Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that the decision to halt all contact with Israel over Israel's installation of metal detectors at the entrances to Jerusalem's Temple Mount includes security coordination. It was a difficult decision but was necessary in light of the decisions taken by Israel, he said.
Israeli defense officials said, however, that the halt was symbolic and that security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is continuing by telephone.
The Palestinian president's remarks are seen as highly exceptional considering his past position that such coordination was sacrosanct. Security officials from the Palestinian Authority have told Haaretz that the test in practice will be on the ground, and how the officers from the two sides conduct themselves and what transpires with regard to Israeli security and intelligence matters.
On Friday, Abbas said he would suspend contacts with Israel after Israeli authorities installed metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount, a site that includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The step was taken after two Israeli policemen were shot and killed at the site.
Even after Abbas' statement on Friday, a Palestinian security official told Haaretz that the rupture in communications would not be total and that coordination with the Israeli military would continue. That was also confirmed by Israeli security sources.
"The situation will be very difficult," Abbas said at his Muqata headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah at a meeting with scientists and researchers on Sunday. "We don't take decisions just like that and play with the lives of members of the Palestinian people. We are taking measured decisions and hope that it produces results."
Palestinian sources noted that Abbas underlined his opposition to terrorism and other violence, making it clear that a halt to security cooperation doesn't mean freedom of action to anyone seeking to initiate armed action against Israel.
Abbas said although the decision to cease security cooperation was difficult, "the Israelis need to understand that they are the ones who will lose, but we are playing an important role in maintaining their security and our own." And the president added that, "as a Palestinian state," the decision has been made to combat terrorism everywhere.
Abbas criticized Israel's decision to install new security cameras in the vicinity of the Temple Mount and said it is the Palestinians who must be the ones to supervise what occurs around the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israel claims sovereignty over the site, as it does in all of Jerusalem, but the day-to-day affairs on the Temple Mount are run by the Muslim religious trust, the waqf.
A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that the PA leadership also decided to cut off contact with Israel out of disappointment over the position of the United States. The official recounted that on Thursday evening, Abbas spoke to President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and asked him to act to calm tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. According to the source, Abbas asked the Trump administration to take much more decisive and concrete action in light of the highly explosive situation.
"The White House has not yet taken a determined, clear position," the Palestinian source said. "They have approached several Arab countries and have heard clearly that without Palestinian consent, nothing will move forward and anything that is agreed upon regarding the Palestinians has to be acceptable to them."
Abbas was also said to be very disappointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conduct since the two of them spoke following the shooting of the Israeli policemen at the Temple Mount.
"Netanyahu promised him that there would be no change in the status quo, and the next day metal detectors were installed and the Israelis didn't agree even to take them down before Friday prayers last weekend," the official said, adding that this fueled the escalation even further and left the Palestinian leadership, particularly Abbas, "few alternatives."
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