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Israeli sovereignty move has Palestinians in a quandary

Despite its threats, the Palestinian Authority has few options open to it.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on May 7, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on May 7, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Pinhas Inbar (JCPA)
Pinhas Inbari
Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper. He currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Israel’s declared intention to apply sovereignty over some territories in Judea and Samaria is provoking a storm in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, and to a lesser extent in other Arab states. The question before us is what might happen on the Palestinian side if Israel does indeed take the step to annex or apply sovereignty over parts of the West Bank.

The P.A. has already announced the cessation of security coordination with Israel. However, my discussions with Palestinian sources indicates that coordination continues in alternative ways, and IDF forces continue to operate in the P.A. territories with the knowledge of Palestinian security forces.

As long as Jordan’s border crossings are in Israel’s hands, the P.A. cannot detach itself from the security coordination with Israel. Without such cooperation, the P.A.’s leaders will not be able to cross over to Jordan, and that would sever their ties with the Arab world.

Is the implied threat to renew terrorism realistic? No.

Arafat launched the Second Intifada when he had logistical support in Jordan and beyond, in Syria, Sudan and Iran. Today’s Jordan is not Jordan from back then, and Jordanian security forces are now blocking Palestinian terrorist activity from being launched from their territory.

The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, with ties to the royal palace, is also opposed to “Hamasification” within Jordan, and is careful not to arm itself or allow any branch to follow Hamas’s footsteps.

Large arsenals can be found in the refugee camps and cities of the West Bank, such as Yaabed, Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus, but these are weapons provided to supporters of dissident Mohammed Dahlan and are reserved for the expected violent power struggle after Abbas leaves the scene. So far, the violence against the IDF has been mostly throwing stones; these firearms are being saved—at least for now—for internal conflicts.

Fatah’s Tanzim militia, which is a criminal organization in nationalist camouflage, is better off maintaining the status quo because it is good for business. They do not want to challenge the IDF or for Abbas to intervene. Therefore, they do not provoke the IDF, nor do they challenge Abbas, as long as the Palestinian security forces maintain their distance from the refugee camps.

Surprisingly, Hamas also has no interest in overthrowing Abbas. Hamas understands that as long as Abbas demands full control of Gaza, Israel will not overthrow Hamas rule there, because Abbas will fill the vacuum. There is a shared interest between Hamas and Israel: Israel wants to keep Hamas rule in Gaza to prevent an expansion of an Abbas-led Palestinian state, a state that would have a safe passage route between the West Bank and Gaza, bisecting Israel.

If terrorism is limited and security coordination continues, what will happen?

Part of the Tanzim seeks to oust P.A. Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh’s technocratic government precisely because it has managed the coronavirus crisis well. They want to replace it with “government of organizations,” including Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). This was at the center of the talks between Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal and Ismail Haniyeh on the one hand, and Fatah’s Abbas on the other. However, since then, there has been a break in talks between the P.A. and the PFLP. Meanwhile, a picture posted by Iran, showing Haniyeh as the Palestinian leader of the al-Aqsa “liberation,” must have cooled the enthusiasm, if any, for a deal with Hamas.

If so, what will we see in the future from the Fatah-led government, considering the restrictions on a real terror war? Possibly another edition of “Popular Struggle”—stones, firebombs and the like, if anything at all. In the absence of any real violent options, the P.A. will turn to a diplomatic struggle, dealing its cards with Jordan, Europe and the Democratic Party in the United States.

Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper. He currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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