Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a sweeping declaration on Thursday, announcing that he was “suspending all agreements” with Israel, effective Friday.
“We announce the leadership’s decision to stop implementing the agreements signed with the Israeli side,” Abbas said, following an emergency meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
Abbas’ decision was made in the wake of Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in PA-administered areas of the East Jerusalem town of Sur Bahir. The unprecedented nature of the demolitions sparked international controversy and backlash.
“We will not succumb to the dictates and the imposing of a fait accompli on the ground with brute force, specifically in Jerusalem,” he said, calling the demolitions a war crime and act of ethnic cleansing.
He went on to make a series of statements, including a rejection of American-led peace talks, and a call for renewing failed attempts at reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
As for the cessation of agreements with Israel, Abbas said that his leadership would “start laying out mechanisms” to implement his decision, starting on Friday.
“In light of the insistence of the occupation authority on the denial of all the signed agreements and their obligations, we declare the decision of the leadership to stop working by the agreements signed with the Israeli side,” he said.
Abbas said his decision would be effective Friday, but many Palestinians and critics of the PA aren’t holding their breath.
“His statements made headlines, but that’s all they are, headlines,” Ramallah-based lawyer and political analyst and Dianna Buttu told Mondoweiss.
A former advisor to Abbas in his capacity as PLO Chairman, Buttu described the president’s words as “meaningless.” And she wasn’t alone.
Palestinians took to social media to express their skepticism over Abbas’ statements, which they say he’s made countless times before, but never followed through.
“It’s that time of the year when Mahmoud Abbas says no more agreements with Israel. The result is always the same, security coordination, business deals, collaboration on the siege of #Gaza continues. But it makes a nice headline. #Palestine,” Palestinian-American writer and political commentator Mariam Barghouti tweeted.
It’s that time of the year when Mahmoud Abbas says no more agreements with Israel. The result is always the same, security coordination, business deals, collaboration on the siege of #Gaza continues. But it makes a nice headline. #Palestine https://t.co/N6TRbOWN2h
— مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) July 25, 2019
“Mariam was exactly right,” Buttu told Mondoweiss. “Abbas is all talk.”
Vague, tired, and empty threats
One of the major reason Palestinian activists and scholars are essentially rolling their eyes at Abbas’ grand claims on Thursday, analysts told Mondoweiss, is due to the vague and far-reaching nature of his statements.
Abbas said he would be “suspending all agreements,” but most people were left wondering: what does that actually mean?
“First of all, annulling all agreements with Israel is not possible,” Dr. Yara Hawari, a Palestinian academic and fellow at Al-Shabaka, told Mondoweiss.
Secondly, she noted, Abbas wasn’t at all clear about what agreements he was talking about.
“Was he talking about Oslo? About cancelling security coordination with Israel, the Paris protocols? Abbas has no interest in doing that,” Hawari said, calling his statements “ridiculous.”
Hawari said she didn’t believe that “anyone took his statements too seriously,” highlighting the irony of the fact that if he was really going to suspend or cancel all agreements with Israel, he would also be advocating for his own demise.
“If they annul all the agreements, what does that mean for the PA itself? The PA was established under the Oslo Accords. So if we were to take it to its full truths, that would mean the dismantlement of the PA.”
Both Hawari and Buttu agreed that Abbas “had to do something” in the wake of the Sur Bahir demolitions, as it was a clear violation of the PA’s “authority.”
But his way of “doing something,” they say, is just a repetition of his “same old” empty threats.
“By saying he’s going to suspend all agreements, does he really mean that?” Buttu asked, highlighting the fact that most of the agreements between the two parties are within the framework of Israel “giving” benefits to the PA.
“Things like water allocation, things like PA-designated control in Areas A and B, things like the issuance of passports. These are all things that the occupier are currently ‘gives’ to the occupied. Is he willing to sacrifice those things? I don’t think so,” Buttu said.
One of the few things that the PA “gives” to Israel and can leverage, she said, is its security coordination with Israeli authorities.
“If Abu Mazen is saying that he’s going to cut off security collaboration, the question I’m left with, is are you serious about it?,” Buttu asked. “In all the times he’s talked about it before, he’s actually never affected it.”
At the end of the day, no matter how many scathing statements or threats come out of Abbas’ mouth, the same problem remains.
“He’s never clear,” Buttu said. “All he’s ever said is that he’s going to suspend the agreements, but he never lays out what the next steps are going to be. His statements need to be followed by actions, and he never does that.”
‘If you want to kill something, form a committee’
Abbas’ idea of the “next step” in the suspension process, as he said in his speech on Thursday, was, to form a committee to discuss possible plans of action.
“We declare the decision of the leadership to stop working by the agreements signed with the Israeli side and start laying out mechanisms – starting tomorrow – to establish a committee to implement this in accordance with the decisions of the Palestinian Central Council,” he said at the conclusion of his speech.
Palestinian activist and Director of the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights Nidal al-Azza told Mondoweiss that Abbas’ idea to form a committee was one of the biggest red flags, and tell-tale signs that he doesn’t intend on taking real action to support his statements.
In addition to not specifying which agreements he intended to suspend, the actual implementation of Abbas’ ambiguous decision, al-Azza said, is contingent upon “this unknown committee.”
“[The committee] has no time frame and no specific mandate,” al-Azza noted. “We do not know if such a committee has an obligatory power or just the power to recommend to the Palestinian leadership.”
Both Hawari and Buttu laughed at the fact that Abbas’ first plan of action was to form a committee.
“How long is that implementations committee supposed to take?” Hawari asked. “Abbas has formed a lot of committees that were supposed to accomplish a lot of things. It doesnt have any real meaning.”
Referencing a common saying in Arabic, Buttu told Mondoweiss “If you want to kill an issue, form a committee.”
“That’s what he’s doing. He wants to show outrage without taking any concrete action,” she said.
“Instead of saying ‘Oslo is over’ and trying to find another way to remove this yoke around our necks, instead of signing onto BDS, trying to disentangle the Palestinian economy from Israel’s, really pushing for accountability,” Buttu said, “Abbas chose to form a committee.”
“It’s all petty tactics in the same game.”