Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas announced the Palestinian leadership’s decision to halt all agreements with Israel on July 25. Abbas set up a committee under Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, to present recommendations on establishing the mechanisms for this move.

So far the committee has held only one meeting, headed by Abbas. It announced that the contents of its discussions were under wraps and would remain that way.

Meanwhile, security coordination with Israel, an important part of the Oslo Accords, continues on the ground. Nor have there been any changes so far in the economic agreement (the Paris Protocol) between Israel and the P.A.

Nevertheless, in a meeting on Aug. 4, 2019, with the owners of the homes Israel demolished in Wadi Hummus in eastern Jerusalem’s Sur Baher neighborhood, P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh made grave declarations, which he later repeated on Twitter.

“Israel does not respect any of the signed agreements,” wrote Shtayyeh, “and deals with the entire occupied Palestinian territory as Area ‘C’. Accordingly, we will deal with all the lands belonging to the State of Palestine as Area ‘A’, including occupied East Jerusalem.”

Since assuming his post a few months ago, Shtayyeh, under orders from Abbas, has been taking an extreme line against Israel and leading a process of disengagement from it.

The import of Shtayyeh’s words is that as far as the P.A. is concerned, the division of West Bank territory stipulated by the Oslo Accords is null and void. These agreements state that Area A is under full P.A. security and civilian control, Area B is under joint P.A.-Israeli security and civilian control, while Area C is under full Israeli security and civilian control.

The accords also make clear that the P.A. has no authority in eastern Jerusalem and any governmental activity it conducts there is a blatant breach of the accords.

So far Israel’s political-security echelon has not reacted to Shtayyeh’s words.

Following the Israeli security cabinet’s July 30 decision to approve the building of 700 housing units for Palestinians in Area C, the P.A. announced on August 3 that it intended to approve building plans in Area C—which the Oslo Accords say are under Israel’s full security and civilian control.

Palestinian Minister of Local Government Majdi Saleh said that “master plans have begun in all the areas without connection to the Israeli classifications [of the territory].”

Saleh said the P.A. would issue building permits throughout the West Bank in line with the rate of population growth and would not build according to Israel’s division of the territory. He said that the European Union has agreed to carry out development projects in the West Bank, but that Israel is preventing it from doing so.

A dangerous game

It appears that, in light of Washington’s intention to soon publish President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” the P.A. has begun a process of disengagement from Israel and all  agreements with it. This means that any attempt to build homes in Areas B and C in breach of the Oslo Accords could lead to clashes between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian civilians engaged in the construction work, and possibly also between the IDF and the Palestinian security forces.

With these decisions, the P.A. is trying to unilaterally take over parts of the West Bank and establish facts on the ground—not through negotiations and in blatant violation of the Oslo Accords.

Abbas’s new policy of economic disengagement from Israel and boosting economic ties with Arab states is intended to pressure Israel and to signal to it and the United States that the P.A., despite their opposition, is on the way to establishing an independent state.

Last month Shtayyeh visited Jordan and Iraq and signed a series of economic agreements in the fields of trade, health, energy and natural resources. The P.A. has also stopped sending patients to Israeli hospitals for treatment; it aims to stop adding to these hospitals’ revenues.

Shtayyeh is also planning to visit Egypt shortly and sign economic agreements there.

The P.A. seems to be starting a gradual process of disengagement from Israel without, for now, detracting from the security coordination, and is trying to build economic cooperation with Arab states in place of Israel.

In addition, the crisis of the tax revenues Israel collects for the P.A. each month still has not been resolved. The P.A. is trying to force Israel to stop deducting the amount the P.A. transfers to the families of terrorists and “martyrs.”

Israel must not fall asleep at the wheel; it needs, already at this stage, to warn the P.A. publicly that unilaterally ignoring the Oslo Accords’ division of the West Bank is a grave infringement and will lead to harsh Israeli reactions in the field as well as sanctions on the P.A. and its senior figures. The P.A. must not be allowed to establish facts on the ground that will affect the final status of the West Bank.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

 

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