Palestinian leaders decided Thursday night they will “end all forms of security coordination with Israel,” a much-criticized practice of shared policing across the West Bank and a staple of Israeli-Palestinian relations over the last two decades. The announcement included one loophole that would allow Israel to salvage the security arrangement, a signal that the Palestinian leaders could be seeking to leverage Israel’s security concerns in order to get funds due to the Palestinian Authority that Israel has frozen.
In their statement, Palestinian leaders left open the possibility that security coordination could continue so long as Israel enforces all “signed agreements” with the Palestinians. Moreover, ending security coordination would not go into effect until at least three months from now, said Xavier Abu Eid, spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Palestinian leaders say Israel is in breach of the Oslo accords for withholding their import/export revenues, over $300 million since January. Israel froze the funds after the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), where they can charge Israel with war crimes.
For two decades, the security coordination has been a cornerstone of maintaining peace talks with Israel. Without these arrangements, the Palestinians could be inviting the Israeli army to re-occupy major Palestinian cities, though the leadership’s hope is that will not happen and ending security coordination will force Israel to make a firm decision on supporting an independent Palestinian state. The logic is, if Palestinian security forces refuse to cooperate with Israel and do not keep a lid on protests against the Israeli military and settlements, Israel must either accept the upheaval that Palestinian police have kept at bay or bring soldiers into the heart of the West Bank. The result could well be the start of a new Palestinian uprising, or Intifada.
Originally security coordination was considered a step in the transfer of power from Israel to the Palestinians. The slow withdrawal of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank would be accompanied by the increased presence of Palestinian security forces, trained by the U.S. and Britain, who would take over everything from traffic enforcement to preventing violent attacks against the Israeli military and civilians. The first stage was to deploy Palestinian forces to the cities, then the villages. The last step that never came to pass would see Palestinian armed troops guarding rural lands, as Israeli soldiers departed the West Bank permanently.
Breaking from the American negotiating framework
The decision to end security coordination was made in a meeting of the West Bank’s highest lawmaking body, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Central Committee. Over the past decade this body of 124 representatives has de facto become the Palestinian legislative branch, as the official group is now defunct.
While the Palestinians did not set any specific terms for precisely how they will change their relationship with Israel, in the past leaders have hinted there are plans waiting in the drawer. A source in the Palestinian government told Mondoweiss that “before the decision was taken some governments contacted us to put pressure” on preventing the move, and indicated that the United States was one of those countries.
For West Bank Palestinians, security coordination is increasingly unpopular, as many feel the arrangement assists the Israeli military in control over the occupied territory. Palestinians often refer to it as a second occupation underneath Israel’s hand. Cutting ties with Israeli security forces was thought to be a last line of defense for the Palestinian government to secure a state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees based on United Nations resolutions.
The crux of the agreement is about Palestinian self-rule. Under the doctrine of security coordination Israeli forces cannot enter Area A of the West Bank, Palestinian urban centers. In exchange, Palestinian police will prevent its own population’s resistance movements and militias from reaching Israeli forces, as well as maintain general order and law. Israel has long been in noncompliance. Every week soldiers cascade from army bases across the West Bank to urban centers and refugee camps, outside of their Oslo-delineated areas of operation.
Palestinians feel that they never received the limited sovereignty promised to them for participating in security coordination. They think Israel alone has benefited from deal. Still security coordination has stood firm, despite increased tensions at the United Nations and the summer war in Gaza. As recently as last spring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had praised security coordination as “sacred,” when speaking to a group of 300 Israelis at the Muqata, the seat of government outside of Ramallah.
In addition to ending security coordination, the Palestinian leaders also announced they will join more international conventions and treaties, crossing yet another red line for Israel. In a statement released yesterday, the PLO made other moves: a renewed focus on preserving historical and religious sites in East Jerusalem in preparation for the city becoming a future capital of a Palestinian state, boycotts of Israeli goods, and the assumption of control over Hamas-run crossings into Gaza. The Palestinian leaders added in their statement that they “reject the jewishness [sic] of the Israeli state and the state with temporary borders” and reject all formulas that will keep Israeli military and settlements “on any part of the land of Palestine.” These are two points Israel sought to gain in the last round of negotiations brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry.
The PLO also accepted the Palestine National Initiative, a political party headed by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti associated with the non-violent protest movement, into the government.
Moreover, the PLO set new limitations to future resolutions brought before the Security Council. The new regulations state if the Palestinians return to the United Nations, a resolution must uphold “international decisions on the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as well as a time limit for ending the Israeli occupation.”
Last December Palestine’s Arab partner sitting on the Security Council, Jordan, proposed a resolution to end Israel’s occupation by a specific deadline. The U.S. was harshly critical and voted against it. The resolution did not pass. Ambassador Samantha Power said she could not support “unconstructive deadlines that take no account of Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”
The PLO then said any new Security Council resolutions should be a product of an “international conference,” attended by Security Council members, an Arab committee, and BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The aim of this recommendation, and of balking at the U.S.’s red line on setting a timetable, is to shift the weight of future resolutions on Middle East peace away from the five permanent members of the Security Council. The Palestinians want to move their cause into the purview of the broader international community, where a higher percentage of countries are favorable to setting deadlines for Israel to end the occupation.