Israel’s security establishment reportedly warned the political echelon that failure to advance steps to strengthen the Palestinian Authority ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel will place Ramallah’s security coordination at risk.
The warning was passed along in a document drafted last month in the final days of Naftali Bennett’s tenure as prime minister, Channel 13 reported on Monday.
The document states that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has no political achievements to point to and that neighboring Arab countries are continuing to expand their ties with Israel, without taking the Palestinian issue into account.
The PA’s expectations for the Biden administration, such as the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem have gone unmet, the document states, adding that “failure [by Israel] to take immediate steps, including ones with political visibility, will lead to damage to security coordination with the PA.”
The security coordination is regularly touted by the IDF as critical to maintaining stability in the West Bank and even preventing terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. It is also unpopular among Palestinians who increasingly see the PA as doing Israel’s bidding in the West Bank, even in the absence of any political horizon toward statehood.
Ties between Israel and the PA have deteriorated in recent months amid clashes at the Temple Mount, expanded Israeli settlement activity and the killing of Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh. Abbas warned visiting US officials in June that he was prepared to cut security coordination absent significant changes on the ground and an end to Israeli unilateral measures.
The US in turn managed to get Israel to commit to delaying three moves ahead of Biden’s visit: the advancement of a controversial settlement project in the West Bank’s E1 area, new restrictions on foreigners entering Palestinian areas of the West Bank and evictions in Masafer Yatta — a collection of rural Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills. It is unclear whether the commitments will hold after Biden leaves the country, but they appeared to be enough to convince Abbas to hold off on taking more drastic steps in the meantime.
Biden will also announce a series of Israeli and US measures aimed at strengthening the PA during his visit next week, although they are expected to be somewhat limited in scale, as Washington has no plans to launch a high-stakes diplomatic initiative and Jerusalem is further limited in what it can advance, given that the country is now being run by a caretaker government.
The steps will focus on economic issues and include one initiative from the US that the PA has been pushing for years, a senior Biden administration official told The Times of Israel last week.
Biden will also announce $100 million in US funding for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network when he visits the Augusta Victoria Hospital next Friday. Israeli officials have been seeking to join Biden on the visit, an Israeli source revealed, adding that thus far they have been snubbed by the US, which is trying to avoid overly politicizing the visit.
In addition to the new US funding, Biden will announce similar large donations to the hospital network from several Gulf states, a Middle Eastern diplomat said.
PA officials privy to the pending announcement are unimpressed though, as it is not among its main questions of the Biden administration over the past year, a Palestinian official said. Those have included creating a “political horizon” for a two-state solution, reopening the Jerusalem consulate — which served as the de facto mission to the Palestinians before it was closed in 2019 — reopening the PLO’s diplomatic office in Washington, canceling a 1987 Congressional law characterizing the PLO and its affiliates as terrorist groups and restarting direct US aid to the PA.
Biden is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Wednesday afternoon and is to meet with Abbas in Bethlehem on Friday, where he will announce the measures to boost the PA.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Abbas in Ramallah last week, and the two discussed security cooperation ahead of Biden’s visit.