Analysis: Abbas’ security doubletalk

It is far from lost on the PA that security coordination with Israel is what stands between a very hungry Hamas and Abbas served up on toast for breakfast.

By: Bassam Tawil/The Gatestone Institute

The conflicting reports emerging from Ramallah concerning security coordination with Israel serve as yet another reminder of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders’ astounding hypocrisy.

Israel, for its part, has brushed aside reports about a suspension of the security coordination with the PA as yet another Abbas gimmick.

It is far from lost on Mahmoud Abbas and his PA that such security coordination is what stands between a very hungry Hamas and Abbas served up on toast for breakfast.

In the past, Abbas has rightly and reasonably described security coordination with Israel as “sacred,” saying he will never succumb to pressure from Hamas and many Palestinians to stop working with Israel in the West Bank.

“I wish to say this openly – security coordination (with Israel) is sacred and will continue regardless of our political differences,” Abbas declared in 2014.

Abbas’s statement came amid reports that Israeli intelligence had thwarted a Hamas assassination plot against him in 2014.

Security coordination is indeed sacred for the PA president — not to mention his family members and senior officials, who without such cooperation would also be dead, imprisoned or forced into exile. Abbas has yet to recover from the nightmare of 2007, when Hamas brought about the collapse of his PA and violently seized control over the Gaza Strip. The last thing Abbas wants is a recurrence of that horrific scenario; thousands of his police officers and Fatah loyalists were severely humiliated, with many either lynched in public, thrown off the high floors of buildings, imprisoned, or forced either to surrender or flee to Israel and Egypt.

The latest fiasco pertaining to the issue of security coordination with Israel began on July 21, when Abbas announced his decision to “freeze contacts with the occupation state (Israel) on all levels.” Abbas’s announcement came during a meeting of Palestinian leaders in Ramallah to discuss the crisis surrounding Israel’s decision to install metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This decision came in response to a shooting attack on July 14 carried out by three Arab Israelis that resulted in the murder of two Israeli police officers.

Abbas’s announcement did not refer specifically to security coordination with Israel. Palestinian officials in Ramallah later explained that the decision to “freeze contacts with Israel on all levels” did not include security coordination between the two sides, which they said was continuing as usual and was necessary and vital.

Then came the backlash, with Palestinians roasting Abbas for maintaining security coordination with Israel. Palestinians perturbed by metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount have also been chanting slogans against Abbas, accusing him of “collusion” with Israel and failing to support their campaign to have the metal detectors removed.

Social media has also not been silent. Many Palestinians and Arabs have been denouncing Abbas as a pawn in the hands of Israel and the US and demanding that he halt security coordination and all forms of cooperation with Israel.

Palestinians Calling Abbas’ Bluff

In an attempt to contain the raging resentment on the Palestinian street, Abbas’s aides later clarified that he has instructed his security commanders to stop talking to their Israeli counterparts in protest against the installation of the metal detectors. The aides hinted that despite the instruction, security coordination on the ground level will continue between the two sides because the decision only referred to contacts on a high level.

Many Palestinians, however, are calling Abbas’ bluff.

As pressure on Abbas intensified, he sent his intelligence chief, Majed Faraj, to inform an Israeli journalist closely associated with the PA that Abbas has instructed him and other security chiefs to stop talking to their Israeli counterparts.

Faraj’s message was directed to the Israeli public with the goal of pressuring the Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cave in to Palestinian threats and remove the metal detectors. This is why Faraj chose an Israeli journalist who is known to be sympathetic to Abbas and the PA leadership. Faraj and his boss – Abbas – wanted to scare the Israeli public and turn them against Netanyahu by telling them that Palestinians will stop security coordination with Israel unless the metal detectors are removed, which the Israeli government agreed to do on the night of July 24.

One wonders when the Palestinian Authority will upgrade its scare tactics: they have used this one for decades to frighten the Israeli public.

The best evidence that Abbas is continuing to bluff everyone regarding security coordination with Israel is what happened in March 2015, when the PLO Central Committee, a key decision-making body headed by Abbas, voted in favor of suspending security coordination with Israel. Not only was this decision never implemented, in fact security coordination between the Palestinians and Israel has since grown stronger as the two sides face a common enemy in the West Bank called Hamas.

Abbas is still playing his old game: Terrified of the raging Palestinian street, he released a terse statement on July 23 claiming that the decision to suspend contacts with Israel does indeed include security coordination. This latest statement, however, flies in the face of assertions by Israel and some Palestinian officials that suggest the exact opposite. Israeli security officials have scoffed at Abbas’s decision, calling it symbolic and saying that security coordination is continuing by telephone.

So who is taking Abbas’s threats to suspend security cooperation with Israel seriously? Not Israel, not the Americans, and certainly not many Palestinians. Abbas is caught between two bad places, both of his very own making. On the one hand, he knows that security cooperation with Israel is his only insurance policy to remain in power and alive. On the other hand, Abbas is acutely aware of his status among many Palestinians, who would be more than happy to replace him with someone more… to their taste.

Abbas lives in a demonic Wonderland. Out of one side of his mouth he claimed a desire for a peaceful solution to the metal detectors crisis, and out of the other side, he egged his people on to murder more and more Israelis. As it turns out, whether security coordination is “sacred” or “suspended,” Abbas is in it for one person only: himself.

Bassam Tawil is an Arab Muslim based in the Middle East.