Palestinians end intelligence co-operation with CIA, official says

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat confirms ties cut after President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to end agreements with Israel

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, speaks to journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 1, 2018 - Palestinians reacted angrily today to a US decision to end all funding for the UN agency that assists millions of refugees, seeing it as a new policy shift aimed at undermining their cause. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the American administration was invalidating future peace talks by "preempting, prejudging issues reserved for permanent status" negotiations. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
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The Palestinian Authority has ended intelligence co-operation with the CIA, senior official Saeb Erekat said on Thursday.

President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday cancelled all agreements with Israel, including on matters of security, over its plans to annex large areas of the occupied West Bank.

Mr Erekat's disclosure is the first tangible example of the break in co-operation between the Palestinians and the Israeli government, and its backers in the Trump administration.

It was Mr Abbas's strongest response so far to the US-backed annexation plan promoted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week formed a unity government with rival Benny Gantz.

“As far as the direct co-operation between the American intelligence agencies and the Palestinian intelligence agencies, I think it stopped as of the end of the president’s speech,” Mr Erekat said.

“They kept insisting on their ideological religious path, as if we do not have enough religious elements here in this part of the world.

"So once this administration crossed the line, turning this conflict into a religious one, we had to take a stand."

The PA's security services – the Preventive Security Organisation and the General Intelligence Service – have long had an intelligence relationship with the CIA.

The particular focus of the arrangement was Hamas, the rival militant group who control the Gaza Strip.

It was reported in 2009 that Palestinian and American security agents were working closely to detain Hamas supporters in the occupied West Bank, with hundreds believed to be held.

The PA, the US and Israel fear that Hamas, with its stronger, military line on the Israeli occupation, could usurp the authority.

The group, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, won the last Palestinian elections in 2006 to take control of Gaza.

Mr Abbas’s Fatah party, with the reported backing of the CIA, launched a bid to oust Hamas in 2007. It failed.

CIA chief Gina Haspel is reported to have paid a visit in February to Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government.

The trip was aimed at upholding the intelligence link despite Palestine's opposition to the Trump peace plan, which would allow Israel to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley.

The Palestinians cut all political ties with Washington after President Donald Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising it as Israel’s capital, in May 2018.

But Mr Abbas, who leads the Palestinian Authority created under the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, conceded this year that security ties had continued despite the rift.

Mr Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator and secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, did not disclose to what extent those ties had been severed.

He would not give the specifics of how Palestinian-Israeli co-operation would be dissolved. All sectors of co-operation were still being reviewed, Mr Erekat said.

“The whole system is about to shut down in its entirety," he said.

"It does not mean that we will allow lawlessness on our streets. "We will maintain the rule of law.

“The minute the president finished his speech, he instructed two of my colleagues to inform, officially in writing, the Israelis and the Americans that security co-operation would stop immediately, and that’s what happened.”

Mr Erekat was speaking from his home in the West Bank city of Jericho, which is part of the area Israel plans to annex.

Such co-operation has become vital to the Palestinian economy and to the protection of the government that administers limited self-rule in the West Bank.

The authority governs and provides basic services to heavily populated areas of the occupied West Bank.

Dismantling it would risk chaos and leave tens of thousands of civil servants unemployed.

But by referring to the "state of Palestine," Mr Abbas appeared to leave room for it to continue in its present form under a different, and contested, name.

Mr Erekat said the Palestinians had no choice, despite the economic harm the break could cause.

“What are my options?" he asked. "That I should accept to be a slave?”

The Palestinians are calling for an international conference to restart talks with Israel on a two-state solution based on the lines before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Mr Erekat said he had contacted European and Arab officials about the proposal, and Mr Abbas discussed his decision with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday evening.

Among the international voices that have expressed concern about Israel's annexation plans are Mr Trump's Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden and Pope Francis.

Mr Erekat again launched criticism at Mr Trump’s Middle East team, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, for backing the right-wing Israeli government's objectives.

“Show me a single nation that said yes to the Trump plan. Not a single one.”