(January 30, 2023 / Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken arrives in Israel this week, where he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. One of the main issues Blinken will discuss during his visit will be the P.A.’s cessation of security coordination with Israel.
Abbas chose to announce this decision in a vague way, leaving the door open for a subtle retraction. His spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, announced that security coordination no longer exists as of now, but refrained from explicitly stating that the P.A. had stopped it.
In practice, P.A. officials claim that regular meetings between Israeli and Palestinian security forces’ commanders have been stopped, but both sides understand that it is only a matter of time until contacts resume.
The P.A. is trying to claim to the Palestinian street that security coordination is the Achilles’ heel of the Israeli security establishment, and that if it ceases, Israeli security will be seriously harmed. However, this is not the case.
It is true that security coordination with the P.A. helps Israel in its war against terrorism in Judea and Samaria. However, since the Oslo Accords, Israel has relied only on itself in this area. We have already seen the “revolving door” policy of Yasser Arafat, who arrested terrorists and immediately released them. Abbas is unlike Arafat in this regard, but Israeli governments have nevertheless learned to trust only Israeli intelligence.
The Israel Security Agency does an excellent job in the war on terrorism, regardless of the security coordination with the P.A. The P.A. stands to lose more than Israel if it stops the security coordination, which it maintains mainly to ensure the continuation of Abbas’s rule.
The P.A. is also highly dependent on Israel in the field of security regarding Abbas’s movements in and out of Judea and Samaria. All senior P.A. officials hold VIP certificates that allow them to pass through IDF checkpoints and enter Israel, and also to travel abroad.
The Palestinian police cannot change the location and deployment of its forces in Judea and Samaria without coordination with the IDF. Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the territories working in Israel cannot enter without ISA approval. Palestinian families cannot receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals without the approval of the Israeli security establishment. The P.A. also cannot bring food and goods into its territory without Israeli security approval.
Moreover, the complete cessation of security coordination on the part of the P.A. could strengthen Hamas in Judea and Samaria—an outcome it is highly doubtful Abbas is interested in.
Senior Fatah officials estimate that Abbas will slow down security coordination, lowering its level to create the appearance that he is carrying out the decisions of the Palestinian leadership—but will not stop it completely. Fatah officials are already criticizing Abbas because his move was hasty and will cause irreparable damage to the P.A.
A senior member of the Fatah leadership, Tawfik al-Tirawi, the former head of Palestinian General Intelligence, who coordinated security activity with the ISA, warned as early as February 2022 that the cessation of security coordination with Israel would lead to the collapse of the P.A.
Since 2005, the ISA has saved Abbas from Hamas assassination at least twice, and exposed Hamas plans to overthrow the P.A. through a series of attacks.
With his decision to halt security coordination, Abbas is playing with fire. He risks igniting a conflagration in Judea and Samaria that would spiral out of control and bring a new disaster to the Palestinians, as was the case in the Second Intifada when Yasser Arafat chose the path of terror after the failure of the Camp David summit.
The assessment among Israel’s security establishment is that Abbas is trying to warn Israel, the United States and Egypt that the security situation has become fragile because of Israel’s policies, and that they are responsible for what happens on the ground.
Abbas is also trying to improve his position on the Palestinian street. Palestinian public opinion polls show that 70 percent want him to retire immediately from the political arena.
In the meantime, the Palestinian public does not believe the P.A.’s statements. The Palestinian street is largely convinced that the cessation of security coordination is a show by the P.A. which continues to secretly coordinate with the Israeli security establishment.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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