In response to Israel’s demolition last week of homes in the Palestinian-controlled East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Thursday that the Palestinian Authority would end its compliance with agreements signed with Israel under the Oslo Accords. But Abbas has cried wolf this way many times before.
Palestinians are skeptical of both the seriousness of the declaration and their leaders’ ability to carry out the promise, if only because such a profound shift requires extensive preparations, strategic planning and coordination among the various organizations and institutions. There are no signs that these things have taken place, and Abbas’ despotic work methods don’t allow for them anyway.
Palestinians are caught between the desire to call it quits with Israel and the fear of a further deterioration in their socioeconomic situation as a result of the punitive measures that Israel might impose. Palestinians support talk of withdrawing from the agreements, but they don’t believe their everlasting leaders can navigate “the new phase.”
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In a short sentence at the end of his speech Thursday evening, Abbas said he would appoint a committee to discuss the decision’s implementation. The announcement followed an emergency meeting of the PLO executive committee, the heads of political organizations and Palestinian cabinet members.
On Saturday, a member of the PLO executive committee said that the panels would be formed “today or tomorrow,” and that it would comprise members of that committee, the Fatah central committee and the cabinet. He said it would set the timetable and the mechanism for implementing the decision. One of Abbas’ advisers said the intention was also to end security coordination with Israel, but he did not give details.
In recent years, PLO institutions have on a few occasions decided to stop complying with the Oslo Accords, on the grounds that Israel violated and distorted the agreements and artificially extended their duration. The most recent such resolution was passed in May 2018 by the Palestinian National council, the parliament of the PLO.
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It’s hard to resist asking why such a committee wasn’t established then. It could have come up with a clear strategic plan taking all the risks into account. It’s hard not to answer that the May 2018 resolution was buried along with previous festive resolutions (for example, suspending the security coordination with Israel that Abbas used to call sacred).
The impression is that it’s being pulled out now to accomplish three goals: to imply to Palestinians that the PA has additional ammunition and to once again create a sense of anticipation. Such an atmosphere is needed to justify the continuing tenure of Fatah’s superannuated and unpopular senior officials while continually postponing the elections for various institutions.
The third goal is to try to rouse European states to action. Abbas, as usual, in his speech again asked these countries to take strong measures to block Israeli policy, which he said is destroying the chances for peace and a Palestinian state. Since these countries persist in supporting the fiction of upholding the Oslo Accords for the sake of establishing a Palestinian state, he hopes in vain to stir them to action by threatening to withdraw from the agreements.
On the other hand, in the past year Abbas has demonstrated defiant determination against Israel and the United States, even if he made decisions without advance preparation or consultations. He has maintained his refusal to accept tax and customs remittances from Israel as long as Israel deducts from them the amounts paid by the PA as allowances to Palestinian prisoners and their families. This stubborn decision, which has earned quiet criticism in economic circles, exacerbated the financial crisis, and as a result of the artificial cuts in revenue, since February PA civilian and military employees are being paid only around half their salaries.
The PA also stuck to its decision from around three months ago to stop sending Palestinian patients for treatment in Israeli hospitals due to the high prices they charge. This decision, which was introduced without any advance preparation, has caused many personal tragedies, particularly for Gazans. But the PA — that is, Abbas — is not backing down. Perhaps this time, and once more without the necessary preparations, Abbas, who knows the end of his life is approaching, will instruct all his subordinates to stop cooperating with Israel.
But what does that mean exactly? At best, halting compliance with Oslo makes the PA unnecessary because it has become the mediator and executor between the Palestinians and Israel, which is the ruler and the decider. Even if Israel agreed to directly organize the lives of the people under its control, a shortage of clerks in Israel’s Civil Administration would lead to chaos. At worst, Israel will refuse to cooperate with the Palestinian decision. The chaos will be even worse.
Are the Fatah officials, especially those who hold key positions in PA institutions, willing to relinquish the favors Israel gives them in return for their loyal service? In the absence of a functioning PA, will the Palestinian security organizations continue to preserve law and order within the Palestinian enclaves? To win the public trust, the Palestinian leadership must consider and respond to these and many other questions before making militant proclamations.