Dramatic move would create security and diplomatic fallout for Israel; Bennett: ‘We won’t stop him’
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly threatened to dissolve the PA and disband Palestinian security forces operating in the West Bank if peace negotiations with Israel fail, a move which would create huge security and diplomatic problems for Israel.
According to Palestinian sources cited by Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, Abbas and top PA officials are considering the drastic move, which would involve cancelling the 1993 Oslo Accords and announcing that the Palestinian Authority is a “government under occupation” without full sovereignty, which would technically move full responsibility for the Palestinians, in the West Bank at least, to Israel.
The threat, which has reportedly been passed on to Israel, would also disband and abolish PA security forces operating in the West Bank, theoretically opening the way for expanded Palestinian unrest against Israeli forces. The move could also prompt a surge in international legal and diplomatic action against Israel.
Yedioth said a vote on the move is scheduled for a PLO meeting on Saturday, three days before the peace talks are currently scheduled to end.
The prospect of the PA’s dissolution was greeted with derision on Sunday by Economics Minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, who has been a vocal critic of the negotiations. As PA head, Abbas is “encouraging terrorism against Israel” with his threat, Bennett told Maariv.
“If he wants to go, we won’t stop him. Israel won’t conduct negotiations with a gun to our head,” he said.
The current round of US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are scheduled to end on April 29 after a nine-month negotiating period, and the two sides have been unable to come to an agreement to extend the talks. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said last week that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are striving to reach an agreement to extend their peace talks beyond the deadline.
However, officials in Jerusalem said Friday that no progress had been made in emergency talks that took place between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators the night before, and that the two sides would meet again this week after the Passover holiday.
Washington is pushing for an extension, but the negotiations hit an impasse two weeks ago when Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as agreed at last year’s launch of the talks.
Under the agreement, Israel had committed to a four-phase release of 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords, but it cancelled the release of the last group of 26 at the end of March. Among them are 14 Israeli Arabs who the Jewish state is refusing to free. It also wanted a prior commitment from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to extend the peace negotiations, which Abbas refused to make.
According to Israel Radio, the Palestinians are adamant in their demand that all 26 prisoners be released, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to concede on the issue of releasing the Israeli Arab terrorists. The head of the Shin Bet security service advised Netanyahu to release the 14 Israeli Arab prisoners in question and deport them to the Gaza Strip or abroad, the report said, but Netanyahu said he would not act in a way that may endanger Israeli citizens. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of Israeli MKs last week that he opposed any such deportation.
The Palestinians retaliated for the delay in the prisoner releases by seeking accession to several international treaties, a move Israel described as a “major breach” of understandings.
Abbas told the Israeli opposition MPs visiting him in the West Bank city of Ramallah last Wednesday that if talks were extended, he would want the first three months “devoted to a serious discussion of borders,” Haaretz reported.
The Palestinians want a state based on the lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War.