Israeli Security Officials: Abbas Cracking Down on Violence, Gestures to PA Are Urgent

The PA has markedly reduced incitement on its official media outlets, deployed personnel in the West Bank to prevent confrontations with the IDF, and resumed arresting Hamas operatives.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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 Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes in the West Bank city of Bethlehem December 4, 2015.
Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes in the West Bank city of Bethlehem December 4, 2015. Credit: Reuters
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The Israeli security establishment is seeing a significant change for the better in the way the Palestinian Authority is addressing terror in the West Bank. Although there have been continuous attacks for more than three months, and even a rise in the number of West Bank shootings recently, Israel’s security agencies believe PA President Mahmoud Abbas is taking a tougher stance against the violence.

According to this assessment, which was presented recently to the political leadership, the PA has markedly reduced the anti-Israel incitement on its official media outlets; deployed uniformed security personnel at flashpoints in the West Bank to prevent confrontations with Israel Defense Forces soldiers; and even resumed arresting Hamas military activists. Given these changes, Israeli security officials have suggested making conciliatory gestures to the PA.

These changes were first noted in early December. Along with the reduced intensity of the inflammatory rhetoric in official PA media, allegations regarding Israel’s designs on the Temple Mount noticeably dropped, probably because the Israeli government restricted the entrance of right-wing politicians to the enclave. Nevertheless, Palestinian television and radio stations still periodically broadcast complaints about the “execution” of Palestinian terrorists, who were shot by Israeli policemen or soldiers when they attempted lethal attacks.

When the current wave of terror erupted at the beginning of October, Israel accused Abbas of being two-faced; his denunciations of terror, when they were heard at all, were weak, while he was conveying a very different message to his own people. For a short time he even allowed the Tanzim, his Fatah movement’s military faction, to stage demonstrations and confrontations with the IDF.

But recently the Tanzim stopped attending demonstrations and the PA security apparatuses, which for a long time were avoiding the confrontation zones or kept a low profile by wearing civilian clothes, have been appearing at flashpoints in uniform. The PA now has a continuous armed presence at points of conflict like Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, the junction at the northern exit of Ramallah and the exit from Tul Karm. This presence generally prevents confrontations with the IDF.

The security establishment has also noted a significant improvement in security coordination between the PA and Israel, which one source called “exceptionally good” in recent weeks. Israel attributes this improvement to the PA’s fear that Hamas will exploit the resumption of violence to do two things: turn it into a new intifada characterized by the steady use of firearms and even the resumption of suicide attacks; and try to undermine the PA in an effort to bring it down.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. October 28, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Last month the IDF and Shin Bet security service arrested some 25 Hamas operatives who were part of a terror network being organized in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The raids uncovered an explosives laboratory in Abu Dis, just east of Jerusalem; several explosive devices were confiscated and some of those arrested had apparently volunteered to be suicide bombers. The network’s exposure apparently set the PA on edge. Its security services recently arrested several Hamas “sleeper cells” that were allegedly organizing to conduct terror attacks in Nablus and Hebron.

With that, Israeli security officials believe that the PA has only limited influence on the younger terrorists, most of whom are acting alone. That’s why even the decreased incitement and increased enforcement is not reducing the “popular terror,” characterized primarily by stabbings and vehicle ramming. Israel believes that even the recent shootings, mostly in the Hebron area (where a single sniper is apparently responsible for at least four incidents), are the work of lone terrorists with no organizational affiliation.

In a speech in Bethlehem yesterday, Abbas warned, “Let no one dream about the PA’s collapse.” His words sounded like a response to Barak Ravid’s report in Tuesday’s Haaretz on meetings held recently by Israel’s security cabinet regarding the authority’s possible disintegration. During those discussions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel must prepare for such an eventuality, even as it does its best to prevent it.

For various reasons – the improved security cooperation, the expectation of less terror, and the need to prevent the PA’s possible collapse, senior security officials believe making conciliatory gestures to the PA is necessary, and soon. They believe this will enable the PA to function better and impose more order on the Palestinian “street,” though it isn’t clear this will be enough to halt the current wave of terror.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon supports some concessions, but opposes proposals like giving the PA security forces better weapons or allowing them to purchase armored jeeps, for fear these will be used against Israel in the future. Netanyahu, for his part, believes Abbas must publicly and unequivocally denounce the recent terror attacks before anything can move forward. Other concessions being examined involve such steps as approving various West Bank infrastructure projects that have been held up for a long time.

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