The contacts with Israel, and especially the security coordination with it, are the topic of an ongoing internal debate within Palestinian political circles and among the Palestinian public. Calls for ending the security coordination and severing the ties with Israel are heard from time to time from officials in the various Palestinian factions within the PLO.
The debate on the security coordination reached a turning point on March 3, 2015, when the PLO Central Council resolved to "end all forms of security coordination with the Israeli occupation authorities," on the grounds that Israel was not complying with agreements it had signed with the Palestinians. Following this decision by the Central Council, calls were heard to implement it in practice, including from prominent Fatah members such as Marwan Al-Barghouti, 'Abbas Zaki and Tawfiq Al-Tirawi. However, Fatah movement chairman Mahmoud 'Abbas, who is also president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and chairman of the PLO Executive Committee, refrained from taking any action to stop the security coordination, and even clarified that it continues as usual. As the largest faction in the PLO, it is Fatah that determines the policy of the movement as a whole. Hence, in the absence of any action to implement the Central Council's decision by either the Fatah leadership or the PA (which is Palestinian executive authority), the Central Council's decision remained effectively meaningless.
Recently, the PLO Executive Committee also announced that it decided, in its May 4, 2016 session, "to immediately begin implementing the Palestinian Central Council's decisions regarding limiting the political, economic and security relations with the occupation authorities [i.e., Israel]," and this due to "Israel's disregard of signed agreements and its insistence on destroying the two-state solution."
The PLO Executive Committee's decision apparently reflects a change in Fatah's policy that was decided upon in a meeting of the Fatah Central Committee on May 2, 2016. According to Fatah official Saeb Erekat, who is also the PLO secretary-general, in this meeting the Fatah Central Committee decided to advise the PLO Executive Committee to implement the PLO Central Council's decision from March 2015 by ordering to end the economic and security ties with Israel. Erekat explained that the Fatah Central Committee's decision was a response to measures recently taken by Israel that threatened the vision of an independent Palestinian state - including Israel's rejection in April of the French initiative for convening an international conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; Israel's refusal to refrain from entering Area A territories, an well as reported initiatives by Israeli politicians to apply Israeli law in some Area C territories.
Mahmoud 'Abbas, who has so far pursued a policy of continuing the security coordination, refrained from commenting on the Executive Committee's decision, except in a speech on the occasion of Nakba Day, in which he implied that the decision would be implemented if Israel failed to comply with signed agreements. He said that the Palestinian leadership would continue "to implement the directives of the PLO Executive Committee to limit relations with Israel in accordance with [Israel's] degree of commitment to the signed agreements." Another PA official that commented on the decision was the head of the Palestinian national accord government, Rami Al-Hamdallah, who said on May 16, 2016 that "the PLO's decision requires establishing mechanisms for implementing it in practice, and therefore the security coordination with Israel still continues."
The Executive Committee's decision to limit the relations with Israel sparked a heated debate in Palestinian society, with many figures calling to implement the decision and others speaking against it. An unusually harsh response came from the former mayor of Nablus, Fatah member Ghassan Al-Shak'a, who is himself a member of the PLO Executive Committee. He argued that it is neither possible nor desirable to sever the economic and security relations with Israel, since such a move would adversely affect the lives of the Palestinian people. Palestinian National Council (PNC) member Faisal Abu Khadra, and another Palestinian official who declined to identify himself, likewise criticized the decision, saying it was unrealistic. Talal 'Okal, a columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, wrote that even the Palestinians do not believe that the decision can be implemented, and therefore Israel certainly can't be expected to believe it.
This criticism of the decision, and especially Al-Shak'a's statements, sparked counter-criticism from people who called to implement the decision and rebuked Al-Sha'ka for his position and the PA for refraining from actualizing it.
The following are translated excerpts from some of the critical responses to the Executive Committee's decision, and from some of the counter-criticism published in the Palestinian media in response to Al-Shaq'a's statements.
The PLO Executive Committee (image: alray.ps)
Criticism Of PLO Executive Committee's Decision: It Is "Neither Feasible Nor Desirable"
Former Nablus Mayor Ghassan Al-Shak'a: The Security Coordination Serves The Palestinian Interest
As stated, the Executive Committee's decision sparked unusually harsh criticism from former Nablus mayor and Executive Committee member Ghassan Al-Shak'a. He said that the Central Council's decision had been taken by members who were out of touch with the day-to-day reality in the Palestinian territories and who had acted out of emotion. He explained that the Palestinian economy is completely dependent on Israel and that the security coordination with Israel serves Palestinian interests. Hence, he said, it is neither feasible nor desirable to sever the economic and security relations with Israel. Al-Shaq'a added that, since the negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships have failed, dialogue should start at the level of the people and only later expand to involve the leaders.
Al-Shaq'a's statements were published on local news websites, such as the Nablus city website Nablus Live, as well as on the Kofia Press website, which is associated with 'Abbas's rival, former Fatah official Muhammad Dahlan.
Al-Shaq'a was quoted as saying: "The decision taken by the Palestinian Central Council in its latest session [on March 2015], namely that relations with Israel must be severed, was an emotional decision, since most of the Central Council members came from abroad, from Chile, Romania, Australia, America and other countries, and their view of the Palestinian issue is more emotional than it is practical and realistic - unlike [the view taken by] us, the members [who live] inside Palestine... [True,] the job of the PLO Executive Committee is to implement the Central Council's decision, and not to reject it, accept it or vote on it, but in our last session we [nevertheless] expressed our reservations regarding it and our opinion about it...
"[I maintain that] we kid ourselves when we say we are able to boycott Israel or sever our relations with it, especially in the two domains of security and economy, which are fundamental to the lives of the Palestinian people and the residents of the occupied West Bank... [If we sever these relations] how can we bring fuel and flour [into our territories] and how can we keep the power running, etc.? Israel controls us on land, in the sea and in the air. If we decided, hypothetically, to sever our economic relations with Israel and cancel the Paris Protocol on economic [relations], could we actually live without them? That is the question we must put to those who demand day and night to end the economic and security coordination and to sever the relations with Israel...
"When Israel wants to enter a village, city or refugee camp, it does not care whether they are in area A, B or C, because we have no sovereignty over the land, with or without security coordination. Security coordination serves our interest. If the PA wants to launch a security campaign to enforce law and order, as it did in Nablus when it brought in 1,500 security officers [from all over the West Bank] - would it be able to do this without security coordination with Israel? Of course not. [Furthermore,] there are 1,000 individuals wanted [by Israel] who are [held] in bases of the [Palestinian] security apparatuses throughout the West Bank. If we suspend the security coordination, Israel will surely arrest them immediately, and that will be to the detriment of our young people...
"In deciding to sever relations with Israel, we in the Central Council and the Executive Committee went too far, because as a leadership, government and authority we are unable to implement such decisions at this stage. [Implementing them] will harm our people, their [daily] lives and their interests, and we do not want to make things even harder for them [than they already are]...
"The alternative is negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis that will begin at the bottom, at the level of the people, [and only later involve] the leadership. The other kind of negotiations [i.e., negotiations between the leaderships] failed in the past because the people did not believe in them... I am against bilateral meetings and negotiations [between the leaders] because they will ultimately fail..."
Palestinian Official, PNC Member: The Decision To End Security Coordination Is Unfeasible
Criticism of the PLO Executive Committee's decision was also expressed by other elements. A Palestinian official who declined to identify himself told the London-based Al-Hayat daily, "The PA is incapable, at this stage, of stopping the security coordination with Israel." He assessed that the scope of the security coordination would be reduced, but that it would not be stopped altogether.
Palestinian National Council member Faisal Abu Khadra, who writes for the Al-Quds daily, called the Executive Committee's decision unrealistic, said it shouldn't be implemented, and called for going back to the outlines of the Oslo Accords. He said: "With all due respect for the Central Committee's decision to end security coordination, it is a complete mistake, because the Palestinian police strength does not compare to that of the occupying army - and, furthermore, ending the security coordination would mean ending the Oslo Accords, which constitute the only agreement that recognized the PLO. This [agreement] is an accomplishment that cannot be denied, and Israel longs for the implementation of this decision [stopping security coordination] so that it can cancel the Oslo Accords. In light of the Palestinian schism, the Arab schism, and the Arab Spring that destroyed everything that was built over seven decades, we have no choice but to implement the Oslo Accords..."
Columnist For PA Daily: The Executive Committee's Decision Is Inappropriate In Light Of The Difficult Situation Of The Palestinian People
Talal 'Okal, a columnist for the PA Al-Ayyam daily, also criticized the Executive Committee's decision, stating that it was inappropriate in light of the difficult situation of the Palestinians, and adding that Israel cannot be expected to believe in the decision because the Palestinians themselves do not believe in it. He wrote: "Personally, I don't know how it is possible to make decisions that are so important and grave while the Palestinian situation continues as it is. As far as I'm concerned, despite the danger in the PA's continuing to act in accordance with what is set out for it in the Oslo Accords, I don't think that a change in this situation [i.e. ending security coordination with Israel] will be right, in light of the tragic and difficult situation of the Palestinians today...
"The question is, how is it possible for the Palestinian leadership to escalate the conflict [by means of stopping the security coordination] while the Palestinian fortress is weak, fragile, and conflicted at home, and the schism within it is harming it so severely?
"Whoever decides to escalate the conflict must [first] restore national unity and national decision-making unity; he must rebuild the Palestinian leadership institutions, from the PLO to the PA, and must regain the trust in Palestinian society, that is always suffering from being ignored and marginalized. Whoever decides to escalate the conflict must allow the power of the intifada to be realized, as a popular, peaceful intifada against the occupation, and must do so within an inclusive national strategy agreed upon by the entire national [public]...
"The truth is that if we, the national Palestinians, do not believe [in the PLO Executive Committee's decision], then how can we expect the occupation to believe what it hears, while [on the ground] it sees things that contradict [this]?"
Reactions To Al-Shak'a's Statements By PA Elements And Palestinian Public Figures
As noted, criticism of the PLO Executive Committee's decision, and particularly the statements of Ghassan Al-Shak'a, sparked counter-reactions from the Palestinian media and public. In the media, this came from three main elements: a) supporters of 'Abbas and the PA who defended the decision as a political choice by the Palestinian leadership; b) Palestinian elements identified with Fatah who advocate stopping security coordination with Israel and were overjoyed at the Executive Committee's decision; and c) Hamas elements, which also want an end to security coordination and which seized on Al-Shak'a's statements as an opportunity to criticize PA policy.
Additionally, Al-Shak'a statements about the Executive Committee decision were met with mixed responses across social media. For example, the Facebook page of the Nablus local news website (Facebook.com/NablusCity) published comments taking issue with his statements. While many Palestinian readers supported Al-Shak'a, saying that he had made "realistic statements that are far from imaginary" and are "logical and convincing," many others objected to what he had said and attacked him personally, posting comments such as "Negotiations always lead to a dead end. We need a real and honorable intifada. The homeland needs sacrifice."
Columnist For PA Daily: The Executive Committee's Decision Was A Bold Step, Criticism Of It Is Objection For Its Own Sake
In his column in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, 'Omar Al-Ghoul, who was an advisor to former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, justified the Executive Committee decision, saying that the criticism of it was unfounded. He said that all the Israeli government operations and statements by its ministers indicated that "the Israeli leadership is not interested at all in opening any window to the option of a political arrangement. Therefore, the [Palestinian] leadership, headed by President 'Abbas, must implement the Executive Committee's decision, and limit political, economic, and security relations with the Israeli state [which] reneges [on agreements]. True, every Palestinian knows in advance that this decision will bring the opposite result [that is, negative consequences] to the Palestinian people, particularly since the coordination has not been limited only to security coordination but includes all aspects of Palestinian life. [But it was the actions of Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu and his extremist ruling coalition... that brought the Palestinian leadership to take this bold step. Yes, [this decision is] bold, because of the dangerous and difficult consequences that it will have, that will harm all the Palestinians no matter what their political, social, economic, religious, and cultural status. But this step is [also] bold because it will hurt the Israeli side, that never for a moment thought that the Palestinian leadership would dare to take it.
"The Palestinian leadership will express its skill with its ability to creatively implement [the decision concerning] ending the coordination in a way that will, to the greatest extent possible, not harm the interests of the people... Those who doubt the leadership's decision are not doing so for any grounded reason, but are objecting for the sake of objecting. Unfortunately, some of those who are raising doubts [i.e. Al-Shak'a, who was head of the PLO international relations department during the Oslo negotiations] were part of the negotiating team at Oslo. Nevertheless, the leadership must continue to adhere to, and to reexamine, the supreme national interests of the people, and must throw the ball into the court of Netanyahu and its backers."
Former Arafat Advisor: "We Oppose The Dissemination Of A Culture Of Defeatism Instead Of The Culture Of Resistance"
In contrast to Al-Ghoul's moderate criticism, Hanan 'Awad, a member of the PNC and former advisor to Yasser Arafat, launched a scathing attack on Al-Shak'a's statements. Addressing Al-Shak'a, 'Awad pointed out that his statements were disseminating defeatism and weakness, and reflected the Palestinian leadership's deception, since this leadership was not really taking steps to oppose the occupation and gain independence for the Palestinians.
With regard to Al-Shak'a's argument that PLO representatives abroad were making emotional, irrational decisions, 'Awad answered: "The Palestinian people within [Palestine] and abroad is one, and bears the spirit of the [Palestinian] cause and struggle. The Palestinians who live abroad are originally from Palestine. It is they who have lost their homes, and been forced to emigrate, and it is they who are waiting to [actualize] their right of return... The emotional and conscience aspect [of the decision] is the main basis of the practical aspect, because the national identity comprises raging emotions that connect the Palestinian to his national land and culture, and they are the collective conscience of the masses.
"With regard to the security aspect and our need for security coordination with Israel..., we want to continue the achievements of the president, so that [we will be able to] declare a state and mobilize international support for this move. By means of this achievement, the Palestinian state will have full control over its borders, crossings, air[space], and sea, and the occupier will have no right to invade its territory."
She continued: "Your declarations, [Shak'a], regarding protection of the wanted men contradict your initial statement that Israel can invade any territory and arrest and kill as it wishes, as it does every day... We know that our battle against the occupation is not easy. We oppose the dissemination of the culture of defeatism instead of the culture of resistance, in all its forms...
"What popular negotiations do you want [there to be] after 22 years of a war of elimination, horror, targeted killings, arrests, and expulsion? This, as the Israeli government, which has the support of its people, turns to extremism and to putting down roots in our land. How [can] we call for more submission and normalization [with Israel] while the global boycott movement has managed to influence the countries of the world to boycott Israel politically, socially, and economically?
"Thank you. Thank you. We have been deceived."
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 6, 2015.
 Al-jazeera.net, January 24, 2016.
 Al-Ayyam (PA), May 5, 2016.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 15, 2016.
 Paltoday.ps, May 16, 2016.
 Kofiapress.net, May 8, 2016.
 Al-Hayat (London), May 15, 2016.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), May 15, 2016.
 Al-Ayyam (PA), May 9, 2016.
 Facebook.com/NablusCity, May 8, 2016.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadia (PA), May 9, 2016.
 Pulpit.alwatanvoice.com, May 10, 2016.