Palestinian Authority says restoring Israel coordination

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


The Palestinian Authority said Tuesday it will restore coordination with Israel, ending a six-month suspension, on the eve of a planned visit to the Jewish state by Washington's top diplomat.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had announced a halt to coordination with Israel, including US-backed security cooperation, in May in response to Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

"In the light of Mahmud Abbas's international contacts... and given the written and verbal commitments we have received from the Israelis, we will resume relations where they were before May 19, 2020," Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA's civil affairs minister, said late Tuesday.

His announcement comes on the eve of a visit to Israel by Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State in outgoing US President Donald Trump's Republican administration, under which US-Palestinian relations collapsed.

Sheikh's announcement follows Abbas congratulating Democratic candidate Joe Biden just over a week ago on his presidential election victory, which he said gave rise to hopes of an improvement in "Palestinian-American relations".

President-elect Biden has said his administration will restore US opposition to Israeli settlements, after Trump broke with decades of American policy and international consensus by failing to condemn such construction.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Tuesday: "We will resume contacts with the Israelis on financial issues, on health issues, on political issues.

"The decision came after receipt of a letter indicating "that Israel is ready to commit itself to the signed agreements with us," he said in a video conference hosted by the US-based Council on Foreign Relations.

"This is for us a very important step in the right direction," he added, noting that the development followed intervention by the United Nations, the European Union and "other countries".

Abbas' suspension of coordination had significant impacts, including on organising the transfers of Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals.

Abbas had said at the time his government was no longer bound by "all its agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments, and all its obligations... including those relating to security."

- Hamas slams move -

But Hamas, the Islamist group which runs the Gaza Strip, condemned the PA's lifting of the suspension.

It said the move was a "stab in the back" for reconciliation efforts between the group and Abbas' West Bank-based administration, adding that Biden "would not" end Israel's half-century-old occupation of Palestinian territory.

Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he held a "warm" phone conversation with Biden on Tuesday in which "the President-elect reiterated his deep commitment to the state of Israel and its security".

"The two agreed to meet soon in order to discuss the many issues on the agenda," the office said in a statement.

In halting its cooperation with Israel, the PA also stopped accepting transfers of taxes, in particular customs duties, collected by Israel on its behalf.

Deprived of this income, it had to cut the salaries of its civil servants at a time when the Palestinian economy had begun grappling with the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Sheikh did not confirm whether a return to the prior Israeli-Palestinian relations automatically translated into a resumption of tax transfers.

Israel put its annexation plans on hold in return for a US-brokered agreement to normalise ties with the United Arab Emirates, signed on the White House lawn in August.

But the Palestinians' freeze on cooperation with Israel continued, with Abbas calling the agreement a betrayal of their cause.

It has been a longstanding Arab League policy that normalisation of ties with Israel must be preceded by a peace accord with the Palestinians.