Restoration of ties with Israel sparks anger in Palestine

Restoration of ties with Israel sparks anger in Palestine
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP)
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Updated 18 November 2020

Restoration of ties with Israel sparks anger in Palestine

Restoration of ties with Israel sparks anger in Palestine
  • Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced a halt to coordination with Israel — including security cooperation — in May

GAZA CITY: The Palestinian Authority (PA) announced on Tuesday that it will restore coordination with Israel — a move that has been met with widespread factional rejection in the country, with the PA accused of “undermining” internal reconciliation efforts.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced a halt to coordination with Israel — including security cooperation — in May, in response to Israeli plans to annex 30 percent of the West Bank.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, the PA’s civil affairs minister, announced late Tuesday on Twitter that the PA had decided to restore relations with Israel to “where they were before May 19, after confirming that Israel would abide by signed agreements.”

Al-Sheikh told Palestine’s official TV network that the PA recently sent an official letter to the Israelis inquiring about their commitment to the agreements signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization. On Tuesday, it received a written response declaring Israel’s commitment to those agreements.

Al-Sheikh said: “The recognition of the signed agreements means that (US President Donald Trump’s) ‘Deal of the Century’ is no longer on the table.” He described this as “a great victory and the fruit of the steadfastness of the Palestinians and their leadership.”

However, observers have questioned the timing of the PA’s unexpected announcement, which coincides with talks between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo as Palestine’s two main political factions attempt to negotiate a path forward. Hamas issued a statement describing the PA’s decision as “a stab in the back” for this process.

A political analyst close to Hamas, Ibrahim Al-Madhoun, told Arab News the PA’s announcement of the resumption of its relationship with Israel was expected, but that the way it was announced was “disregarding the Palestinian people.”

“After this decision, the path of reconciliation is at stake,” he said.

Others noted that the Israeli response to the PA was signed by the “coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories” Kamil Abu Rukun rather than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian MP Hassan Khreisheh was one of those who played down the importance of the Israeli message, saying it fails to formalize any political commitment. He described the PA’s decision as part of “a struggle of wings and currents within the PA and Fatah to succeed President Abbas.”

Gal Berger, an analyst for Palestinian affairs at the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, expressed similar sentiments in an article about the decision. “The circle surrounding Abbas, including Hussein Al-Sheikh and (General Intelligence chief) Majed Faraj, did not like the level of progress in the reconciliation efforts,” he wrote, explaining that they oppose the promotion of Fatah Central Committee Member Jibril Rajoub as a possible successor to Abbas.

He also suggested that the announcement coinciding with the Hamas-Fatah talks in Cairo was not “just a coincidence.”

“One of them could have wanted to embarrass Rajoub, who rushed towards reconciliation with Hamas at a time when Abbas and his close circle had another plan,” Berger said. “Reconciliation with Hamas was not an option for Abbas, but rather a message to Israel and the international community, and the opportunity came to retreat after (Joe) Biden’s victory (in the US presidential election).”

US-Palestinian relations had collapsed under Trump’s administration, but there are hopes the situation will improve once Biden takes office.

Israeli journalist Daniel Serotti suggested the PA is trying to “improve its image” and is sending “a message to the Biden administration that the Palestinian boycott of America will not continue during his term.”

Serotti also noted that a major driver behind the PA’s decision is the fact that it has stopped accepting the transfer of taxes Israel had collected on its behalf since May, meaning a deficit of hundreds of milloins of shekels. The PA had been forced to cut civil servants’ salaries just at the time that the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating effects on the Palestinian economy were becoming apparent.

Ismat Mansour, a writer specializing in Israeli affairs, told Arab News that Biden’s statements about a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine issue had given the PA “an appropriate way out to receive tax revenues from Israel.”

That, at least, was news that some Palestinians celebrated, with many civil servants taking to social media to express their joy that some relief of their financial hardship may be in sight.


Lebanon investigates death of former customs official

Updated 3 min 17 sec ago

Lebanon investigates death of former customs official

Lebanon investigates death of former customs official
  • Col. Munir Abu Rjeili was found dead in his home in Qartaba, some 40 km northeast of Beirut, from a blow to the head
  • Leading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt questioned whether there was a link with the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut port
BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities are investigating the killing of a retired customs officer in what a leading politician described as a “terrible incident.”
Col. Munir Abu Rjeili was found dead in his home on Wednesday in Qartaba, some 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Beirut, with a blow to the head, a security source said.
Leading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt asked on Twitter on Thursday what was behind the killing. He questioned whether there was a link with the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut port that killed about 200 people and devastated swathes of the capital.
“Is this terrible incident to obstruct any serious investigation into the case of the explosion at Beirut port?” Jumblatt wrote.
But a senior interior ministry source said: “So far, no link has been found between the port and the murder.”
Abu Rjeili’s career in Lebanese customs included leading a Beirut division that counters overland smuggling, serving at the airport and heading a division of the Higher Customs Council, according to CV sent by a relative and lawyer, Joseph Khalil.
Abu Rjeili had not been summoned for questioning in the investigation in to the Beirut blast probe and had not served at the port, the source said.
Khalil, the lawyer, said the family was waiting for the results of the investigation.
Four months since the explosion, Lebanese are still awaiting the final results of the investigation, after authorities promised a full and swift probe.
President Michel Aoun last month called for the acceleration of the investigation.
The first warning about the cargo that blew up in Beirut port came in 2014 from another late Lebanese customs officer, Col. Joseph Skaf. Skaf’s family believe his death in 2017 was murder, possibly connected to his long career as a customs officer fighting criminality and drug smuggling.