Israel and Palestinians pass the Jericho test
Security cooperation between Israel and PA is improving despite stalled talks, write Harel and Issacharoff.
Israel's decision to include Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in its list of protected sites seems to have been taken without proper consideration.
Within just a few days, the government decided to include these sites, even though they did not appear in the initial draft. The government failed to take into account the price it would have to pay for the decision: Palestinian opposition.
The breaches of the peace in Hebron on Monday morning, in which IDF soldiers clashed with Palestinian youths, are a direct result of a decision that was not examined seriously.
Contrary to the accounts of right-wing activists who forcibly entered Jericho on Sunday, it is not particularly difficult for Jews to pray at the ancient Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue, the final destination of the group that entered Palestinian-controlled city. The synagogue was the target of an arson attack nine and a half years ago, at the beginning of the second intifada, but has since been restored by the Palestinian Authority.
The Israel Defense Forces allows organized visits to the site, with necessary security arrangements, on a weekly basis. For their part, the Palestinians help in this effort because they have an interest in showing they are fulfilling their obligations under the Oslo Accords to allow freedom of worship.
Yesterday afternoon, however, the right-wing Jewish visitors bypassed an IDF checkpoint at the entrance to Jericho to enter the city.
As luck would have it, security coordination between Israel and the PA today is so close that a request by the head of the IDF's Civil Administration, Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, was enough to persuade the Palestinian security forces to withdraw, and to permit the IDF to peacefully resolve the situation.
Yesterday evening, Israeli soldiers and Border Policemen the right-wing visitors from the site. In earlier times, such an incident could have ended quite badly. Yet, against the backdrop of three years of improved security cooperation, Israeli forces were able to step in and take control of the "unruly children."
Even during the winter, when temperatures in Jericho are quite comfortable, it is still a relatively quiet city - apparently the quietest in the West Bank. A provocation by right-wing settlers, however, is among the scenarios that most concern the Shin Bet security service and the army in the area. The biggest worry is of a more flagrant religiously related incident - not like yesterday's incursion into the synagogue - such as an attack against an Islamic holy site. For example, the vandalism of a mosque a few months ago in the village of Yasuf (the perpetrators of which have not yet been brought to justice) could have sparked a bloodbath.
Despite disagreements on the diplomatic level between Israel and the PA, a situation has been created on the ground in the West Bank in which friction has been greatly reduced between the two sides.
The best proof of that is the rocket that the Palestinian Authority security services managed to find in a village close to the city of Modi'in. The transferred this rockets into the hands of Israel Police and through that, probably saved the lives of Israelis.
For the first time in a decade, daily life goes on peacefully in most parts of the West Bank, although the proximity of Jewish settlements means there is no total separation of the two populations.
Posted by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff on February 22, 2010