Two reservists en route to their Israel Defense Forces base in the West Bank make a wrong turn and find themselves in the heart of a Palestinian city. They run into Palestinian policemen, who demand that they turn themselves in.
Sound familiar? Almost 10 years ago, in October 2000, this scenario ended with a lynching in Ramallah. It was one of the worst incidents of the first month of the second intifada, irrevocably shattering trust between Israelis and Palestinians. It led to the IDF's first aerial bombing of Palestinian Authority territory and sparked a four-year Shin Bet security service manhunt for the murderers.
Yesterday, two reservists accidentally entered Nablus via the village Beit Iba, west of the city. But this story had a different ending.
Palestinian policemen stopped them and demanded that they hand over their weapons. The two refused. But shortly afterward, they were escorted out of Nablus and handed back to the IDF.
The incident hardly even made the news. It was routine. Dozens of Israelis who mistakenly entered PA territory in recent years have been brought back safely.
This radical change reflects the level of security coordination between Israel and the PA in the West Bank. This is why the IDF has advised the government to make more confidence-building gestures, like allowing 50 armored vehicles that Russia gave the PA to enter the West Bank.
The IDF is also looking into allowing Jews to enter West Bank cities again, for the first time in 10 years.
Not everything is perfect. Yesterday, a police anti-terror squad fired at a wanted man during a chase through a north Jerusalem neighborhood, causing him moderate injuries. IDF troops are still arresting Palestinians in the West Bank every night. But the arrests are few in number compared to the past, and on relatively minor suspicions.
More importantly, the arrests are carried out in coordination with Palestinian security forces. In exceptional cases - like the murder of the Israeli policeman near Hebron in June, or the torching of a mosque, apparently by right-wing extremists - both sides work together to calm things down immediately.
The improved coordination is affecting the atmosphere among politicians as well. It is not dictating the pace of negotiations, as evidenced by the Americans' difficulty in relaunching direct Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it can limit aberrant incidents and prevent a conflagration from erupting over an isolated event, like the reservists who entered Nablus yesterday.
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