Palestinian Authority Announces It Will Resume Cooperation With Israel

Security and civil coordination was suspended in May over Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting at his headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, September 3, 2020.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting at his headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, September 3, 2020. Credit: Alaa Badarneh,AP

The Palestinian Authority has agreed to resume coordination with Israeli authorities, which has been suspended since May over Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said Tuesday.

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According to al-Sheikh's statement on Twitter, the Palestinian Authority has been given assurances that Israel would respect its agreements with the Palestinians, during "international negotiations conducted by the president."

Al-Sheikh said that "the relationship with Israel will return to how it was" after President Mahmoud Abbas received confirmation that Israel remained committed to past agreements with the Palestinians.

Israeli officials also said they expect security and civilian relations to return to the level they were before May.

Severing security and civil coordination with Israel, the Palestinians said its annexation plans would make a two-state solution impossible. A deal establishing formal relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in August led to an Israeli suspension of any such moves.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials say the move was made possible following a written statement by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, who led the move, which confirmed that Israel is still committed to agreements with the PA.

Israeli defense official said that Joe Biden's victory in the U.S. presidential election made it easier for the Palestinians to agree to resume relations.

Cairo talks

Al-Sheikh's announcement surprised many in the Palestinian leadership due to its timing, as it was made while Fatah and Hamas delegations were holding talks in Cairo on progress in the Palestinian internal reconciliation process. There have even been reports of actual progress in reaching agreements on presidential and parliamentary elections.

Hamas in a statement condemned the Palestinian Authority's announcement, arguing it "goes against all agreements reached among leaders of the Palestinian factions."

A spokesman for Islamic Jihad called the announcement a "dangerous retreat" from all the agreements reached by Palestinian faction leaders recently, adding that this means a return to the destructive route of security negotiations and coordination between Israel and the PA.

Senior PA officials told Haaretz that the economic pressure on the authority has been very heavy recently and that the halting of coordination and not receiving tax refunds have only increased the pressure.

The PA struggled to pay salaries in recent months amid the coronavirus crisis that has severely hurt cash flow and trade in the West Bank. The authority only paid half salaries to tens of thousands of officials, according to PA sources. The PA has not been receiving tax refunds from Israel, but the money was transferred to Palestinian banks instead while the PA received loans.

Renewed Israeli-Palestinian ties could also open the way for the payment of some 3 billion shekels ($890 million) in tax transfers that Israel has been withholding from the Authority, whose economy has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Israel collects the levies on Palestinian imports that go through its ports.

'No way we can fight viruses by ourselves'

In a Zoom video conference organised by the Council on Foreign Relations, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the decision to resume contacts with Israel was based in part on confronting the coronavirus crisis.

Between the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank, and the tens of thousands of Palestinian workers who commute to Israel daily for work, coordination was needed to help prevent the virus's spread, Shtayyeh said.

"Our life is so interconnected between us and the Israelis, and there is no way that we can fight viruses by ourselves only," he said.

Earlier, a PA spokesman said that the Palestinian leadership was waiting for a clear position from President-elect Joe Biden, and that the authority would act on that basis. He added that Abbas was continuing talks to promote an international peace conference and said the Palestinian leadership expects the Biden administration to recognize international community decisions and take different positions than the Trump administration did.

The announcement comes a day before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to arrive in Israel. Pompeo is scheduled to visit at a vineyard in the West Bank, which will make him the first U.S. secretary of state to visit an Israeli settlement. He is also scheduled to be the first secretary of state to visit the Golan Heights.

In May, President Mahmoud Abbas announced the PA will suspend all agreements and understandings signed with Israel and the United States, affecting both security and civilian issues.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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