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.