Israel seeks to bypass PA, directly engage with Palestinians

After the Palestinian Authority announced its disengagement from the agreements with Israel, the latter has been working on opening direct communication channels with Palestinians, in an attempt to weaken the PA.

al-monitor A Palestinian looks at an Israeli border police officer at an Israeli checkpoint in Bethlehem, West Bank, June 8, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma.

يون 10, 2020

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel has been seeking to open direct communication channels with the Palestinians, in an attempt to weaken the decision of the Palestinian leadership, which President Mahmoud Abbas announced May 19, to disengage from all agreements with Israel, including the security and civil ties.

In this context, Israeli officials have created social media pages in Arabic, namely the Facebook page of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and that of the spokesman for the Israeli army, Avichay Adraee

Israel is also attempting to communicate with Palestinian citizens through Israeli civil administration offices. It is betting on the Palestinians’ need for its civil and basic living services, as a bridge to communicate with them and sometimes to put pressure or blackmail them. Those needs include work permits or special permits for medical treatment in Israel, or electricity services for residential compounds and villages.

In the framework of this policy, COGAT's coordinator Kamil Abu Rukun announced on his Facebook page May 29 that his office would welcome workers from the West Bank seeking work permits, as of May 31, instead of them having to go to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee that handled this task previously.

Following the announcement, thousands of Palestinians in Hebron headed to the COGAT offices June 2 to get their work permits.

However, some Palestinians launched an online social media campaign earlier to unfollow the coordinator on social media. The campaign, dubbed “It’s Me or the Coordinator,” received a wide response from thousands of Palestinians who unfollowed his page.

The coordinator’s page posts news and ads in Arabic, including the operation hours of the crossings and checkpoints, and the ways to receive entry permits to Israel for work or medical treatment. This reflects Israel’s interference in Palestinians’ lives and its control over their basic living situation.

A Palestinian government source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the Israeli authorities have started to communicate directly with some municipal councils to offer direct electricity and water services to Palestinians. The Israeli authorities are threatening whoever refuses to cooperate with blockade and deprivation of services, he added.

The source indicated that Israel wants to weaken the decision of the Palestinian leadership to withdraw from agreements with it by communicating directly with the Palestinians and showing that they do not respond to or abide by their leadership’s decisions. After Abbas’ decision to end all agreements signed with Israel and the United States, Beit Iksa village northwest of Jerusalem faced an intensified Israeli blockade, as its municipal council abided by the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) decision to halt coordination with Israel and refused to cooperate with Israeli forces at Ras Badou checkpoint leading to the village. The municipal council team would normally be present at the checkpoint to facilitate the entry of citizens, but following Abbas’ decision, it withdrew. Consequently, Israel forbade citizens from entering.

Head of Beit Iksa municipal council Saada al-Khatib told Al-Monitor, “After we left the checkpoint, the Israeli forces banned people from entering the town and prevented the entry of basic materials unless we returned to the checkpoint. It was a form of blackmail to force us to communicate directly with them, but we refused.”

He added, “The Israeli forces’ blockade on the town for the past few days stirred anger and objection from the 2,000 inhabitants of the village. We had to contact the Palestinian government to explain the situation, and it has allowed us to return to the checkpoint to facilitate the entry and exit of citizens since June 3.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli authorities directly handed some village councils — such as Fasayel and Zubeidat in the Jordan Valley — for the first time, financial requests for the cost of increasing the electric current on May 26.

Dozens of local councils and Palestinian institutions, meanwhile, have been voicing their refusal to communicate directly with Israel and their commitment to the PA’s decision. The Association of Palestinian Local Authorities announced in a May 31 press release that it “would not coordinate with Israel” stating that it stands by the PA’s decisions. The Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, the Union of Palestinian Industries and the Private Sector Coordinating Council shared the same opinion May 28.

The Palestinian leadership is well aware of the danger of the Israeli move to open direct communication channels with the Palestinians. This step would result in marginalization and neglect of the PA, and would bring back the powers and sovereignty of the Israeli civil administration over Palestinian areas.

Member of the PLO Executive Committee Wassel Abu Youssef told Al-Monitor that the PA is preparing itself for such scenarios and schemes. The PA realizes that Israel started to wage an open war against the Palestinians, following the decision to end all agreements. He noted that Israel is taking advantage of the Palestinians’ needs to open direct communication channels with them.

Abu Youssef noted that Israel’s measures were expected to prevent the PA from moving forward with its decision, but Israel will not succeed in imposing its conditions. He added that Israel has been seeking to create an alternative body to the PA through the civil and military administration to reimpose military rule on the Palestinians — but the Palestinians have expressed public refusal to deal directly with Israel.

Israel’s inclination to open direct communication channels with the Palestinians did not come as a surprise, as the Palestinians have experienced life under Israeli military rule and civil administration since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 until the PA creation as per the Oslo Accord in 1993. With Palestinians’ resistance to communicate directly with Israel, the latter might impose collective sanctions on certain villages refusing this move, such as depriving them of services or imposing a blockade.

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