Why did the PLO suspend its recognition of Israel?

The Palestinian Liberation Organization has suspended its recognition of Israel for a second time in three years.

PCC meeting Reuters
On October 30, The PCC said the PLO and the Palestinian Authority will suspend the recognition and end security coordination with Israel [Reuters]

On October 30, as I was scrolling through news updates from Palestine, I received a phone call from a friend. “It’s that time of the year,” she said through thunderous laughter, “when our self-proclaimed leadership decides to play peek-a-boo and threaten to end security coordination with Israel.” 

The Palestinian Central Council (PCC) had announced that it authorised the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to suspend recognition of Israel and stop security coordination with Tel Aviv. It argued that the suspensions should remain in place until Israel recognises the Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

We both laughed, but more at the tragedy of the situation than anything else. The PCC made the same announcement in 2015. The repetition was indeed tragic, and telling of the nature of these efforts – that they are mere considerations, nothing more than laughable scarecrow tactics.

The term “security coordination” is misleading in itself. In reality, it’s a one-way street: The Palestinian Authority collaborates with Israel at the expense of Palestinians. Never the other way around. This so-called “cooperation” is one of the hallmarks of the stillborn 1993 Oslo Accords.

The Israeli fear

In many ways, the PCC’s decision to declare – once again – that it would end security coordination and revoke the recognition of Israel was not shocking or even noteworthy. One thing that was truly striking about the incident, however, was Israel’s reaction.

Following the announcement, the Israeli media went into a total frenzy, demonstrating how much Israel fears any prospect of serious confrontation with Palestine. Even a simple statement from the PLO (one which, as proved in the past, is unlikely to be truly enforced) seems to trigger a major freak-out on the Israeli political front.

This reflects internalised Israeli fears about the Palestinians actually aligning their resistance efforts and once again nurturing an empowered sense of confrontation.

We have seen many examples of this before. 

Last year, when 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi slapped two Israeli soldiers who were raiding her front yard, the same internalised fear resurfaced in the Israeli media, society and political sphere once again. She was arrested, tried in a military court, and sentenced to eight months in prison alongside her mother, Nariman.

Any behaviour that deviates in any way from the narrative that the Palestinian population is compliant and powerless, whether it is a young girl standing up to soldiers or a usually submissive leadership suddenly claiming that it may end its collaboration with the colonisers, is frightening for Israel. 

But when the PLO and the Palestinian Authority takes seemingly bold steps like Tuesday’s announcement only to back down the moment their power and the assets (which they have acquired through corruption, authoritarianism, and cronyism) are back in place, they weaken the small leverage Palestinians have against Israel.

They either fail to see how their flip-flops, scarecrow tactics and fake shows of resistance are affecting the Palestinian population, or they are well aware of it and simply do not care.

But there is an even more sinister side to the PCC’s latest declaration. It not only undermines the Palestinian resistance with its uncertain, unreliable nature but also carries undertones that highlight the PLO and the PA’s total compliance with the colonial system.

By threatening to revoke its recognition of Israel, the Palestinian leadership once again reminds the world that it, in fact, accepts the legitimacy of Israel. It also indicates that it will continue to do so as long as Israel is kind enough to give them a few crumbs. This kind of hypocritical bargaining is nothing but a green light for Israel to continue its colonialist practices, to thrive and persist in its violent plunder of Palestinian lands, resources, and the slaughter of the Palestinian people. 

Let us remember that this slaughter is not simply a memory of the past, an occurrence that only took place 70 years ago during the Nakba. It’s still ongoing. Since March 30 of this year alone, in a single city – Gaza – at least 218 Palestinians were killed.

The fact that this decision can even be taken (again) exposes the PLO’s decades-long complicity in the erasure of Israel’s crimes. In its recognition of and cooperation with Israel, the PLO ignores the Palestinian refugee crisis and those refugees’ right to return home or be compensated. Moreover, it completely erases thousands of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and their struggle to continue living in their own lands as second class citizens.

A desperate attempt to regain legitimacy

If we look closely enough at the PCC’s 2015 announcement and its latest one, we’ll see a pattern clearly emerging.

The 2015 announcement came just a year after the Israeli onslaught on Gaza that cost more than 2,100 Palestinian lives – and displaced more than 108,000. Protests were taking place in the West Bank against the Palestinian Authority and its complicity with Israel. 

This week’s announcement came as the landmark protest against Israeli colonialism in Gaza entered its 31st week. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, is rapidly losing legitimacy and turning Palestine into a police state in the eyes of the Palestinians and the world as it continues to invest in its security forces to keep its population in line and please Israel.

It brutally cracked down on Palestinian demonstrators who wanted to protest their leadership’s sanctions on the Gaza strip. Additionally, the Trump administration emboldened the Israeli government by moving its embassy in the country from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognising the city as the undivided capital of Israel.  

In other words, both announcements came at a volatile time for Palestine and Palestinians, as the Palestinian leadership was on the verge of losing all legitimacy. The announcements, as hollow as they are, are desperate attempts for the PLO and the PA to legitimise themselves in the eyes of the Palestinians and the international community as the only relevant guardians and representatives of the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian struggle was reduced to ink and handshakes in 1993, and the PLO and the Palestinian Authority can’t seem to get out of that mindset 25 years later. They want to remain the recognised leaders of the Palestinian cause, at any cost. 

Today, Palestinians are forced to navigate the tragic results of their leadership’s shameless collaboration, magnanimous failures and destructive political ploys. Despite this, the Palestinian people’s shouts for freedom will not be drowned out by empty declarations and political theatrics. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.