(photo credit: AP [file])
Concerned that a prisoner swap with Hamas would undermine the regime of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the defense establishment is considering a list of potential goodwill gestures that it could make to the PA if a deal for the release of Gilad Schalit is implemented, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Officials in Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office told the Post on Monday that one possibility under consideration was the transfer of security for a Palestinian town in the West Bank, such as Tulkarm, to PA security forces.
The IDF was opposed to the suggestion, senior officers said, since an official transfer of security would take away the military's operational freedom in that city.
Officials in Barak's office explained that the move was necessary to prevent the "weakening" of the PA in the event of a major Hamas prisoner release in exchange for Schalit.
"A prisoner swap could undermine the PA in the West Bank and just strengthen Hamas," one official said. "Israel will likely have to make a simultaneous gesture to the PA to prevent that from happening."
Palestinian security forces, trained by Jordan and US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, are already deployed in Jenin and Hebron. According to Israeli officials, these forces played a key role in preventing terror attacks in the West Bank during last month's Operation Cast Lead against Hamas. Additional PA forces are also deployed in Bethlehem, Tulkarm and Nablus.
"The PA forces did a very good job keeping terror down during the operation," a top IDF source said.
While the IDF is satisfied with the PA forces, it is concerned that the success will be used by US President Barack Obama's special envoy to the region George Mitchell as leverage in meetings he will hold later this month in Jerusalem.
"Mitchell could use the success in the West Bank as a tool to pressure Israel into transferring security over to the PA," one official explained. "Israel, at this point, is apprehensive [about] this possibility, since it would be interpreted as a concession with no return."
The defense official said there was a clear distinction between permitting the deployment of PA forces under which the IDF would still retain operational freedom, and the transfer of security, which would take away the IDF's right to operate in those areas.