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Palestinian Authority resuming cooperation with Israel, Palestinian official says

Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs, Hussein Al-Sheikh
Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs, Hussein Al-Sheikh [File photo]

The Palestinian Authority will resume civil and security cooperation with Israel suspended in May over a now-frozen Israeli plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian minister said on Tuesday.

Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter that "the relationship with Israel will return to how it was" after President Mahmoud Abbas received confirmation that Israel remained committed to past agreements with the Palestinians.

Interim peace accords signed in the 1990s envisaged the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Suspending cooperation with Israel six months ago, the Palestinians said its annexation plans in the West Bank, territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war, would make a two-state solution impossible.

Renewed Israeli-Palestinian ties could open the way for the payment of some 3 billion shekels ($890 million) in tax transfers that Israel has been withholding from the Authority, whose economy has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Israel collects the levies on Palestinian imports that go through its ports.

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In a Zoom video conference organised by the Council on Foreign Relations, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the decision to resume contacts with Israel was based in part on confronting the health crisis.

Between the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank, and the tens of thousands of Palestinian workers who commute to Israel daily for work, coordination was needed to help prevent the virus's spread, Shtayyeh said.

"Our life is so interconnected between us and the Israelis, and there is no way that we can fight viruses by ourselves only," he said.

Palestinian sources said cooperation with Israel would resume immediately. An Israeli official said "we are very close" to renewing coordination, citing exchanges of messages between Israel's defence minister and Palestinian authorities.

"One thing that certainly helped the Palestinians (reach their decision) was (Joe) Biden's election (as US president), which gave them … an excuse to climb down from the tree," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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There was no immediate word on whether the Palestinians would resume contacts with the Trump administration that were severed in protest at what they viewed as a policy biased towards Israel.

But a deal establishing formal relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in August led to Israel suspending annexation moves, smoothing the way towards renewed contacts with Israel.

In Gaza, however, the ruling Islamist group Hamas condemned the rival West Bank-based Palestinian Authority's decision as a "stab against efforts to achieve a real national partnership".

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