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The Palestinians Move to Cut Security Ties With Israel: A Bluff or Something Bigger?

4 MINS READMay 29, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
A group of demonstrators wave the Palestinian flag on Dec. 31, 2009.

A group of demonstrators wave the Palestinian flag on Dec. 31, 2009.

(ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock)
Highlights

To protest Israel's aggressive annexation push, the Palestinian Authority is beginning to act on longstanding threats to cease coordination with Israeli authorities in the West Bank. On May 19, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared an end to decades of security and intelligence cooperation with Israel and its main ally, the United States. The timing puts pressure on the Israeli government just before it's slated to begin annexing portions of the West Bank in July, and will raise the risk of violence and unrest in the area. ...

To protest Israel's aggressive annexation push, the Palestinian Authority is beginning to act on longstanding threats to cease coordination with Israeli authorities in the West Bank. On May 19, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared an end to decades of security and intelligence cooperation with Israel and its main ally, the United States. The timing puts pressure on the Israeli government just before it's slated to begin annexing portions of the West Bank in July, and will raise the risk of violence and unrest in the area. 

If this rupture deepens and endures, it will undo the coordination between Israeli and Palestinian Authority police and intelligence forces that has helped guarantee some stability in the West Bank since the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords. 

  • Hamas, the Islamist militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, will welcome the break in Israeli-Palestinian ties, which has impeded its ability to gain a strong foothold in the West Bank.
  • Hamas has long advocated for the Palestinian Authority to take a harsher stance against Israel, and could use the break in relations to encourage grassroots attacks against Israeli settlements both within Gaza and in the West Bank.
  • In 2017, the Israeli military said Palestinian security forces were crucial in thwarting up to 40 percent of militant attacks in the area.
  • Thanks to the construction of a border wall and tighter security surveillance, most Israeli territory is better protected now than it was during the Second Intifada in 2000, but settlements in the West Bank remain vulnerable to attacks if violence escalates. 

In addition to stoking militant activity, the unraveling of security ties also risks exacerbating already simmering social unrest in the Palestinian Territories.

  • The likely decrease in Israeli money to the Palestinian government to pay for some of the security cooperation will detract from a large and valuable source of income for the Palestinian Authority, as well as its public sector employees — an estimated 44 percent of whom work in the security sector, according to the European Union Institute for Security Studies. 

Despite these risks, however, Palestinian leaders likely feel they have little other recourse than a shock strategy to protest the new Israeli government's aggressive annexation push, in which they've so far had little say in.

The Palestinians are also trying to see which external states would be willing to help in future negotiations with Israel, given that the United States has become a little-trusted mediator since President Donald Trump took office in 2016.

  • On May 22, the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority's decision was aimed in part at building international support toward relaunching negotiations with Israel. 
  • In response to Israel's annexation strategy, the European Union has threatened tighter restrictions on trade with Israel. But while this may help the Palestinian Authority maintain its economic ties with European countries, it won't arm it with the powerful political interlocutor needed to offset Washington's support to Israel.
  • In light of the latest uptick in West Bank tensions, Arab Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will also continue to voice their public support for the Palestinian Authority, even as they quietly maintain their economic and security ties with Israel, which have grown in recent years.
  • The Palestinian Authority, as well as Israel, will also rely on Egypt to mediate negotiations, especially when it comes to Gaza Strip security
  • Russia, which has some pragmatic ties with Israel, will be able to increasingly position itself as a host and external mediator for talks between the Palestinians and Israel, which could further impede the United States' own ability to inform and shape negotiations. 

Jordan's reaction to future Israeli annexation moves, in particular, will be key in gauging whether we're in fact on the cusp of a new era in the West Bank, or if this is just a continuation of the same stalemate. 

  • The Palestinian Authority has been seeking additional diplomatic support from neighboring Jordan, which is one of its closest economic and security partners. 
  • In response to Israeli annexation pressure, Jordan has already canceled some cooperation agreements that formed part of its landmark 1994 peace deal with Israel. 
  • On May 21, Jordan's prime minister also said the country would review its own relations with Israel. 
  • While highly unlikely, should Jordan == cut any ties with Israel, it would mark a significant and potentially long-term shift in West Bank dynamics. 

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