190726 Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas Image Credit: Reuters

Ramallah: Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced late Thursday his government would stop implementing its agreements with Israel. Analysts were quick to question whether Abbas seriously intended to deliver on the threat which has been made several times in the past. But the Palestinian leader had not previously spoken so clearly and definitively of a break in cooperation.

What did Abbas say?

Abbas spoke Thursday night after a week in which Israel destroyed 12 Palestinian residential buildings in Sur Baher, a neighbourhood that straddles occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In response, the 84-year-old said, “we announce the leadership’s decision to stop implementing the agreements signed with the Israeli side.” He said a committee would be formed immediately to implement the decision.

What are the agreements?

In the early 1990s Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, then headed by Yasser Arafat, signed a number of peace agreements under US sponsorship. Abbas was a key figure in negotiating the so-called Oslo Accords.

They led to the creation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and cover a range of issues including water usage, electricity, security coordination and economic relations between the two sides.

The agreements were supposed to be for a transitional five-year period but a longer-term deal proved elusive and a second bloody Palestinian intifada, or uprising, broke out in 2000.

Abbas took power after Arafat’s death in 2004 and has since pursued a policy of diplomatic recognition, earning Palestine observer status at the United Nations in 2012.

Why now?

Relations between Abbas’s government, based in the West Bank, and the Israeli regime have worsened in recent months.

In addition to the house demolitions Israel has also started deducting around $10 million a month from tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. That corresponds to the amount it says the PNA pays to families of prisoners or directly to inmates in Israeli jails. The Palestinians have in response refused to take any of the roughly $180 million in monthly tax revenues until the full amount is transferred, leaving Abbas’s PNA in financial crisis.

Will they follow through?

Palestinian officials have previously made a number of threats to cut relations with Israel. In January last year, the Palestinian Central Council voted to suspend recognition of Israel, but the decision has yet to be implemented.

Thursday’s comments were the most direct by Abbas himself regarding the agreements but there is scepticism that he will follow through.

Ending the agreements could lead to the demise of the PNA of which he is president.

“It is useless to talk about halting agreements with Israel without talking about the fate of the Palestinian Authority and changing its shape and functions,” said analyst Hani Al Masri.

“The resolution is a repetition of previous resolutions.”