Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cuts security ties with Israel over West Bank annexation plans

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was not sure “what to make of” Abbas’ announcement.
Image: Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a leadership meeting in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday. Alaa Badarneh / Reuters

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By Willem Marx and Lawahez Jabari

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has announced that security cooperation agreements between the Palestinians and Israel — with the U.S. as a guarantor — were now null and void in light of the looming threat of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.

Abbas, at a meeting in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday night, said that that “the State of Palestine” is “absolved,” as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones."

Under Israel's newly announced coalition government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to bring forward plans to annex parts of the West Bank for approval by the government and/or parliament from July 1, after consultations with his former rival, Benny Gantz, now deputy prime minister.

The occupied territory was captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, and Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered to be illegal by most of the international community.

Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon responded Wednesday to Abbas’ announcement by saying that Israel was trying to apply sovereignty in regions that have been approved by the Trump administration.

“Ending ties with Israel will ultimately hurt the Palestinians far more than it harms Israel," he added in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was not sure “what to make of” Abbas’ announcement.

“But I regret that he's decided to abrogate these agreements,” he told reporters.

It is not the first time that Abbas has said that the Palestinian Authority he has led for 15 years should exit existing international agreements in response to Israeli actions. But his repeated insistence that America was no longer an appropriate arbiter between the two sides comes after a series of U.S. decisions that have angered and disappointed the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at an overview of the Israeli settlement of Har Homa in February. Debbie Hill / Reuters file

The Trump administration, spearheaded by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has pushed a much-maligned peace proposal. Since then, some U.S. officials have offered qualified support for Israeli annexation plans.

A senior U.S. administration official told NBC News last month that Washington's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank was conditional on the Israeli government negotiating with the Palestinians along the lines set forth in Trump's peace plan.

Trump, who has embraced Netanyahu as one of his closest allies, has also moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and halted funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which has supported Palestinian refugees for decades. Washington has also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights.

And on April 27, Netanyahu said he was “confident” that the Trump administration would recognize Israeli sovereignty over parts of the occupied West Bank within months.

The issue could become a major factor in a foreign policy face-off between the two men competing in this year’s U.S. presidential election.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s apparent nominee in November, said on Tuesday that he would reverse the Trump administration’s actions in the region, arguing that the U.S. should restore diplomatic relationships with the Palestinian Authority.

Analysts said that the most significant near-term impact of the announcement from Abbas would be a potential end to security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and in particular intelligence sharing.

“The public demand has been there to cancel and remove security coordination for a very long time,” said Mustafa Barghouti, an activist who serves as the general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political movement against Israeli occupation. “We could be moving in the direction of a nonviolent uprising against the Israeli occupation.”

Dr. Bassem Naeem, a senior official of Hamas, a militant group that is the main political force inside the Gaza Strip and rival to the Palestinian Authority, said the decision represented “good steps in the right direction.”

He added, though, that Abbas had made similar statements in the past, and action was now needed, rather than just words.

“What’s happening today on the ground is very, very serious,” he said.

Willem Marx reported from London and Lawahez Jabari from Jerusalem.

Paul Goldman and Abigail Williams contributed.