Israeli Army Chief: Secret Offer to Palestinians Was Not a Diplomatic Initiative

Gadi Eisenkot says the talks were, rather, a security measure designed to calm tensions between the sides and reduce the death toll; Netanyahu says Palestinians rejected the offer.

Olivier Fitoussi

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said Tuesday that an offer to restore Palestinian Authority control over West Bank cities was not a diplomatic initiative, but an operational, security measure.

Speaking to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the Knesset, Eisenkot said, according to two Knesset members in attendance, that the Israeli proposal was, instead, "a move designed to improve the reality in which we are living."

The Knesset members said Eisenkot explained the idea behind the Israeli proposal, which was revealed Monday by Haaretz, was to launch a "pilot" program in Ramallah and Jericho, thanks to the good security coordination between IDF officers and the commanders of the Palestinian security apparatus in those cities.

Eisenkot noted that during the talks, the Palestinians said frequent IDF entries into Palestinian areas interrupts and harms their security operations there and unnecessarily exacerbates the friction between residents and security forces, which leads to deaths and a deterioration of the situation that neither side wants.

According to the two Knesset members, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to comment on the matter, Eisenkot said IDF officers that participated in the talks conveyed to their Palestinian counterparts that if quiet is restored in the West Bank, actions are taken against incitement, and if the establishment works to fight terrorism, there will be no need for such large deployments of Israeli forces in those areas.

"Our proposal was designed to allow the Palestinian security forces to carry out their responsibilities in those areas," Eisenkot said, according to the sources, adding, "Of course, without harming our ability to thwart terrorism."

The Oslo Accords award the Palestinian Authority civilian and security control of Area A, which includes the larger Palestinian cities and surrounding villages, representing about a fifth of West Bank territory. But since Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002, during the second intifada, Israel stopped abiding by some of the Oslo Accords regarding Area A, and the IDF operates there today without restrictions.

Under the proposal revealed Monday in Haaretz, Israel offered to stop its military operations in Ramallah and Jericho, except in so-called "ticking-bomb cases." Then, if the measure succeeded, it would gradually extend this cessation of activities to the rest of Area A.

The Haaretz report sparked ministers to openly criticize the Israeli initiative. Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin said he "totally objects" to the proposal and a source close to Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said they would "fight [the proposal] with all our might."

Elkin said Israel's security cabinet was kept in the dark about the talks. After confronting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as to why this was so, Elkin said the premier told him that the talks were kept secret because the Palestinians had rejected the offer.

"We did not receive a report on the contacts in the [diplomatic-security] cabinet and that is improper," Elkin told Army Radio on Tuesday morning. "The prime minister told me the cabinet was not updated because the move did not come to fruition due to a Palestinian rejection of the offer. As usual, the Palestinians never miss out on an opportunity to miss out on an opportunity," said Elkin.

Elkin, who has observer status in the diplomatic-security cabinet, said he told Netanyahu that such an offer should be discussed in the cabinet before it is offered to the Palestinians.