Six months after ending relations with Jerusalem in protest over now-ditched sovereignty plan — and encouraged by Biden victory — Ramallah declares return to the status quo ante, writes AARON BOXERMAN of Times of Israel
The Palestinian Authority announced Tuesday that it was renewing security and civil ties with Israel, which were severed six months ago amid Israel’s plans for unilateral West Bank annexation, a move that has since been suspended.
The shift came days after the US presidential election was won by Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who Ramallah anticipates will prove more empathetic to their cause than President Donald Trump. The PA severed all dealings with Trump Administration three years ago.
According to the official WAFA news agency, the announcement came after the Palestinians received reassurances from “international contacts” that Israel would abide by previous agreements.
“Against the backdrop of the talks [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas held about Israel’s commitment to signed agreements with us, and based on official written and oral messages we received, which prove Israel’s commitment, the ties with Israel will return to their previous state,” said PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh.
Al-Sheikh’s powerful Civil Affairs Commission is responsible for managing relations with Israel. The former PA minister and Abbas confidante attempted to spin the return to coordination with Israel as “a victory for our great nation.”
“Our stance was clear: As long as there was an intention to annex, the Palestinian leadership considered itself absolved of its agreements with Israel,” al-Sheikh said in an interview with official Palestine TV.
“We turned to the Israeli government — in writing — in recent days, asking whether or not they would still adhere to their agreements with us…we received a letter today from the Israeli government saying that they were committed to the agreements signed with the Palestinian leadership,” al-Sheikh continued.
The Hamas terror group harshly criticized Ramallah’s decision, calling it “an attack against the national efforts to build cooperation and a strategy to combat the occupation and annexation and normalization and the ‘Deal of the Century.’ It comes on the heels of an announcement of thousands of settlement units in occupied Jerusalem.”
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem, whose terror group avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, later singled out al-Sheikh’s statements for particular ire. Some aspects of the PA’s coordination with Israel — particularly security coordination — are controversial among Palestinians.
“Talk in Ramallah by the Palestinian Authority of ‘victories’ in its return to coordination is just treating Palestinian public opinion like they’re fools,” Qassim said, insisting that Palestinians would oppose and condemn the announcement.
Abbas’s Fatah movement and Hamas have held several rounds of talks in recent months, led by Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub, in an attempt to bridge the gaps between the rival Palestinian movements.
Fatah and Hamas have been at odds since 2007, when Hamas expelled Abbas’ Fatah movement after a bloody struggle for control of the Gaza Strip. Several attempts to end the long-running divide in Palestinian politics have ended unsuccessfully.
Analysts widely regarded the most recent set of talks, which began in mid-summer, as an attempt to run out the clock before the US elections. Many predicted that if Biden were elected Ramallah would pivot away from Hamas and attempt to mend fences with the United States instead.
“We demand that the Palestinian Authority immediately retract this decision and cease betting on Biden and those like him. The land will not be freed, nor will rights be protected, nor the occupation dispelled — except by true national unity,” Hamas said.
Islamic Jihad also harshly criticized the PA’s decision, saying that it could end the efforts to forge Palestinian unity.
“This is a coup against all the attempts to promote national cooperation. This is an alliance with the enemy,” it said in a statement.
The severing of the ties with Israel came in May, after Abbas announced that the Palestinians were no longer bound by agreements with Israel and the US, citing Israel’s declared intention to annex parts of the West Bank. Abbas had made similar threats for years to end security ties with Israel, but that was the first time he followed through.
The decision to end both security and civil coordination with Israel had wide-ranging effects: Gaza patients who needed urgent medical treatment in Israeli hospitals were unable to obtain permits to leave the coastal enclave; tens of thousands of Palestinian newborn children were unable to obtain official documentation from Israel, which did not receive information from the PA as to their existence; PA police officers who would previously withdraw from areas when Israeli forces notified them of an upcoming operation ceased answering the phone.
Israel suspended the annexation plan in August as part of a normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates. But the PA delayed renewing ties with Israel, reportedly believing that as long as Trump was in office, annexation was not fully off the table.
The renewal of ties also means that Ramallah will again accept tax revenues which Israel collects on its behalf. The so-called “clearance revenues” constitute around 60 percent of the PA’s budget. Ramallah had ceased accepting the tax transfers from Israel in late May, also in protest of annexation.
Without the tax money, the PA suffered an acute financial crisis. The Authority has not paid its employees full salaries for months. Public sector salaries constitute around 20% of the West Bank’s GDP. Without them, many West Bank residents struggled to get by.
“We entered an enormous financial crisis, and those who bore it were ordinary Palestinian citizens,” al-Sheikh acknowledged on Tuesday night.
But as the US election approached, the PA hinted that it would accept the revenues again in the event that Biden won the vote, telling striking teachers in Ramallah that “the fiscal crisis is almost over.”
The PA government cut all ties with the Trump administration in 2017, accusing the US president of pro-Israel bias for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Washington reacted by cutting aid to the Palestinians and shuttering the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington.
The PA also ended security ties with the US in protest of the administration’s endorsing of Israeli annexation in parts of the West Bank within the framework of its peace plan.
Those areas include Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley — a key strategic area that makes up around a third of the West Bank.
Palestinians say the US plan would end prospects for a two-state solution to their decades-long conflict with Israel. In a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, Biden expressed support for Israel’s future as a “Jewish and democratic state” — implying his backing for a two-state solution.