Palestinian president cuts security ties with Israel after years of warnings

Mahmoud Abbas has long threatened to suspend security coordination with Israel and the US but this week pushed ahead over Netanyahu’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Friday 22 May 2020 19:14
Mr Abbas originally announced on Tuesday that Palestinians were no longer bound by agreements with Israel or the CIA
Mr Abbas originally announced on Tuesday that Palestinians were no longer bound by agreements with Israel or the CIA

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has halted security coordination with Israel and the US, after years of threatening to do so, over Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plans to imminently annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Citing defence sources, Israel media on Friday confirmed that security and intelligence cooperation had indeed stopped, along with civil ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli officials speaking to The Independent did not know the full consequences of the move. They fear the halting of cooperation could lead to soaring violence and increased clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians.

Palestinian officials offered scant details but told The Independent Palestinian forces had begun withdrawing from “Area B”, which makes up 22 per cent of the West Bank, where Palestinians have civil control but Israel is responsible for security.

Mr Abbas originally announced on Tuesday that Palestinians were no longer bound by agreements with Israel or the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), pointing to Mr Netanyahu’s repeated pledges to annex the strategic Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements.

The Trump administration, which released a Middle East peace plan in January that was roundly rejected by the Palestinian leadership, is believed to have green-lit Netanyahu’s promise despite it being illegal under international law.

While Mr Abbas has made similar threats to cut ties with Israeli over a dozen times during the last few years, this week he took the rare step of following through.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Thursday ordered his cabinet to start implementing Mr Abbas’s decisions. Saeb Erekat, a senior figure in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, confirmed that the PA had notified the CIA as well as Israel.

“Security cooperation with the United States is no more. Security coordination with Israel is no more,” Mr Erekat said. “We are going to maintain public order and the rule of law, alone.”

The Israeli media reported that meetings between Palestinian security officers and their Israeli counterparts have been suspended along with a hotline between the two sides.

The West Bank, which was captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war, is divided into three areas under the 1995 Oslo peace accords.

Area A is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, while Areas B and C are under Israeli military control.

The Oslo accords and other agreements in the 1990s also created the Palestinian Authority and govern its political, economic and security relations with Israel.

Israel argues the security coordination serves the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians as it is largely aimed at Mr Abbas’s main rival, the militant group Hamas which runs Gaza.

But cooperation between the two sides has long been fraught.

Israeli security forces, which are deployed across the West Bank that is home to over 460,000 Israeli settlers, frequently carry out arrest raids in Palestinian cities and towns. They are supposed to coordinate with their Palestinian counterparts to prevent any clashes.

The Palestinians hope the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza will make up their future state.

However, the Trump plan – regarded as the most pro-Israel vision of the region’s future – denies the Palestinians a fully-fledged state and instead leaves them with scattered enclaves inside Israel.

After the Palestinians boycotted the plan, tensions flared as Mr Netanyahu repeatedly vowed to push ahead with annexation even before a peace deal is signed.

In September, he drew up an annexation map of the Jordan Valley, which according to Israeli settlement monitor Peace Now would see over 4,300 Palestinians annexed as well.

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Fears mounted this month after the prime minister signed a unity deal with his chief elections rival Benny Gantz, allowing him to present an annexation proposal to the government as soon as 1 July.

Most of the international community – including the European Union and the UK – opposes unilateral annexation because of fears it will destroy the creation of a viable sovereign Palestinian state.

A two-state solution based on the 1967 lines is still widely seen as the only way of resolving the decades-long conflict, although many experts believe it is increasingly impossible given how divided the West Bank now is.

Mr Netanyahu is due in court on Sunday at the start of one of three corruption trials, on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges, which he vehemently denies.

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