Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 19, 2020
(photo credit: ALAA BADARNEH/POOL VIA REUTERS)
The PLO’s members didn’t pack their things and head back to Tunis on Wednesday, the morning after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that they had voided all agreements with Israel and the US – including the Oslo Accords that brought the PLO out of exile – in response to the possibility that Israel may annex parts of the West Bank.
More importantly, the PA didn’t stop coordinating with the IDF on security matters, despite Abbas specifically mentioning those agreements as ones that are no longer valid.
Abbas has made this threat so many times in recent years that he’s a bit like “The Boy who Cried Wolf.”
Meanwhile, in Israel, there was plenty of noise in the media from activists and analysts decrying the security risks of no longer coordinating with the PA, but government officials maintained radio silence.
Everyone from the Prime Minister’s Office to the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee declined to comment.
Even MK Naftali Bennett, who was defense minister until a few days ago, pled the fifth.
And the reasoning behind that non-response is simple: The boy may be crying wolf, but no one wants to goad an actual wolf into showing up.
The possible collapse of the PA has long been a scenario of much concern for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the security establishment, whether it is due to the octogenarian Abbas dying, or the PA running out of money, or an initiative like the one Abbas announced yet again this week.
It’s true that there are many things about the PA that are not ideal for Israel, to put it lightly. The constant incitement in their official media and textbooks, naming town squares and schools after people who murdered Israelis, and their monthly salaries to terrorists and their families should not be ignored.
But the PA is also a source of stability, relative to the alternatives. They coordinate security with the IDF on a near-daily basis. They are also a major employer of Palestinians, and Israeli leaders have long believed in the theory that a better quality of life for Palestinians leads to less violence, because they have less to lose.
We saw the importance Netanyahu places on keeping the PA afloat earlier this month, when he supported the Finance Ministry in providing a loan of NIS 800 million in light of an economic downturn during the coronavirus crisis.
The loan – which, experience teaches us the PA is unlikely to pay back – more than offsets the tax and tariff funds Israel deducted following the passage of the “Pay for Slay Law” in 2019, by which Israel freezes the amount of money the PA pays terrorists and their families each month. As such, it renders Israel’s strategy to disincentivize the PA from paying people who kill and maim Israelis virtually ineffective.
And the reasoning is that an unstable PA is bad for Israel.
It’s worth pointing out that Abbas’ threats, as well as EU states’ threats of sanctions, are based on something that hasn’t happened yet, and no one really knows what annexation will take if it does happen.
Still, Abbas has threatened to withdraw from agreements with Israel at every step of the way towards the Trump peace plan, which would allow Israel to apply its law to about 30% of the West Bank while reserving the rest for a Palestinian state, and beyond.
Netanyahu knows that, and he has still marched forward, declaring his intention to annex the settlements and the Jordan Valley as soon as possible – which really means as soon as the US gives the green light.
This may seem like it totally contradicts his actions to help the PA in its economic crisis, but annexation is its own form of stability, to those who advocate for it. It would delineate actual borders between Israel and the PA. And moving forward with the Trump plan – if the Palestinians change course and agree to it – would then give the Palestinians a state of their own, albeit a demilitarized one.
And, at the end of the day, Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel, not of the Palestinians, so he needs to do what he views is best for his country.
So Abbas’ latest cries of “wolf, wolf” don’t seem likely to change much in Israel.