by the Palestinians, with a great deal of justification, as just more proof that the joint Israeli-American plan will be to their detriment. This step joins the continued financial crisis transpiring over the Palestinian Authority’s support for the security prisoners in Israeli prisons.

The PA hoped to solve the problem after the election in Israel, but the second round of elections prevented Netanyahu from reaching any compromise. At the same time, in the background are other worrisome events, and first of all the demolition of the multi-story buildings in the Sur Baher neighborhood in East Jerusalem – and the Border Police and IDF officers celebrating the successful explosion.

After the demolition of the homes, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, announced once again a halt in the security coordination with Israel. This has not happened in practice, because the PA needs the security coordination at least as much as Israel does. Along with this, a senior Israeli military official recommended this week to carefully keep an eye on what is happening in the West Bank. “A negative critical mass could possibly accumulate there,” he said. “It could well happen even before the election.”

Col. (res.) Michael Milstein has served in a number of senior roles in Military Intelligence and the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. He is of the opinion that the recent events mostly demonstrate the weakness of the PA. The authority is having a difficult time enlisting the international community to take its side, which is busy with a long list of other problems. Even the Palestinians are not excited by the battle cries voiced by the PA’s senior officials.

Milstein is not buying the PA’s threats to stop security coordination with Israel, or alternatively the renewal of contacts with the PA. In reality, the political and geographical split between the PA government in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is only growing, Milstein told Haaretz.

“The main concern touches on the possibility that people on the street from Fatah and the security forces will give an independent interpretation to Abbas’ declaration on stopping [security] coordination and will translate it into violent acts. The Palestinian helplessness cannot comfort Israel.” Abbas’ announcement comes alongside a severe budgetary crisis for the PA, whose continuation could lead to a serious deterioration in the situation, added Milstein.

Enlisting Putin in election campaign

The person who has decided to leverage his diplomatic and security experience for the election campaign, while not very elegantly ignoring the feelings of the Israeli residents of the region near the border with the Gaza Strip, is Netanyahu.

At the beginning of the week the Likud ad campaign was launched, with a great deal of noise, in which Netanyahu was described as the prime minister in a “different league” from that of his rivals, along with pictures to demonstrate his close relationships with the leaders of the United States, Russia, India and Brazil.

It is no secret that many of the present generation of world leaders see Netanyahu as one of them, even if the ear-to-ear smiles alongside such eminent democrats such as Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro or even Donald Trump may not excite many Israeli voters.

In the last election campaign, Netanyahu enjoyed the absolute enlistment of all these leaders on his behalf. Trump timed the American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights for the benefit of Netanyahu’s election campaign. The Russians miraculously located the remains of missing soldier Zechariah Baumel in Syria just before the election. This spirit of volunteerism may well repeat itself in the present round of voting too.

Putin, as reported this week on Channel 12 News, could come visit Israel even before the election, with the excuse of dedicating a monument in Jerusalem. Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said that the U.S. administration is discussing the possibility of assembling a conference at Camp David with Arab leaders, as part of the steps to promote its peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians.

The chances that the Trump administration will manage to pull off such a plan, and before the election, do not look very strong – and certainly if the series of long delays that preceded the economic conference in Bahrain (who remembers it and what do you really know about what was agreed on?) are taken into account. But Trump is expected to try and help Netanyahu as much as he can. In Washington, they are not ruling out the possibility that if the peace conference is not held, the administration will invite Netanyahu to another meeting with Trump just before the election.

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