Palestinian Authority launches campaign to prevent Israeli application of its sovereignty in Judea and Samaria (updated to June 2, 2020)

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Mahmoud Abbas delivering his speech to the Palestinian leadership.

Mahmoud Abbas delivering his speech to the Palestinian leadership.

The meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah (WAFA, May 19, 2020)

The meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah (WAFA, May 19, 2020)

Overview

On May 19, 2020, a meeting of the Palestinian leadership was held in Ramallah, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting was about Israel’s intention to apply its sovereignty on parts of Judea and Samaria. It was attended by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, members of both the Fatah Central Committee and the PLO Executive Committee. At the end of the meeting, Mahmoud Abbas delivered a speech, stating that “the PLO and the State of Palestine are free today of any agreements and understandings with the governments of the United States and Israel and of all the undertakings derived from these agreements and understandings, including the security [agreements]” (WAFA, May 19, 2020). The meeting was held following the publication of the basic principles of the Likud and Blue and White parties, whereby Israel will work to apply its sovereignty starting on July 1, 2020, based on US President Donald Trump’s statement and with the consent of the US.[1]

The meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah (WAFA, May 19, 2020)    Mahmoud Abbas delivering his speech to the Palestinian leadership.
Right: Mahmoud Abbas delivering his speech to the Palestinian leadership. Left: The meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah (WAFA, May 19, 2020)
  • Following Mahmoud Abbas’s speech, the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and the PLO launched a political, media and lawfare campaign intended to foil Israel’s intention to annex territory in Judea and Samaria. This campaign, which is still in its very early stages, is oriented at the international arena (mainly the EU), the inter-Arab arena (mainly Jordan), and international judicial institutions (mainly the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague). The campaign combines practical steps, mainly stopping the security and civilian coordination and contact between the PA and Israel, with steps taking place currently through diplomatic channels.
  • The cessation of security and civilian coordination with Israel has begun to be implemented. However, it is still unclear how it will be carried out, how quickly, and what alternatives to the existing arrangements will be found. This is a complicated move following the COVID-19 crisis, taking place at a time when the PA is still in the midst of its worst economic recession in two decades[2]. Such a recession requires enhanced economic cooperation with Israel rather than cutting it off or putting obstacles in its way. Compromising the security coordination with Israel may also prove counterproductive to the Palestinian Authority as it will be more vulnerable to subversion by Hamas. Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership are well aware of the heavy toll that stopping the security and civilian coordination and contact with Israel may exact from the PA and the Palestinian population. However, contrary to the past, it seems that this time they do intend to implement it, fully or at least partially, as a major component in the PA’s campaign to foil Israel’s intentions of annexation.
  • In his speech, Mahmoud Abbas refrained from announcing the revocation of all the agreements with Israel or explicitly referring to the Oslo Accords. Apparently, the vague wording of Abbas’s speech was intended to give the Palestinian Authority political and legal flexibility in the campaign which it has just launched against Israel. As part of this flexibility, the PA continues to declare that it is committed to the two-state solution. The PA spokesmen, in their statements, also left the door open for alternative mediators to replace the United States as the leading mediator of the peace process, mainly having the International Quartet in mind. Another idea raised by the PA minister of foreign affairs is holding negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in Moscow, under the sponsorship of Russian President Vladimir Putin, even though the Palestinians doubt the effectiveness of such negotiations (RT, June 1, 2020).

Thus, in Judea and Samaria, a new reality is emerging that is liable to put an end to the relative calm that has prevailed on the ground over the past decade. The volatile combination of an economic crisis, the application of Israeli law on Palestinian territory and the Palestinian Authority’s anti-Israel campaign is liable to lead to a rise in the level of violence beyond what we have known in recent years. Senior Fatah officials called for a “popular struggle” on the ground as part of the campaign against the annexation of the territory. Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad called for this struggle to be carried out through “peaceful resistance” (Wafa News Agency, June 1, 2020). Senior Fatah official Abd al-Mun’em Hamdan called on Palestinians not to allow settler groups to feel comfortable in the Palestinian territories (Dunya al-Watan, June 1, 2020). We have learned from past experience that such a popular struggle is not carried out “by peaceful means” but is expected to increase the level of popular terrorism and growing friction on the ground between Palestinians and Israeli residents.

Cessation of security and civilian coordination

Following Mahmoud Abbas’s speech, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh met with the heads of the security services to discuss how to implement Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to stop the security coordination with Israel and the US. According to him, the Palestinian leadership’s decision has entered into effect and all the security services and institutions have begun to implement it (Wafa News Agency, May 21, 2020). Palestinian Security Forces Spokesman Major General Adnan al-Damiri announced that since the statement by Mahmoud Abbas (i.e., since May 19, 2020), there has been no contact whatsoever with the Israeli side, not even on day-to-day issues (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, May 22, 2020). A “senior Palestinian source” told an Israeli correspondent that Mahmoud Abbas had ordered the Palestinian security services to break off contact with Israel immediately. Two senior figures who are in ongoing contact with Israel, Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA General Authority of Civil Affairs, and Majed Faraj, head of General Intelligence, were ordered to break off contact with Israel (Gal Berger’s Twitter account, Kan News, May 20, 2020).

  • The PA is aware that the cessation of security and civilian coordination is a complex measure whose implementation is liable to take a heavy toll on the Palestinian population and disrupt its day-to-day life. Fatah Deputy Chairman Mahmoud Aloul described this in an interview on Palestinian TV (May 27, 2020):
    • Security coordination is nothing more than a clause in a wide range of issues on which contact with Israel is maintained. According to him, there are over 70-80 clauses [in agreements with Israel] pertaining to day-to-day issues on which contact with Israel is maintained, from healthcare to water, electricity and security coordination. The Palestinian leadership’s decision is that all ties with Israel on these issues will stop.
    • The decision to break off ties is liable to affect many Palestinians and put pressure on them with regard to issues concerning their livelihood. People are liable to suffer for this issue. However, Mahmoud Abbas’s decision is “an opportunity to say no, and an opportunity to break free of all the shackles” that the Palestinians live with.
  • In the ITIC’s assessment, unlike similar announcements in the past, this time the PA will be more determined in translating its decisions into actions on the ground, even in a partial and controlled manner. This is because the PA feels threatened by Israel’s intentions, and its objective is to exert as much pressure as possible on Israel (even at the cost of making life more difficult for the Palestinian population). However, it is still unclear how the coordination will be stopped, how quickly it will be terminated and what alternatives will be found. According to several media reports, a number of measures have been employed that compromise the security coordination, at least at the tactical level[3]. In other security and civil areas, working groups are in the process of examining alternatives that will minimize the disruption of the population’s daily life.
  • Following is initial information about the steps being taken to terminate security and civilian coordination and the intentions for the future:
    • Withdrawal from a number of villages northeast of Jerusalem: according to eyewitnesses, the Palestinian security forces have withdrawn from the villages northeast of Jerusalem that are included in Area B under the Oslo Accords (Anatolia, May 22, 2020). Saeed Yaqin, a senior Fatah figure and Deputy Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, confirmed that the Palestinian security forces in northwest Jerusalem, about 100 operatives, had withdrawn [from the villages]. Sami Abu Ghalia, a senior figure in Fatah’s Jerusalem branch, reported that about 150 security force operatives had withdrawn from Al-Eizariya and Abu Dis following Mahmoud Abbas’s decision (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, May 21, 2020). In the ITIC’s assessment, these measures are intended to prevent local friction between the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli security forces.
    • Dealing with Israeli civilians: Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh addressed commanders of the PA security services, stressing that they must avoid any direct contact with Israeli officers and, if necessary, maintain contact through the Red Cross (Ramallah News, May 22, 2020). It is possible that the Palestinians intend to turn the Red Cross into a channel of communication that will handle incidents involving Israeli civilians, such as accidental entry into areas controlled by the PA.
    • Cancellation of VIP cards of Palestinian figures: according to Palestinian Interior Ministry Spokesman Ghassan Nimer, Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement means the cancellation of the VIP identity cards of senior PA officials (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, May 30, 2020).
    • Population Administration registration: the PA is working on the registration of births and deaths through the use of an international system unrelated to Israel (QudsN, May 29, 2020). Up to now, under the Oslo Accords, the PA has updated the Israeli Civil Administration on births, deaths, marriages and driver’s licenses.
    • Travel abroad: according to Palestinian Interior Ministry Spokesman Ghassan Nimer, if travel abroad is resumed, it will be carried out “differently than in the past, with no connection to Israel.” In the ITIC’s assessment, the intention is to prohibit the entry and return of Palestinians via Ben Gurion Airport and to shift Palestinian passenger traffic to the airport in Amman, which will be reached via the Allenby Bridge. The Interior Ministry spokesman also said that there would be a discussion on “new ways” that will enable Mahmoud Abbas to travel (Sawa, May 30, 2020). Palestinian Interior Ministry Spokesman Ghassan Nimer said that every trip by Mahmoud Abbas could require coordination with Jordan and international entities (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, May 30, 2020).
    • Commercial ties: according to Palestinian Minister of National Economy Khaled al-Osaily, the PA is refusing to maintain commercial ties with Israel via the private sector. He added that all ties would take place solely via the official channels of the Palestinian Authority. Traders in the private sector are supposed to submit a document detailing ways to overcome the obstacles Israel is expected to create for the Palestinian economy following the recent decisions (Wafa News Agency, May 28, 2020). Regarding goods arriving in the PA via Israeli-controlled ports, the Crossings Administration is currently examining a new system for importing and exporting goods to and from the PA without contacting Israeli officials (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, May 30, 2020).
    • According to an Israeli media report, on May 21, the PA informed the heads of the CIA that it was canceling the security agreements signed between it and the US. The message was officially conveyed by Major General Majed Faraj, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service. At this stage, the significance of the announcement is unclear (YNET, May 21, 2020).
  • At this time, the ITIC has no information about coordination at the intelligence level, which also includes the transfer of information for thwarting Hamas’s subversion and terrorist activity. This coordination is just as important to the PA as it is to Israel, since it aids the PA in its struggle against Hamas’s subversion at a time when relations between Hamas on the one hand, and the PA and Fatah on the other, continue to be characterized by extreme hostility and rivalry. The hostility between the PA and Hamas did not diminish even after the announcement of the cessation of ties with Israel, which was met with skepticism on the part of Hamas (which continues to demand that the PA support the “armed struggle” against Israel).
The diplomatic campaign

Following Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration, the Palestinian Authority launched a political and media campaign against Israel in the international arena, mainly among the European Union countries. The purpose of this campaign is to establish the international recognition of a Palestinian state, and at the same time exert pressure on Israel to refrain from annexing territory. However, the PA is careful not to break the rules, presenting itself as still committed to the two-state solution and leaving the door open to countries and institutions to replace the United States in promoting the peace process, mainly the International Quartet.

  • Following Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement, the PLO Executive Committee convened and announced a series of measures to be taken in the international arena (WAFA, May 21, 2020):
    • Calling on countries to boycott Israeli products
    • Putting Israeli senior officials on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity
    • Supporting the BDS campaign
    • Obtaining a full membership status for Palestine in the UN
    • Having Palestine join international organizations, including the international organization for intellectual property (WIPO)
  • Senior PA officials have already started approaching various countries, mainly those of the EU. PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Saeb Erekat, the secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, held diplomatic meetings with European representatives and conference calls with members of the European Parliament. Following are topics from these meetings and from statements of senior PA officials:
    • Mohammad Shtayyeh called on the EU countries to recognize a Palestinian state in order to defend the two-state solution as part of the struggle against Israel’s annexation plan. According to Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Authority has left the door open to any serious initiative whose purpose is to revive the peace process by the mediation of international bodies headed by the International Quartet (WAFA, May 27, 2020).
    • Saeb Erekat called on European countries to translate their positions against the annexation into actions and take steps that would prevent the annexation. The highlights of such steps are as follows (WAFA, May 28, 2020):
      • Investigating Israel on violations of international law
      • Imposing sanctions on Israel
      • Boycotting products originating in the Israeli settlements
      • Taking legal action against companies associated with the “settlement enterprise”
      • Implementing UN Resolution 2334 and recognizing a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, whose capital is East Jerusalem[4]
    • Riyad al-Maliki, the PA’s minister of foreign affairs and immigrants, announced that on June 2, 2020, a meeting of the countries donating to the Palestinian Authority would be held via a video conference, led by Norway[5]. At the meeting, Mohammad Shtayyeh will deliver a speech on the economic situation and the fight against COVID-19. He added that during the meeting, participants would discuss the Israeli annexation plan (Dunya Al-Watan, June 1, 2020).
    • Palestinian Ambassador to Algeria Amin Ramzi Maqboul stated in an interview to the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation that a meeting of the Palestinian leadership is expected to be held in order to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state. According to him, the declaration would pertain to territories occupied in 1967, according to the UN resolutions. The ambassador expects that in response, the IDF forces (“the forces of the Zionist entity”) will invade the territories of the Palestinian Authority and attempt to apply Israeli sovereignty on them. Therefore, he calls on all countries to recognize the Palestinian decision and protect the Palestinians from “Israeli aggression.”
  • On June 1, 2020, Riyad al-Maliki declared at a press conference in the Geneva UN office that the Palestinian leadership is ready to hold a meeting with Israel in Moscow and that it trusts Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to Al-Maliki, the Palestinians do not rule out such a meeting provided it bears fruit and stop Israel’s annexation plan. However, Al-Maliki expressed his doubt whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will indeed go to Moscow. He added that the Palestinians are ready to hold a discussion with Israel via a video conference, under Russian supervision, even though it is doubtful whether this will lead to real results (RT News Agency, June 1, 2020).
The lawfare campaign

From the perspective of the PA, the lawfare campaign, including the pending appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICC), constitutes an integral part of the PA’s political campaign against Israel. The lawfare campaign centers on the PA’s demand that the court mount a criminal investigation against Israel and against senior Israeli officials for what it calls “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The PA also seeks to involve various countries (mainly European) in investigations and trials against Israel and against prominent Israelis. In the ITIC’s assessment, the PA perceives accelerating the legal proceedings as an important lever for advancing its political goals in the campaign against the annexation of territory and vice versa – the campaign against the annexation of territory is seen as a lever for accelerating the lawfare campaign, with an emphasis on the proceedings that are in progress at the ICC.

  • PLO Executive Committee Secretary General Saeb Erekat held meetings with representatives of the EU countries and with representatives of other countries. At these meetings, he called on the countries to translate their positions against the annexation into actions in order to prevent the annexation. Among other things, he called on these countries to investigate Israel for violations of international law, to boycott products from the settlements, and to take legal action against companies affiliated with the “settlement enterprise” (Wafa News Agency, May 28, 2020). This was in the wake of the decision by the PLO Executive Committee (May 27, 2020), which announced that it would continue to sue Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity (Wafa News Agency, May 27, 2020).
  • Dr. Omar Awadallah, head of the Department of United Nations and Specialized Agencies at the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the ministry had received a request for clarification from the ICC regarding Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that the PA was released from all the agreements with Israel. The court asked the PA to provide further information on the matter, including information regarding the Oslo Accords. Awadallah added that the PA would send its reply to the ICC on June 10, 2020, and that its response was based on Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement [Note: in his May 19, 2020 announcement, Mahmoud Abbas stated that “The State of Palestine” and the PLO are released from all agreements and understandings with Israel and the United States, but refrained from explicitly mentioning the Oslo Accords].
  • Dr. Omar Awadallah added that the legal jurisdiction that [according to the PA] ICC has in Palestine would not change after Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement. He added that Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement would not affect the status of Palestine as a state within the 1967 borders, whose capital is East Jerusalem. It will also not change its status as a UN observer state since 2002 (Wafa, May 27, 2020).
Dr. Omar Awadallah

Dr. Omar Awadallah (Dr. Omar Awadallah’s Twitter account, June 2, 2020)
Dr. Omar Awadallah
(Dr. Omar Awadallah’s Twitter account, June 2, 2020)

  • Since 2009, he has served as head of the Department of United Nations and Specialized Agencies at the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • 2001-2009 – he served as deputy head of the PA’s diplomatic mission to Ukraine.
  • He has two doctoral degrees: in International Relations, and in Artificial Intelligence and Decision Making.
  • He speaks five languages: Arabic, English, Russian, Ukrainian and French.

[1] The basic principles of the Likud and Blue and White parties, signed on April 20, 2020, stipulate that the current prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) and the alternate prime minister (Benny Gantz) will act in all matters pertaining to President Trump’s plan “with the consent of the United States.” After discussion and consultation between them, the two of them will be able “to bring the understanding reached with the United States on the application of Israeli sovereignty starting on July 1, 2020, to a discussion in the cabinet and the government and the approval of the government and/or the Knesset” (Knesset website, basic principles of the Likud and Blue and White parties, April 23, 2020).

[2] See the article of Maj.-Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai and Michael Milstein, “Consequences of the Corona Crisis on the Palestinian Economy and on the Future of Relations between Israel and the West Bank,” (Heb.), the Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC, May 27, 2020.


[3] According to an article in the Israeli daily Haaretz citing “security sources in Israel,” compared to previous tense periods, the current disconnect between the PA’s agencies and their Israeli counterparts is more significant (Haaretz, June 2, 2020).


[4] Resolution 2334 is a pro-Palestinian resolution of the UN Security Council from December 23, 2016. It calls for a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders. It also calls for freezing all settlement activity by Israel.


[5] The Liaison Committee, which is also called the Conference of the Donating Countries, is an international conference engaged in providing economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority. This body was established in 1993, following the signing of the Oslo Accords. It consists of 16 member states headed by Norway and sponsored by the United States and the European Union.



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