Is Abbas really halting contacts with Israel?

Demonstrators hold a banner reading ‘Condemn the aggression in Al-Aqsa and the occupation of all Palestine’ during a protest against Israel’s violations on Al-Aqsa Mosque on 22 July 2017

By Motasem A Dalloul

The President of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, declared a freeze on Friday on all contacts with Israel. His move was in protest at the latest measures taken by Israel at the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa, including the installation of metal detectors at the gates of the holy site.

“Relations will be frozen at all levels until Israel commits itself to cancelling all its steps against the Palestinian people as a whole and against the city of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in particular, and to preserving the historical and legal situation in Al-Aqsa,” Abbas said in a press release.

The PA leader has taken similar steps on several occasions. In response to Israeli aggression against the Palestinians in March 2008, for example, during which seven people were killed in Gaza, he announced the suspension of all contacts, including negotiations, with the Israeli authorities. That did not have any real impact on the ground as PA security cooperation and secret meetings with the Israelis continued. The announcement to suspend talks on 27 October, 2009, which followed Israel’s killing of more than 100 Palestinians in Gaza, was proof that contacts were going on despite the earlier declared suspension.

Prominent Palestinian political analysts in the occupied West Bank have given their views on whether or not Abbas is really halting contacts with the Israeli authorities. Is he serious this time?

Read: Day of Rage at Al-Aqsa Mosque

“Let’s see, but I doubt it,” said the Professor of Political Sciences at Al-Najah Univeristy, Abdul Sattar Qasim. He recalled last year’s announcement by Abbas during a UN speech: “He said then that if Israel does not commit to his preconditions to resume the peace talks, he would cut all contacts with it. Israel did not commit and Abbas did not cut contacts.”

If Abbas did suspend contacts, added Qasim, Israel would take punishing measures against him and the West Bank. “Security cooperation between Abbas’ PA and Israel is the reason why the PA was created,” he explained.

Analyst Samer Anbatawi is also doubtful about Abbas’s declaration: “I hope he implements what he says, but he does not dare to do that.” He noted that Abbas declared a “freeze” on contacts not suspension. “It means that his declaration is limited to a certain time, which is while the Israelis have metal detectors at Al-Aqsa; when they move them, he will resume contacts.”

According to Qasim, stopping contacts with Israel requires practical measures on the ground. “If he wants to prove that he has really stopped contacts with Israel, he has to introduce a law that criminalises such contacts,” he suggested. “He has to cancel Oslo and quit [the political arena] and let the Palestinians officially go back to resistance. He is not a fighter, so he has to cancel Oslo and quit.” The professor believes that the protests against the Israeli measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque will achieve their goals as long as there is political cover and increasing popular involvement.

Read: Israeli restrictions at Al-Aqsa unacceptable

Anbatawi argued that Abbas cannot suspend contacts with the Israeli occupation authorities because he has no alternatives. “He has only ever had one option – negotiations — and they have failed,” he pointed out. However, he said that Abbas can do something to prove that he is serious: “He can go back to the Palestinian people. He can go back to his people and unite the Palestinians and then he will become strong and able to confront the Israeli measures in Jerusalem and elsewhere.”

The Israeli occupation authorities, concluded Anbatawi, face a dilemma, with the internal security agency, Shin Bet, searching for an alternative to the metal detectors. “They do not want to keep the situation as it is,” he said, “because any flare-up in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque heats up the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims everywhere.”

(Source / 24.07.2017)

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