Israel, PA resume West Bank civil co-ordination severed in Jan.
Israel authorizes transfer of 1,000 rifles from Jordan to PA; Abbas' forces continue operations against Hamas.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority completed preparations Wednesday for renewed coordination in civil administration functions between the two sides during a short ceremony in Qalqilyah.
Over the past two weeks, work resumed in all the West Bank cities, after ties between Israel and the PA were severed following the Hamas victory in the January 2006 Palestinian elections. The swearing-in of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad's government gave the green light for a resumption of cooperation on the civil and security levels.
On the Palestinian side, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas appointed Hussein al-Sheikh to run the Civil Affairs Administration, responsible for coordination with Israel in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Al-Sheikh is a former leader of the Tanzim, a Fatah militia.
"In order to build confidence with the other side, you must deal with routine things," al-Sheikh said.
He believes that the small gestures will build the confidence necessary for bigger things.
"The political issue between Israel and the PA is one thing. But for successful negotiations you require trust. In order to build trust with the other side, you need to deal with day-to-day matters."
The Coordination and Liaison offices deal with routine civil matters in the PA: entry permits into Israel, Palestinians who need medical treatment in Israel, water, electricity, management of crossings, etc.
Al-Sheikh's counterpart in Israel is Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank.
Mordechai and Al-Sheikh coordinated the liberation "party" for the Palestinians released from prison last Friday. The 250 prisoners were taken to the Bitunia crossing and Palestinian buses drove them to the Muqata'a, where they were met by Abbas for a complete media celebration.
Al-Sheikh's cellular phone rings constantly, and each time, he mentions the name of the Israeli officer on the other end of the line. The conversations are in fluent Hebrew, of course, part of his education during his many years at the "university" - Israeli prison.
Six years ago, al-Sheikh was considered one of the leading figures in the Al-Aqsa Intifada. He was identified as the leader of the rival camp to Marwan Barghouti, who challenged him for the leadership of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. During Operation Defensive Shield, in 2002, he hid in Ramallah, concerned that he would become a target of Israel's security forces.
Now, in a shiny suit, a fashionable shirt and well-combed hair, al-Sheikh sits in his fancy office, light years from the start of the intifada, when he considered IDF officers a legitimate target. Now, the Israeli officers have become his partners.
"We are now working on a solution to the problem of the Rafah crossing," al-Sheikh told Haaretz, "but there is no official Palestinian side in Rafah. We agree on the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing, as Israel is recommending, in order to alleviate the suffering of those being held up in their travels. Egypt has still not responded to our recommendations to open Kerem Shalom or Nitzna, so that thousands of Palestinians can cross into Rafah."
"Another problem we are dealing with at this moment," al-Sheikh adds, "are hundreds of students who need to leave the Gaza Strip for their education."
He stresses that his staff, who are operating the crossing points in the Gaza Strip, are PA civil servants, not Fatah civil servants.
"My people are on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing, and with the assistance of the Red Cross, ensure that the sick are allowed to leave for treatment in Israel. This is also the case at Sufa and Kerem Shalom crossings, where humanitarian aid goes through to Gaza," he said.
Asked whether he coordinated his activities with Hamas, his response is clear: "Hamas does not interest me. I will not coordinate a thing with them. I made it clear to the Red Cross, that my staff at Erez crossing will not accept orders from Hamas. What the Red Cross does is its own affairs. Private Palestinian firms handle the goods at the crossings, and they have no links with Hamas."
He does not hide his hatred for Hamas, whom he described as "gangs of criminals" whom he charges with torturing Fatah men in Gaza in the name of Islam and "banning the Palestinian flag."
He says that since the renewal of cooperation, Israel has granted 19,000 entry permits to West Bank merchants.
Israel authorizes transfer of 1,000 rifles to PA forces Israel authorized the transfer of 1,000 rifles from Jordan to the security forces of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian security sources confirmed to Haaretz Wednesday night.
This is the largest arms transfer authorized in recent years, and it is meant to aid forces loyal to Abbas in preventing the possibility of a Hamas challenge and possible takeover similar to that of the Gaza Strip.
The weapons were delivered to the PA security forces three weeks ago following Israeli authorization.
The transfer of the M-16s was kept under strict confidence on both sides, in an effort to prevent any possible leak that could undermine Abbas' standing.
Earlier this year, several thousand rifles were delivered to Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but most of those arms came under Hamas' control following its takeover.
The Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas continued their operations against Hamas in the West Bank Wenesday. According to Palestinian reports, a cache of arms was uncovered in the home of a Hamas activist in Tul Karm. The same sources linked the weapons cache with reported Hamas efforts to establish an Executive Force base in West Bank. The Executive Force was instrumental in the Hamas seizure of power in Gaza.