The newly formed Israeli government has not reacted officially to the May 20 decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to “end all agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the commitments based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones.” But Israel did confirm that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had suspended security coordination; a key part of joint agreements. This is probably the most important proof that Abbas meant what he said and that we are now witnessing a new cycle of escalation between the two sides.
Abbas did make similar threats in the past. He had hoped, in vain, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would somehow relent and resume peace negotiations that were suspended for more than 10 years now. But Netanyahu, whose commitment to the two-state solution had never been solid, to start with, ignored Abbas’ threats who was left to watch Israel expand its colonies in the West Bank and build new ones, especially in occupied East Jerusalem.
A series of illegal and unilateral decisions by the Trump administration, including the recognition of [occupied] Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, under his now infamous peace vision released last January, approving the annexation of major chunks of West Bank territory in exchange for a conditional recognition of a Palestinian state on bits and pieces of land, have left Abbas with few dire options. He had decided to end all contacts with the United States and resisted pressure — including the suspension of all financial aid to the PNA — to engage the White House.
Abbas must be prepared to escalate and expect retaliation. The cost of annexation for Israel must be raised to phenomenal levels.
A last-minute initiative last week by the Russians to initiate dialogue between the PNA and the US through the Middle East Quartet was shot down when Avi Berkowitz, who serves as assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations, in addition to retaining his former role as adviser to Jared Kushner. Berkowitz stunned representatives of the UN, namely Nickolay Mladenov, as well as the EU and Russia, in a virtual conference, by insisting that the only plan on the table is President Trump’s peace vision and that unless the Palestinians resume talks with the White House on the basis of that plan, the US will give the green light to Netanyahu to annex parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
Netanyahu, whose corruption trial began on Sunday, doubled down on his pledge to go ahead with annexation as soon as possible. All indications point that he is ignoring the warning of former security and military chiefs that annexation will damage Israel’s national interests, threaten the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, lead to the collapse of the PNA and subject Israel to possible European economic sanctions.
Abbas may have fired his last shot. Netanyahu, it is now clear, is bent on fulfilling his legacy of killing any hope for a viable Palestinian state. The Americans had sent messages to Netanyahu reminding him that annexation is only part of the plan/vision and that Israel must negotiate with the Palestinians over the creation of a Palestinian state.
What other options does the Palestinian leader has? Some have argued that engaging the White House is a better move aimed at delaying the annexation and convincing the US that its proposal for a non-contiguous, land locked and isolated entity is a non-starter, illegal under international law and will never be embraced by the Arab states.
Others now believe that Abbas should have taken the decision to end all agreements with Israel a long time ago. They say that Abbas should also dissolve the PNA and tell the world that Palestine is an occupied state and that Israel should bear full responsibility for running the lives of more than 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank alone.
There is a real possibility that the PNA will collapse soon whether Abbas wants that or not. Ending all agreements with Israel is a double-edged sword. Almost everything the PNA does in the occupied territories, civil or security-related, requires coordination with Israel, including movement of people between areas under Palestinian control. Keeping Palestinian security forces from clashing with Israeli forces will be a major test in the coming days.
The fact is that Abbas appears to be cornered with no more options. The question is what can he do if and when Israel carries out its annexation bid? By dissolving the PNA, which was created under the now suspended agreements, he would be forcing Netanyahu to realise that annexation will come at a hefty price for Israel.
Abbas must be prepared to escalate and expect retaliation. The cost of annexation for Israel must be raised to phenomenal levels. Israel must realise that while a decision to annex Palestinian territories can be made swiftly, its ability to digest what it is attempting to swallow will prove catastrophic on many levels.
— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.