US, Europe try to preserve Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation

While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promotes his UN bid, the US and Europe stick to the well-known old formula: Anti-terror cooperation in the region depends on progress on the Palestinian statehood issue.

al-monitor Members of the Palestinian security forces take part in a training session in the West Bank town of Tubas near Jenin, Nov. 17, 2014 . Photo by REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini.
Uri Savir

Uri Savir

@Uri_Savir

Topics covered

two-state solution, peace, palestine, mahmoud abbas, israel, hamas, elections, benjamin netanyahu

Dec 21, 2014

In February and March 1996, Hamas helped bring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power in Israel. The suicide bombs that took the lives of 59 Israelis in Jerusalem buses and at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center dramatically shifted Israeli public support from former President Shimon Peres to Netanyahu in that year's election. Israel, as I witnessed firsthand, was in possession of conclusive evidence proving that the orders for the suicide attacks arrived from the Iranian Embassy in Beirut and were delivered to Hamas terrorists. Hamas' intention was to sabotage the Oslo peace process. A political compromise leading to a two-state solution was the last thing Hamas believed would serve their interests and their ultimate goal of taking over Palestine and dispersing its fundamentalist religious ideology.

Hamas will probably espouse the same interests today — preventing a two-state solution compromise in case a moderate government comes to power in Israel. The extremists on both sides share the same interests. Fatah is aware of that danger, yet it is pressured by Palestinian public opinion to abort security cooperation with Israel. According to the analysis of a senior Fatah official in Hebron, President Mahmoud Abbas seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, preventing Palestinian terror is a major Fatah interest at this point in time. On the other, this cooperation is viewed by West Bank public opinion as surrendering to Israeli occupation and settlement policies.

The Fatah official told Al-Monitor, "Netanyahu is pushing us into an impossible corner due to his policies and statements, Abbas' moderation and the security cooperation policy are perceived like a policy of hoisting a white flag. If the security cooperation is to continue, we must be bolstered at least by receiving the support of the international community at the Security Council."

Indeed, according to several senior Palestinian sources in Ramallah, diplomatic communication channels between Ramallah, Cairo, Amman, Paris and Washington have been busy at work lately. The aim is to find a satisfactory formula for the renewal of talks on Palestinian statehood with a two-year time line, preferably at the UN Security Council.

The Palestinians have the full backing of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah, who met in Amman on Dec. 11 and discussed the issue. According to Israeli Military Radio, the two men called for the removal of all obstacles on the way of renewing negotiations. Sisi also continues to offer the deployment of Egyptian forces in the future Palestinian state.

The Jordanians, who currently hold a nonpermanent seat at the UN Security Council, are active in this arena, advocating a formula for the renewal of negotiations within a two-year period toward ending the occupation along the 1967 lines. The French and the British also continue to look for formulas that will help uphold the position of Abbas and his ability to continue the anti-terror cooperation with Israel. According to the Palestinian source in Ramallah, they are discussing with Jordan a compromise formula that will indeed set a two-year time line for negotiations, but will not decide the outcome of negotiations in advance.

According to State Department officials, the administration considers all this as a very complicated political situation to deal with, while attempting to square the circle: They would prefer not to be forced into using their veto right at the Security Council against any of the existing proposals. But at the same time, they have an interest in strengthening Abbas and preserving his resolve to prevent terror in coordination with Israel. A senior State Department source disclosed to Al-Monitor, on condition of anonymity, that State Department and National Security Council senior civil-service officials favor — for the most part — abstaining from casting a veto over a European compromise formula, but the political levels of both instances are at this point inclined to use the veto right and to promote other policy initiatives only after the establishment of the next Israeli government. This position was made clear by US Secretary of State John Kerry when talking to Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat in London on Dec. 16.

Hence, there is a clear, common interest that is shared by the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and the West, namely making every possible effort, including in cooperation with Israel, to prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror. Realizing this common interest would require that a political process leading to Palestinian statehood at least looms on the horizon.

It is the same old formula: Anti-terror cooperation in the region depends on progress on the Palestinian statehood issue.

The senior Fatah official in Hebron emphasized the following point: "There is no way that we are going to fight other Palestinians in cooperation with the Israeli security forces unless we know that this constitutes part of a rapid process leading to the end of the occupation. Otherwise we indefinitely become part of our own occupation."

Netanyahu is concerned with shaky security cooperation, but, much like in the past, is definitely not ready to offer any horizon of hope for a two-state solution. He seems to be walking hand in hand with HaBayit HaYehudi leader Naftali Bennett all the way to the next government, which, if it comes about, will be a government by the settlers and for the settlers.

The security situation for the next three months until the March 17 elections is unstable and unpredictable at best.

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