Yesterday, Mahmoud Abbas, in his capacity as president of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, issued a dramatic announcement: the PLO and PA would no longer be bound by its agreements with Israel and the United States, essentially declaring the Oslo Accords a dead letter, and calling on Israel to take on its full legal obligations as an occupying power.

If this invites an overwhelming sense of deja vu it’s because we have indeed heard this before. Although Abbas’s remarks yesterday were filed under “breaking news,” and some commentators erroneously claimed that in the past Abbas has only made threats while yesterday’s declaration suggested tangible action, the octogenarian Palestinian leader has actually stated before, in the present tense, that the PLO and PA are no longer subject to the Oslo Accords’ stipulations.

Compare the following Abbas statements from 2015, 2019, and yesterday.

“We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as the occupying power.” (2015)

“We declare the decision of the leadership to stop working by the agreements signed by the Israeli side.” (2019)

“The Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Palestine are absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and all of the obligations based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones.” (2020)

Today, the PA is still around, security cooperation with Israel persists, and the PLO continues to be recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in international forums and it remains party to all of the relevant agreements. Abbas’s tendency to be all bark and no bite, and to repeat the same grandiose proclamations only to preserve the status quo, calls to mind the boy who cried wolf.

However, it is because of Abbas’s habit of repeating seemingly empty calls to action that his most recent comments merit our attention, even if this specific case, like previous instances, may not be followed with anything concrete in the near future.

Here, context is key. Abbas’s 2015 remarks, delivered in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, came after the collapse of the John Kerry-led peace initiative. His 2019 statement was a response to Israeli demolitions in Wadi Hummus, part of Area A located west of the separation barrier. That action represented a far more humiliating and public infringement upon the PA’s turf than the frequent night raids the Israeli military carries out in Area A. Abbas delivered his most recent speech just days after the swearing-in ceremony for Israel’s new coalition during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that this would be the government to extend sovereignty to the West Bank, doubling down on a stipulation of the coalition agreement calling for formal deliberations on annexation to proceed beginning on the fast-approaching date of July 1.

Beyond being nearly identical in substance, rhetoric like this starts to get thrown around when the Palestinians fear isolation or being left behind. Yet this is precisely why Abbas is unlikely to immediately carry out his stated intentions.

If Abbas’s comments carry a sense of finality it is because, from the PA/PLO perspective, the prospect of West Bank annexation represents the final nail in the coffin of a struggle for an independent Palestinian nation-state, and the potential catalyst for a reversion to a rights-based campaign centered on acquiring Israeli citizenship.

The threat of formally exiting Oslo is a rather vague admonition. For the Palestinians, withdrawing from agreements with the United States and Israel could entail an array of possible outcomes, ranging from an end to security coordination with Israel, which Abbas notably raised in his most recent speech, all the way up to dismantling the Palestinian Authority, which was established under the Oslo Accords. As the International Crisis Group’s Tareq Baconi points out, it would also have significant repercussions for the day-to-day needs of the average Palestinian reliant upon the PA’s quasi-state apparatus.

All of this would invite a far more intrusive Israeli presence across the parts of the West Bank currently under some form of PA administration, from social services to police functions, and could mean a future confrontation between Israeli and Palestinian security personnel.

Whatever Abbas may have in mind, however, it’s clear that it would carry very serious consequences. Thus, for the Palestinians, leaving Oslo represents a nuclear option. Unlike other initiatives, such as repeated attempts to join multilateral institutions over Israeli and American objections, or efforts to have Israel punished for war crimes in international courts, this is do or die. Once executed, it cannot be repeated, and, much like annexation, it will not be easily undone.

Accordingly, this is not a decision the Palestinian leadership is liable to undertake lightly. While the PA and PLO may feel cornered as Israel pushes ahead with annexation under American patronage, the Palestinians have not exhausted every option. Accordingly, sensational announcements like yesterday’s should be read as a plea for attention and help from overseas.

While a handful of European countries have obstructed some forms of a unified EU approach, major powers including France and Germany are mulling their own responses to annexation. The election of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden might stabilize the Palestinian leadership’s standing in the world, restore its relationship with the United States, and put the brakes on some of the more far-reaching annexation proposals currently under consideration in Israel, even if a new American administration is unlikely to deliver a comprehensive two-state agreement. Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, a Palestinian official conceded that, in all likelihood, Abbas will not to do anything to preempt an annexation that has not yet happened and that the PA president is waiting on reactions from other countries to any Israeli moves. So what the PA and PLO actually do will depend significantly upon the rest of the world, and they may understand that leading with the nuclear option would quickly expend international goodwill.

Those following the ebb and flow of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are right to question the seriousness of Mahmoud Abbas’s latest statements, who has established a reputation for himself as the Palestinian leader who cried wolf. There is, however, a danger if American and Israeli leaders miss the bigger picture surrounding annexation; whether or not Abbas is bluffing may prove immaterial. Remember that in Aesop’s fable, the wolf eventually does show up, but successive false alarms have lulled the townsfolk into a sense of complacency about the threat that is now staring them directly in the face.