Will Mahmoud Abbas follow up tough talk on Israel with action?

I made a contribution to this TRT World article, published on 20/5/2020

The Palestinian Authority leader repeated his declaration that Palestinians will absolve agreements with Israel but has yet to clarify what happens now.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced that he is ending all agreements  with the US and Israel after the latter stated its intention to annex the occupied West Bank.

Abbas said Tuesday that all agreements signed between the parties were henceforth absolved – in protest over continued Israeli expansionism in occupied Palestinian territories.

“The Israeli occupation authority, as of today, has to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine,” Abbas said at a meeting of Palestinian officials.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) currently cooperate on a number of issues, ranging from tax collection and ‘security issues’. These were set out in the Oslo Accords, which forms the ostensible pathway towards a future Palestinian state.

However, successive Israeli governments have taken steps that Palestinians believe have undermined the accord and make such a state unviable, such as settlement expansion. 

Most recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly declared his intent to annex the West Bank and is confident that he will receive backing from the US.

Under US President Donald Trump, Israel has benefited from diplomatic carte blanche from Washington.

Trump moved the US embassy in Tel Aviv to the city of Jerusalem in December 2017 in a move that was tacit acceptance of Israel’s unilateral annexation of the city, including the illegally occupied East Jerusalem, which is internationally recognised as Palestinian territory.

In 2019, he also recognised the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, which are occupied from Syria.

Abbas has made announcements declaring an end to cooperation with Israel before. In February 2020, he made a similar declaration to Tuesday’s at an Arab League meeting in Cairo.

Speaking at the time, he said “We’ve informed the Israeli side … that there will be no relations at all with them and the United States including security ties.” 

In July 2019, while condemning the demolition by Israel of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, he declared: “We announce the leadership’s decision to stop implementing the agreements signed with the Israeli side.”

Nevertheless, he has failed so far to follow through with the announcements or clarify what form future Palestinian dealings with the US and Israel will take.

‘Pushed into a corner’

Palestinian author and columnist, Ramzy Baroud, explained that walking back on these announcements, will result in Abbas losing more credibility in the eyes of Palestinians. 

The Palestinian president has been forced to act after he was “pushed into a corner” by the behaviour of the Israeli and US governments, he said.

“Netanyahu’s decision to annex much of the West Bank, and the US support of the Israeli unilateral step, have already rendered all previous agreements between Israel and the PLO null and void. Therefore, Abbas’s decision carries no real substance.

“However, coming to the belated realisation that the so-called peace process is dead and taking the symbolically significant step to part ways with the Oslo accords and all other related agreements could potentially signal a Palestinian departure from the past.”

Baroud told TRT World that Abbas will now have to reveal a tangible plan for the way forward, which may involve bringing Palestinian factions together, and launching “a truly comprehensive political strategy that looks beyond Oslo into a whole new political paradigm.”

“If Abbas walks back his decision out of fear that severing all ties with his Western allies might prove costly, it will be yet another embarassing episode of political quisling by the Palestinian leadership, which suffers from lack of credibility among Palestinians.”

Israeli occupation

The planned Israeli annexation of the West Bank will be a violation of international law, which proscribes the sovereign acquisition of land by military conquest.

It will also formalise the two-tier system of law applied to Jewish settlers on the one hand, and Palestinian subjects living under military occupation on the other.

The former enjoys rights guaranteed under Israeli civil law, as well as priority access to resources, such as water supply. Settlers also enjoy access to their own road systems and public transport, which are denied to Palestinians, drawing comparisons with the apartheid system formerly used to separate black and white communities in South Africa.

Palestinians have for decades complained of the indignities and abuses they have to face because of the occupation. They are subject to restrictions on travel, arbitrary detention, and often lethal violence from both Israeli soldiers and settlers.

In its most recent analysis of the situation in the occupied West Bank, Amnesty Interational said: “Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, including children, were committed with impunity.”

Given these realities on the ground, some Palestinians ask what will be different after the latest statement by Abbas.

“What the Palestinian leadership needs to do is explain to the Palestinian people what this means. What will be different tomorrow?” Palestinian academic and writer, Professor Kamel Hawwash, told TRT World.

“A responsible leadership would surely prepare its people for what is to come if it is serious. 

“Ask the average Palestinian what withdrawing from these agreements would mean to them and they will have no idea. Time for change.”Source: TRT World

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