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Will the Palestinian leadership really halt security cooperation with Israel?

December 12, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Palestinian Authority minister Ziad Abu Ein died on Wednesday after attending a protest against the separation barrier in a village near Ramallah, West Bank. Palestinian and Jordanian doctors who performed the autopsy on Abu Ein said he died of tear gas inhalation, blunt force and a lack of immediate medical attention. Senior Palestine security advisor, Jibril Rajoub, told Al Jazeera that the PA decided to suspend all security coordination with Israel following Abu Ein’s death, which he called a “premeditated murder”.

Yesterday Saeb Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator during the recent failed peace talks with Israel, said the PA would send out an official statement on halting cooperation in the coming hours.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to suspend security cooperation with Israel on numerous occasions. In October this year Abbas threatened to reconsider the cooperation unless a framework for ending the Israeli occupation was set in motion. In November, he threatened the same unless negotiations resumed. In reaction to October’s threat, Palestinian American author and activist Ali Abunimah tweeted that the suspension of security coordination is nothing but an “empty threat.” Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh calculated via Twitter that Abbas has threatened this 58 times.

The security cooperation between the PA and Israel is no secret. The Palestine Papers, the largest-ever leak of confidential documents from a decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, revealed the extent of this. According to a document leaked from the US embassy in Israel in 2005, Israeli and Palestinian security services had agreed to meet every 10 to 14 days at “operational level”, and to follow up with meetings “in the field”.

Years later, Israel’s Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said during a court case waged against the PA, “I think that the Palestinians shared partial, tendentious and incomplete information with the Shin Bet.” Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, was reportedly trying to “cover up their inability to use this tool called the Palestinian security forces in supplying them with the purpose for which they exist: preventing terror.”

Not only is it recognised here that the PA is openly sharing files with Israel’s notorious intelligence agency, there is no attempt to hide the fact that the PA, as an entity, has been created solely for this purpose, as a “tool” to be used by Israel.

How far the PA would go to fulfil this role was also highlighted. In one of the security coordination meetings between Israel and the PA described in the leaked documents, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the PA was forced to kill their “own people” in order to prove that it was establishing law and order in territories under its control. Included in the leak were documents showing Israel had asked the PA to kill Hassan al-Madhoun, a commander in the Fatah aligned al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

During “Operation Brother’s Keeper“, Israel’s response to the kidnap of three teenagers, the Israeli army took control of the West Bank city of Ramallah for the first time since 2007, using the PA police headquarters as their base. Palestinian protestors who had confronted the army turned on the Palestinian police when they had left, who in-turn responded with live fire. Minutes later the Israeli army returned in an apparent armed assistance to the Palestinian police force.

Established under the Oslo Accords as an interim body, the PA was sold as a national project that would see the transportation of Palestine from an occupied territory to an internationally recognised state. For Palestine, the two central functions anticipated from the PA – providing both a vehicle to statehood and a means of institution building – have arguably failed. Instead of viewing the Authority as a vehicle towards statehood, many Palestinians see the PA as an arm of the occupation and an obstacle to resisting it.

This has fuelled a decline in Abbas’ popularity and, in turn, led to calls for the third intifada to be pitted against the PA. Abbas has explicitly defended this coordination, claiming it was “a Palestinian national interest.” He had earlier gone so far as to call it “sacred.”

Abbas has tirelessly pursued diplomatic means to bring an end to the decades long conflict. He no doubt believed that security cooperation would deem him a potential “peace partner” for Israel, which could lead to a long term peace agreement between the two sides. Such cooperation also sought to strengthen the image of Palestine in the eyes of the US and European donors and this image has been crucial in securing diplomatic successes such as the recognition of the State of Palestine by certain countries. The US and European countries also give millions of dollars in support every year, financial aid the PA desperately needs.

As Abba’s continued to maintain security co-operation with Israel as Gaza was bombed by its military over the summer, including going so far as to crush protests in the West Bank, Hamas was seen to resist the mighty military force of Israel with homemade projectiles. Journalist Jonathan Cook reported that Abba’s faced strong criticism from leading members of his Fatah party at a Central Committee meeting during this time regarding cooperation. According to the PA official, critics in Fatah fear that Abbas’ growing identification with the policy of security cooperation is harming the party politically and is strengthening Hamas.

Via security cooperation, Israel has contracted the PA to quell protests, crush Hamas supporters and make the status quo viable. For Abbas, this security co-operation secures diplomatic gains, donor funding and ultimately, his leadership. It is distancing himself further from the Palestinian people and even his own party, but this mutually beneficial relationship is unlikely to truly end.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.