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Despite mounting violence, IDF-PA security cooperation unlikely to end

While peace negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel keep hitting an impasse, it looks like security cooperation continues as usual.
Members of the Palestinian security forces take part in a training session in the West Bank city of Hebron May 22, 2013. Led by the secular Fatah party, the Western-backed PA has pursued surveillance, firings, arrests and torture to bar its Islamist militant rivals Hamas from public life in the West Bank, since the Palestinian territories were split in 2007 when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip coastal enclave. Picture taken May 22, 2013. To match Insight PALESTINIANS-HAMAS/CRACKDOWN  REUTERS/Ammar Aw

Despite strong popular criticism of the current state of security in the West Bank, security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel is likely to continue.

On Sept. 28, Palestinian media reported on a Sept. 9 meeting in Ramallah between Hussein al-Sheikh, who is the chief of Palestinian Civil Affairs in charge of coordination with the Israelis, and Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli government coordinator in the Palestinian territories. At the meeting, Mordechai praised the Palestinian security apparatus, stating the “West Bank is the only region with stability and calm amid a region that is full of security risks such as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Gaza.” He also declared that Israel will allow additional Palestinian military forces in the West Bank because Israel has new information about certain Palestinian parties who intend to attack Israeli settlers.

In addition, Mordechai thanked the commander of the Palestinian National Security Forces, Maj. Gen. Nidal Abu Dukhan, for the security information he provides regarding the situation in the West Bank, as well as his intelligence activities in neighboring countries. However, he complained about the weakness of security cooperation with the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, headed by Maj. Gen. Ziad Hab al-Rih.

It is no secret that security cooperation between the PA and Israel is one of the pillars of their relationship. At the height of tensions and political deadlock between the two, security cooperation continued. This is perhaps why the PA is convinced that in order to remain in the West Bank, cooperation must stand. Breaching cooperation or changing its mind would mean the beginning of the end of its existence and an implicit declaration of an open confrontation with Israel, which the PA does not seem to want, at least for the time being.

A little over two weeks following the security meeting, Palestinian security forces said they had handed over to the Israeli army four Israeli soldiers who had entered the town of Halhul, south of the West Bank, by mistake. It is customary for the Palestinian security apparatus to hand over any Israeli who enters the PA area, because the 1993 Oslo Accord does not allow the PA to arrest anyone who holds an Israeli citizenship, even in the event of a criminal or security violation.

The Nablus governor, Maj. Gen. Akram Rajoub, a former officer in the General Intelligence Service, announced Oct. 1 that security cooperation between the PA and Israel is important and it is still ongoing, reinforcing what was said July 25 by a Planning Division official in the Israeli army, Nimrod Sheffer.

Palestinian and Israeli interest in the future of security cooperation has increased since Abbas' speech Sept. 30 before the UN General Assembly and the call by Palestinian factions — such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine — for Abbas to end security cooperation with Israel. The latter was not included in the speech, perhaps for lack of consensus within the Palestinian security services on this specific issue in light of the close ties linking the Israeli and Palestinian security authorities in the West Bank away from political negotiations.

Ismail al-Ashqar, Hamas leader and chairman of the Legislative Council Security Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The Palestinian security services’ continuous security cooperation with Israel is not under the national consensus, because they offer free services to the Israeli occupation in pursuit of Palestinian [resistance] militants. The fact that it is continuing this cooperation in light of the deteriorating Palestinian situation and attacks on Islamic holy sites is an unacceptable decline and a major crime that should be stopped immediately.”

However, a Palestinian security official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Ending security cooperation with Israel depends on the constantly stalled negotiations, the continuation of Israeli violations and Israel taking concrete steps to [improve] the chances for the establishment of a Palestinian state, in exchange for [serious action toward] reconciliation with Hamas, and the restructuring of the security services in accordance with the agreed-upon foundations among Palestinians, with the accumulation of the Palestinian popular pressure for a third intifada.”

Security cooperation between the PA and Israel did not stop at bilateral meetings only. Abbas himself had announced May 29, 2014, that such cooperation was “sacred and that it will continue, whether Israelis and Palestinians agree or disagree in politics." However, Hamas announced Oct. 3, 2015, that the Palestinian security forces launched an arrest campaign in the West Bank in recent days, which targeted more than 18 of its Hamas cadres.

The continuation of security cooperation between the PA and Israel coincides with the outbreak of Palestinian armed attacks against Israelis in recent days. Israeli Channel 10 announced Oct. 3 that Palestinian security forces stepped up cooperation with their Israeli counterpart after Abbas instructed the security forces to make precautionary arrests among Palestinians in the West Bank to prevent deterioration of the security situation and avoid escalation.

Al-Monitor reviewed a confidential report on a security position prepared by the Palestinian security agencies in early September to present the PA’s choices regarding future security cooperation. The report stated, “The most anticipated possibility is the continuation of cooperation, with the possibility of reducing it from time to time, if the PA could overcome the popular rejection of this cooperation and not apply reconciliation with Hamas." The report cited "Israel’s facilities to the PA, most notably the approval to open police stations, and the deployment of Palestinian security forces on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Bethany, Abu Dis, al-Ram, which means that Israel is not only keen on the continuation of security cooperation, but on its expansion as well.”

So long as the security situation in the West Bank does not take a dangerous turn, as happened with the outbreak of the second intifada (Al-Aqsa Intifada) in late 2000, security cooperation between the PA and Israel is likely to continue. The continuation is probable especially since the PA wants to avoid Israeli sanctions such as the reservation of tax money, or taking back VIP cards from senior Palestinian officials to hinder their movements within the West Bank and abroad, or perhaps even invading the West Bank, as happened in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.

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