First Published: 2018-01-16

Palestinian suspension of Israel recognition unlikely for now
Risk of international criticism, practical concerns mean Palestinians are unlikely to follow through on call to suspend recognition of Israel soon.
Middle East Online

"If we stop recognising them, we should stop dealing with them in all aspects, security and civilian."

RAMALLAH - A call by Palestinian leaders to suspend recognition of Israel in response to US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital could have major implications but is unlikely to be implemented for now, analysts said.

The vote late on Monday could be another devastating blow to the so-called peace process -- long on life support -- although the Palestinians argue US President Donald Trump and Israel have already effectively ended it.

Still, the risk of international criticism and practical concerns means the Palestinians are unlikely to follow through on the call to suspend recognition soon, analysts said.

"If we stop recognising them, we should stop dealing with them in all aspects, security and civilian," Ghassan Khatib, an analyst and former Palestinian minister, said.

"That is not practically possible given the extensive interaction and dependency, so I don't think there is going to be an implementation to this."

The vote was by the Palestinian Central Council, one of the key institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in a meeting on Sunday and Monday called to discuss Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The vote ordered the PLO Executive Committee to suspend recognition of Israel until it recognises the state of Palestine and reverses its building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The PLO is considered the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people by the international community and formalised its recognition of Israel in 1993.

- Oslo 'finished'? -

The council meeting was the latest attempt by the Palestinian leadership to formulate a response to Trump's policies following his December 6 Jerusalem declaration.

The council also backed president Mahmud Abbas's comments that the Oslo agreements of the 1990s, the basis of Palestinian relations with Israel, were "finished".

Abbas said on Sunday that Israel had ended the accords through its actions, referring to activities seen as eroding the possibility of a two-state solution such as persistent settlement expansion.

He also called Trump's peace efforts the "slap of the century."

Eighty-seven of the council's 109 members attended for the vote, with the vast majority, including Abbas, voting in favour of suspending recognition.

But previous decisions by the PCC have not been implemented, notably a 2015 vote calling for suspending security coordination with Israel.

There is no date set for a meeting of the PLO Executive Committee, at which the suspension could be confirmed.

Israel did not immediately respond to the vote, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Abbas had "torn off" his "mask" as a supposed moderate in his speech on Sunday.

Following Monday's vote, Abbas set off on a trip to Jordan, Egypt and the European Union's headquarters in Brussels in which he is expected to seek support for a change of strategy.

- 'Not talks and words' -

The council meeting was part of Abbas's attempt to seek an alternative strategy to achieve an independent Palestinian state following the collapse in relations with the United States.

The longtime leader, now 82, has been through a series of failed US-brokered peace negotiations, but Trump's December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital deeply angered the Palestinians.

The Palestinians see the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state, and Abbas froze ties with Trump's administration following the announcement.

Abbas has said the United States can no longer be the mediator in peace talks with Israel, calling instead for internationally-led negotiations. The PCC backed him in his call.

Trump has also threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid to the Palestinians, including through the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Jihad Harb, a West Bank-based political analyst, said that while most Palestinians would support the central council's recommendation "it will take a long time to implement it."

"The people are waiting for implementation, not talks and words."

Abbas's term of office expired in 2009 but elections have not been held since due to Palestinian political infighting.

Polls indicate around 70 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, with criticism of his policy of negotiations with Israel rife.

Israeli analysts, too, were sceptical whether the announcement would lead to much.

Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador and negotiator, said the Palestinians needed coordination with Israel for survival.

Israel occupies the West Bank and controls the borders with Jordan, making travel outside their headquarters in Ramallah near impossible for Abbas and other officials without Israeli cooperation.

"Israel or others are going to say: 'If you no longer recognise us, it's a mutual thing -- you are no longer recognised as the leadership for the Palestinians.'"

Diana Buttu, a former aide to Abbas and now prominent critic, said few new ideas had been floated, pointing to the advanced age of the delegates as evidence of the lack of new thinking.

"You can't lead a revolutionary movement with people at retirement age," she said.


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