At an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on February 1, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (center) declared that "there will be no relations with Israel and the US, including on security cooperation." (Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images)
The Palestinian Authority, after rejecting US President Donald Trump's recently unveiled plan for Mideast peace, "Peace to Prosperity," as a "conspiracy" against Palestinians, is now trying to persuade the Israeli public that it is "still" interested in achieving peace with Israel.
Earlier this month, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would cut all ties with Israel and the US, including security coordination, to protest the Trump plan, which he denounced as the "slap of the century."
"We are informing you," Abbas told Arab foreign ministers during an emergency meeting in Cairo, "that there will be no relations with Israel and the US, including on security cooperation."
Abbas has been making similar threats for the past three years -- probably the reason Palestinians have long stopped taking his threats seriously.
Even journalists covering Palestinian affairs have ridiculed Abbas's repeated empty threats. "The last time Abbas 'cut security ties' with Israel in 2017," AFP reporter Joe Dyke tweeted, "the head of the Palestinian police later said that they had maintained 95 percent of their coordination, just didn't do it publicly."
Notwithstanding Abbas's threats, on February 16, Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, told Israeli journalists in Ramallah that security coordination with Israel would continue. He warned, however, that the security coordination between the Palestinians and Israel "would not continue forever."
He then went further, assuring the Israeli journalists that the PA "was prepared to sign a peace agreement within two weeks if the Israeli government agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."
These remarks were, of course, intended only for the Israeli public: they stand in sharp contrast to statements made by Abbas and senior PA officials -- including Abu Rudaineh himself -- that the Israeli government and its Prime Minister are not partners for peace. "Netanyahu," PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said bluntly in July 2019, "is not a partner for peace."
Abbas and his officials have managed thoroughly to confuse Palestinians. In Arabic, they are telling their people that they have decided to cut all ties with Israel and the US. In English, Abbas's spokesman is telling Israeli journalists that security coordination with Israel is ongoing. In Arabic, Palestinian leaders are telling their people how awful the Netanyahu government is and that it is "responsible for sabotaging the peace process."
As if those lies were not enough, the same PA leaders who are now telling the Israeli public how eager they are to make peace have encouraged Palestinians to take to the streets to burn Israeli and US flags, as well as photos of Trump and Netanyahu, to combat the plan.
In the past few days, the PA also allowed thousands of members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir ("Party of Liberation"), a pan-Islamist organization that describes its ideology as Islam and its stated aim as the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, to stage mass demonstrations in the West Bank against Israel and the US. Hizb-ut-Tahrir, needless to say, does not recognize Israel's right to exist.
At one of the demonstrations in the West Bank city of Hebron, Hizb-ut-Tahrir supporters chanted slogans calling on Muslim armies to "liberate all Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River" -- meaning every inch of Israel.
At similar demonstrations organized by Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Ramallah, members of the Islamist organization chanted slogans such as, "The land of Palestine is Islamic and belongs only to Muslims." The demonstrators additionally vowed that "the people of Palestine would not give up their right to Haifa and Acre" -- cities officially located in northern Israel. One placard raised by the demonstrators read: "Negotiations and a Peace Process [with Israel] are Treason."
Periodically, the PA leadership bans Hizb-ut-Tahrir from holding rallies in the West Bank. The recent demonstrations, however, could not have taken place without the approval of Abbas, whose security forces made no effort to stop them.
When Hizb-ut-Tahrir says that negotiations and a peace process with Israel are acts of treason, their words are pointed straight at Abbas and the PA leadership. When Hizb-ut-Tahrir says it wants Muslim armies to liberate all of Palestine, the organization is actually calling on Muslims to march on Israel, kill Jews and destroy the state.
Abu Rudaineh's statement that the PA would be prepared to sign a peace agreement with Israel within two weeks is not the kind of rhetoric Hizb-ut-Tahrir wants to hear. For Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Palestinians such as Abu Rudaineh are traitors: they are talking about peace with the same Israel that the Islamists are seeking to eliminate.
Why, then, does the PA leadership allow Hizb-ut-Tahrir to stage such venomous protests on the streets of Palestinians cities?
Most probably because the PA leaders are afraid of the Islamists. Abu Rudaineh, apparently, neglected to tell the Israeli journalists that he had hosted Hizb-ut-Tahrir and backed its agenda. When thousands of Islamists have been given the green light by the PA leadership to chant slogans urging Muslims to attack Israel, the leadership seems to prefer to lie low.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which continues to operate under the PA in the West Bank, at least deserves credit for honesty: it openly wishes to replace Israel with an Islamic Caliphate. In late January, after Trump announce his peace plan, the organization (incorrectly) denounced him as "a Jew usurping Palestine, more than the Jews themselves." (President Trump happens to be a Presbyterian Christian.)
A statement issued by Hizb-ut-Tahrir -- and headlined, "O Muslims! Moreover, O Armies of Muslims! We Seek your Marching Forth. Your Enemy, Trump, Has Bared His Teeth, So Shatter them With your Swords" -- also strongly condemned "the treachery of the rulers in Muslim Lands." This is a direct call to Muslims to wage war on the US and to kill Muslim leaders accused of betraying Islam.
The "rulers," undoubtedly, include Abbas and PA leaders who continue to talk the talk -- but never, not ever, to walk the walk -- about a peace process with Israel.
The statement, along with further dental commentary continues:
"Trump has bared his teeth, making his criminal deal to support the Jewish entity and consolidate its hold over all of Palestine... This criminality must be responded to, by the shattering of the Trump's teeth, by the elimination of the monstrous Jewish entity, restoring all of Palestine to the lands of Islam... Hence, the response against Trump's deal must not be by the way of the current rulers.... Similarly, the response must not be by chanting alone, no matter how fervent, as the chanting of Muslims is for soldiers marching forth for Jihad.... Instead, the response must be from the states who move their armies to uproot the Jewish entity, as the Jews have usurped Palestine and have created a state for them, supported by the collaboration and betrayal of the rulers in the Muslim lands."
While the ideology of Hizb-ut-Tahrir might sound inhospitable, it is shared by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and several other Palestinian terror groups -- particularly regarding the goal of eliminating Israel.
By continuing to incite their people against Israel and the US, day in and day out, Abbas, Abu Rudaineh and other PA officials are driving more Palestinians into the open, welcoming arms of Hizb-ut-Tahrir as well as Iran's proxies, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. By allowing thousands of Islamists to call for the destruction of Israel on the streets of West Bank cities, PA leaders are digging their own graves: The same people they are inciting against Israel and the US will kill these leaders not only for being affiliated with Israelis and Americans but for being too "moderate."
Finally, by making, as they usually do, contradictory claims to their own people, they are losing, among the Palestinians, the little credibility they have left.
Bassam Tawil is based in the Middle East.