At a time when politicos are attacking the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and when over and over again the claim is heard that there is no partner on the other side, it is worthwhile presenting events in the West Bank which, for political reasons, are intentionally ignored. I am referring to the very fruitful and successful cooperation between the Palestinians and the Israeli defense establishment, which developed secretly, and which is one of the reasons why Israeli citizens enjoy such a calm security situation of late.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president, and Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, fight terrorism. They do not make do with condemnation, but also take action to foil terror. At Military Intelligence they say that, unlike the approach of Yasser Arafat, now "the mouths and hearts of these two are in the same place." Arafat spoke about an agreement with Israel but called for jihad and slipped funds to the Tanzim (the military wing of Fatah ) to fund terrorist attacks. When the current Palestinian Authority leadership condemns terrorist actions, it really means it.
The Palestinian fight against terrorism is of course not based on their wish to protect Israeli citizens from suicide bombers. They are fighting against terrorism because it endangers the continued existence of the Palestinian Authority. This is the lesson that Abbas and senior figures in the PA have drawn from the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip. Since one of the tools that Hamas tries to use in order to undermine PA control in the West Bank is terrorism, it must be fought with full force.
Fayyad, whose economic reforms are well known, has also succeeded in improving substantially the work of the Palestinian security forces. Unlike Arafat, who used a method of divide and rule and incited the heads of the many security forces against each other, Fayyad created a hierarchical military-security apparatus which speaks with a single voice. With his approval, emphasis was placed on improving the personal security of the residents of the West Bank. The civilian police began effectively enforcing law and order. Traffic police even enter the refugee camps and vehicles stolen from Israel are returned after a short while.
But topping it all, at least from Israel's point of view, is the success of the Palestinian security forces in uncovering terrorist plots. And what is no less important is that they report to Israel every time they make such a discovery. Regular coordination meetings are held between IDF officers, up to the level of GOC, and their counterparts in the PA security forces. What characterizes these meetings, contrary to those in the past, is that the Palestinian officers have ceased to talk politics and are focusing only on military-professional subjects.
The Qalqilyah incident, which took place just over two years ago, can be seen as a watershed in the PA's fight against terrorism. A cell, which left Qalqilyah and made it to Tel Aviv, failed to set off a bomb. The Shin Bet learned that the members of the cell returned to Qalqilyah, and a decision was made to impose a curfew on the city. Extensive searches for the suspects, carried out by the IDF and the Shin Bet security service, failed.
At some point, Palestinian officers contacted the IDF and announced that they had located the suspects and that they had surrounded one of the homes in the city. The IDF decided not to intervene. Following a firefight, in which Palestinian policemen were killed or injured, the terrorists were killed. Hamas, of course, strongly condemned the PA, accusing it of butchering Palestinians on behalf of Israel. Nonetheless, in an unusual move, the PA did not allow a mourners' tent to be set up by Hamas, and Salam Fayyad handed out commendations to the officers who participated in the operation.
The extent to which the Qalqilyah incident is regarded as a watershed for the Palestinians lies in the fact that Fayyad has described it as "our Altalena."
All this suggests that the strategic choice of the PA leadership, at least at this stage, is to take actions that are political - not military. In the meantime, there is a partner and there is someone to talk to.
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