Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday that should Israel follow through with its plans to annex parts of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority would declare an independent state along the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Shtayyeh's remarks, made to foreign journalists in Ramallah on Tuesday, come as the Palestinians intensify a diplomatic campaign to push back on Israel's annexation plans.
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Senior Palestinian officials told Haaretz that rescinding recognition would also mean a reversion to the past regarding the position of the Palestinian state's characterization of the occupation.
“The PLO recognized Israel within the 1967 borders, but now Israel wants to eat into the territory of the West Bank and the 1967 borders. And then the PLO will rescind its recognition and for its part, the occupation began in 1948,” one said, in a reference to the year Israel was established. “And that would constitute a fundamental change in the official Palestinian position.”
A senior Palestinian official said that Shtayyeh's statement doesn't represent a shift in the PA’s stance, but rather “an attempt to underline messages… on nullifying recognition of Israel.”
Shtayyeh also defended the PA’s vow to cut off all cooperation with Israel despite what he called “Israeli extortion attempts” in withholding tax transfers. The Palestinian economy “is getting worse,” Shtayyeh admitted, but vowed “not to haggle over our positions for money.”
On Monday, Shtayyeh told Palestinian television that the Palestinian Authority had recently refused to sign off on an Israeli request to transfer the Palestinian tax remittances that Israel collects on its behalf.
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The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly refused the tax revenues over the past year after Israel decided to deduct the sum equivalent to the amount paid by the PA to prisoners detained in Israel and their families. Israel argues that the prisoners' funds, which are paid at various levels based on how long the prisoner in question is detained in Israel, rewards those who have committed terror attacks against Israelis.
Shtayyeh noted that among the steps at the Palestinian Authority’s disposal if Israel actually carries out the annexation is rescinding recognition of Israel and withdrawal of the exchange of letters in 1993 between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat in which the PLO recognized Israel and Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
“We have several cards that we can use,” Shtayyeh said. “We have the mutual recognition letters that Rabin and Arafat exchanged, which include mutual recognition on September 9, 1993, when we recognized Israel as a state, and I recognized the PLO as an organization. Therefore this issue will be on the table if Israel carries out the process of annexation, the significance of which is burying the two-state solution.”
Increasing international pressure
Officials in the Palestinian Authority have stepped up their warnings regarding the consequences of the proposed Israeli annexation. Over the past two weeks, Palestinian officials have talked to European and Arab diplomats, seeking for them to convey to Israel and the United States that any such move would not simply be met by concrete steps that would directly affect both the Palestinians and Israel.
They have also been conducting interviews with major overseas media outlets to convey the message. “We are beginning to feel a change in several countries and that this time, the Palestinian threats are being perceived as real,” the official said.
“The Palestinian Authority’s main effort now is to lead Israel and the United States to the conclusion that the annexation process is fraught with major risks and isn’t a diplomatic process that would end in diplomatic condemnations alone,” he added.
Last week, the Palestinian Authority also officially acknowledged that their current position nullifies the provisions of the Oslo Accords.
Despite the blitz of interviews and speeches by PA officials, the Palestinian street is more concerned about the economic ramifications of the move, and the systematic lack of salary payments. At the same time, anxiety is mounting among Palestinians about the PA's planned responses for if and when Israel implements annexation.
"There's a general air of uncertainty about what will happen," a Fatah activist said. "In the meantime, it looks like the threats are real, but how much it will actually affect Israel nobody knows. Anyone on the street can definitely feel that there's anger and disappointment, but what that will lead to, nobody knows."
In Ramallah, they point out that there were calls among the Palestinian factions on Monday for a large demonstration against annexation in Al-Manara Square in the city center, but the response was very limited. The people – even on the level of PA clerks and civil servants – are not hurrying to join. Some of the organizers pointed out the need to implement a clear policy if the PA wants the Palestinian public is to join in the pressure campaign, and chiefly the non-violent national struggle.
The Palestinian official in charge of relations with Israel, Hussein al-Sheikh, told the New York Times the Palestinian Authority intends to cut the salaries of tens of thousands of its own clerks and police officers, and to suspend its financial assistance to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
He added, however, that the Palestinian Authority would not allow chaos to reign in Palestinian cities and villages but would also not agree to cooperation or coordination with Israel.
Al-Sheikh, who is considered one of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ chief advisers, also threatened to arrest and try any Israeli citizen apprehended in the territory of the Palestinian Authority on suspicion of criminal activity, rather than having them returned to Israel, as has been the practice up to now.
“We are pragmatic,” he added, “We don’t want things to reach a point of no return. Annexation means no return in the relationship with Israel.”
A Palestinian official involved in the Palestinian diplomatic strategy told Haaretz that the steps that the Palestinian Authority is taking – from Abbas’ statements last month to recent comments by senior Palestinian officials, including al-Sheikh's – constitute a warning to the international community, especially Israel and the White House.
The Palestinian prime minister also said that all of the prior coordination activity with Israel has been halted other than on day-to-day civilian matters, and that the Palestinian Authority has asked the European Union and the Red Cross to act as a go-between with Israel.