On Palestinians, a Wide Gulf Between the Army and the Cabinet

Before the current wave of violence began, the IDF called to significantly ease restrictions on the West Bank, but the government sees things differently.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Israeli troops fire tear gas towards Palestinians gathering near the scene of a s suspected stabbing attack, at the West Bank Al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron, November 25, 2015.
Israeli troops fire tear gas towards Palestinians gathering near the scene of a s suspected stabbing attack, at the West Bank Al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron, November 25, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Here’s an opportunity for a small political storm. In the midst of the worst wave of terror in recent years, the Israel Defense Forces has released a list of far-reaching recommendations to the country’s political leadership for easing conditions for Palestinians in the territories.

The recommendations were submitted to the cabinet before the latest conflict erupted and will have to be revisited when the security situation calms down, the army said Wednesday.

Still, if Habayit Hayehudi can recover from the scandalous sexual harassment allegations it is now preoccupied with, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and his colleagues will have something to sink their teeth into. Not only is the IDF not defeating terror, as Bennett has been demanding of the prime minister and defense minister day and night, but its top brass believes that part of the solution for achieving calm will require making conciliatory gestures toward the Palestinian Authority.

The recommendations include: Providing light weapons and bullet-proof vehicles to the Palestinian Authority’s security forces to enable them to enter West Bank refugee camps and deal with armed Fatah gangs that refuse to accept the authority of the leadership; issuing permits to export goods from the West Bank directly to factories in Israel (subject to security inspections); significantly increasing the number of work permits so that laborers can work within the Green Line, and even giving Palestinians building permits in Area C, which is under complete Israeli control.

The army knows that these recommendations have no chance of being accepted in the current political climate. Nevertheless, the proposals, even if they relate to better days, indicate the wide gulf between those ministers who are demanding Operation Defensive Shield II in the West Bank and the commanders in the field, who wonder whether such an operation would be aimed at collecting knives from all the kitchens in Hebron and its environs.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue of easing conditions for the Palestinians during his meeting this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who replied that the idea will only be relevant after calm is restored.

In the absence of such steps, and out of skepticism regarding the efficacy of widespread search and arrest operations and collective punishments against the Palestinians, the security establishment has been taking relatively mild measures. But the more attacks that occur, the harder Israel tightens the screws.

Thus, the roads leading from villages to main highways have been blocked; Palestinian cars traveling on roads in the Hebron and Gush Etzion areas are being carefully checked; and hundreds of relatives of terrorists have had their permits to work in Israel cancelled.

But between that and what the right-wing of the coalition wants there is still a substantial gap. That gap will close pretty quickly if there are any more big attacks, which would increase the pressure on Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to abandon restraint.

After nearly two straight months of violence, the situation in the territories is bad, and it’s liable to get worse. As of now, the army believes the violence is more likely to escalate then to fade and is preparing to receive the first reserve reinforcements that will reach the West Bank on January 1. The Central Command, which is subject to the unofficial ban on calling the violence an “intifada,” is now defining it as a “limited uprising.” This is small comfort.

Despite the limited international attention span and despite much greater horrors taking place throughout the Middle East, the Palestinians have succeeded in dictating a change in the Israeli agenda. Israel is trying to contain the violence but, in contrast to the analyses from the right, the political and military leadership do not believe that the ever-expanding terror by individuals can be overcome merely by acting more decisively.

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