PLO leadership votes to suspend security cooperation with Israel

The leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation has voted to suspend all security co-operation with Israel, insisting that Israel – as occupying power – should assume all responsibilities for the Palestinian territories under international law.

A statement issued by the PLO’s central committee on Thursday night announced it was calling for the suspension of “all forms of security coordination given Israel’s systematic and ongoing non-compliance with its obligations under signed agreements, including its daily military raids throughout the State of Palestine, attacks against our civilians and properties.”

Although the final decision to implement the council’s decision rests with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, well-informed sources told the Guardian last night that Abbas supported the decision.

The move – which came after two days of talks by the PLO’s central council – comes in the midst of a close run Israeli election campaign and is certain to escalate tension between Palestinians and Israelis.

The PLO’s central council is the second highest decision-making body. Significantly it takes the threat to end cooperation beyond rhetorical statements to mandate action on the issue.

The statement added that “Israel, the occupying power in Palestine, must assume all its responsibilities in accordance with its obligations under international law.”

It also called for a boycott of all Israeli products and not only those coming from Israeli settlements, adding: “Israel must pay the price for its refusal to assume its responsibilities under international law, including the systematic denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination.”

Although the Guardian understands that the end of security cooperation will not be immediate, the decision by the PLO is regarded as binding on the Palestinian Authority and Abbas.

Security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and Israel has long been seen as key to maintaining a fragile calm between the two sides and its ending would mark a serious escalation of the recent crisis between the two sides that has worsened since the collapse of US-led peace talks almost a year ago.

The move comes only a couple of weeks ahead of Palestine’s formal accession to the international criminal court on 1 April when Palestinians are expected to present cases alleging serious breaches of international law to the court of last resort.

That in turn would trigger the United States Congress to order the withholding of US aid to the Palestinian Authority under a law passed by Congress. With most of that US aid going to support the Palestinian security forces that would – some analysts suggest – bring about a de facto end to security cooperation in any case.

The decision by the PLO’s central committee follows the decision by Israel to withhold tax monies it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority after Abbas applied to join the ICC, which has seen the authority struggle to pay the wages of its employees for the past two months, not least to Palestinian police forces.

Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the PLO move.

The vote was the latest move in increasingly high profile Palestinian efforts to raise the profile of their calls for an end to Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In December, Palestinians submitted a UN Security Council resolution – which was voted down – calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank within two years, and in January joined the international criminal court, where they plan to press for war crime charges against Israel.

Israel has in response frozen $127m per month in tax revenues due to the PA, rendering it unable to pay tens of thousands of employees and threatening its very existence.

US-backed talks between the Palestinians and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government collapsed in April after nine months of fruitless meetings amid bitter recriminations and mutual blame.

Relations have since further deteriorated, after a devastating war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza during summer last year, and with the Palestinian moves against the Israelis in the international arena.

The PLO’s latest move comes amid increasing concerns both among senior Israeli security officials and in the international community over what would happen should the Palestinian Authority collapse.

The Israeli military recently conducted a large exercise reportedly to prepare for widespread unrest on the West Bank. Last month the US secretary of state John Kerry warned about the possibility of the Palestinian government halting security cooperation with Israel or disbanding as a result of being starved of funds.

“If the Palestinian Authority ceases or were to cease, security cooperation – or even decide to disband as a result of their economic predicament, and that could happen in the near future if they don’t receive additional revenues – then we would be faced with yet another crisis that could also greatly impact the security of both Palestinians and Israelis,” Kerry said.

“And that would have the potential of serious ripple effects elsewhere in the region.”