Palestinian prime minister vows to stop Israeli raids

A promise by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh to halt Israel's raids into Area A of the West Bank leaves Palestinians wondering what comes next.

al-monitor A still from a video released by the Israeli army shows a group of soldiers carrying out raids on Qalqilya, Tulkarm, Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank, uploaded Dec. 13, 2018.  Photo by YouTube/euronews.

Oct 23, 2019

Palestinian officials say the Israeli army is becoming more brazen with its prohibited raids of areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The prime minister in Ramallah recently promised to put a stop to the forays. How he plans to accomplish that, however, isn't clear.

Creating a political precedent, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told al-Quds newspaper Oct. 12, “We will prevent the Israeli occupation’s army from breaking into the West Bank’s Area A, without using violence, but rather with our bodies. Israel raids the [PA] areas, and the signed agreements don't allow such incursions to take place. We will break the status quo.”

This is the first time a senior Palestinian official has pledged to prevent the Israeli army from breaking into Area A without explaining how. It would seem difficult to do, as the PA is trying to rein in the armed factions that prevent Israeli incursions, and the authority doesn't encourage popular resistance in the West Bank.

Previously, when there were political contacts between the PA and Israel, the Israeli army did not conduct patrols in Area A, but rather delivered information to the Palestinian security agencies, which in turn would arrest a wanted person through security coordination between the two sides.

Speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, an official at Shtayyeh’s office said, "The prime minister’s statement is part of Palestinian policy. Israel repetitively invades the Palestinian governorates, breaching all agreements. We explained these raids to the international community on several occasions and demanded that they pressure Israel to stop them.”

In early 2019, Israel resumed the policy of raiding Area A in the pursuit of armed cells suspected of planning attacks against its army and settlers. In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex the West Bank.

The Oslo Accord, signed in the 1990s, divided the West Bank into three zones. Area A, under the PA security and administrative authority, consists of 18% of the West Bank’s surface; Area B, under the PA administrative authority and Israeli security authority, makes up 21%; and Area C, under full Israeli security and administrative authority, covers 61%.

Abdul Sattar Qassem, a political science professor at An-Najah University, told Al-Monitor, “Shtayyeh’s remarks mean nothing. The PA will not be able to prevent Israel from raiding its areas. His statement goes against the ongoing security coordination between the PA and Israel.”

He noted that Palestinian security agencies don't answer to the prime minister. "These agencies are under the authority of PA President [Mahmoud Abbas], not Shtayyeh.”

The Israeli army has continued to post videos showing its soldiers during raids of Palestinian homes in Qalqilya, Tulkarm, Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank. The Palestinian presidency said in December that the policy of repeated Israeli raids of the cities generated “violence that we reject and condemn” and for which the Palestinian and Israeli sides are both paying the price.

The Israeli raids of Area A and coordination with Palestinian security are conducted depending on each case and on the nature of the relations between security officials from both sides at the time. When the raids are coordinated in advance, Palestinian security evacuate that particular place. At other times, the Israeli army dispatches its special forces in Area A without briefing the Palestinian security force, to avoid placing the raids at risk, they say.

Gen. Mohammed al-Masri, head of the Palestinian Center for Research and Strategic Studies in Ramallah and former director of the General Intelligence Service in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Shtayyeh’s call came in response to the Israeli abuses in the West Bank, regardless of whether they are in Area A, B or C. [These abuses] aim to break the respect for the PA and its security members, and weaken Palestinians' trust in them. This requires that Palestinians counter such measures by shutting the door to the Israeli patrols, without the use of arms.”

Israeli raids in Area A last for hours and involve a large number of military vehicles. They start in broad daylight and end late at night. At times they have even been conducted near the headquarters of the PA, the government and the official news agency, Wafa.

Islam Shahwan, a security expert and former spokesman for the Gaza Interior Ministry, told Al-Monitor, “Israel moves around the West Bank freely and doesn't recognize the geographic divisions, A, B and C. It seeks to achieve its security goals of chasing gunmen regardless of these zones. … The repeated Israeli raids are proof that they don't bank on Palestinian security to obtain the needed information — which requires the army to dispatch its forces to Area A.”

Although Palestinian security doesn't set up checkpoints to prevent the Israeli settlers and soldiers from coming into Area A, and doesn't allow the Palestinian masses to counter Israeli patrols, an armed clash ignited June 11 between the Israeli army and Palestinian Preventive Security (PPS). When the Israeli army's mistaaravim, or undercover unit, secretly besieged the PPS headquarters south of Nablus, the PPS chased this force, and two members of the security services were wounded. The Israeli army raided the city to secure the unit's exit.

Imad Abu Awad, an expert on Israeli affairs at the Vision Center for Political Development, told Al-Monitor, “Shtayyeh’s announcement addresses the Palestinians who are aware that the PA and Fatah approach has lost the bet on peace. I don't think he coordinated his statement with the PA. There is no consensus within Fatah on Shtayyeh himself, although the PA cannot practically prevent Israel from entering the West Bank because it doesn't have the tools to halt the raids and it has chained the resistance forces that are capable of standing in the face of such raids.”

The repeated incursions are designed to deliver the daily message to Palestinians that Israel is in control in the West Bank. Palestinians believe that such incursions would decrease if the PA would ease measures against armed factions in the West Bank and allow popular resistance.

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