It goes against what PA President Mahmoud Abbas has called “sacred,” but the Palestinian leader threatened on Wednesday that he could be forced to suspend security cooperation with Israel following the passage of the settlements law by the Knesset.
Palestinian leaders have been very vocal in their unanimous opposition to the controversial law, which retroactively legalizes about 4,000 settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank. They say that it sanctions land theft and ends hopes for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Cooperation and coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority began with the Oslo I Accord signed on September 13, 1993, and both the PA and IDF see the security cooperation as critical to maintaining stability in the West Bank.
The cooperation between the two sides has broken down before, such as during the second intifada in 2000, where suicide bombings, bombs, shootings, stonings, stabbings, lynchings, rockets and other methods of attack claimed the lives of 1,137 Israelis; 4,281 Palestinians were also killed.
Suspending security cooperation is one of the Palestinians’ strongest cards. If Abbas does follow through on his threat to end it, Israel’s security will be greatly affected, as Palestinian security forces have stopped many attacks in the West Bank since a wave of terrorism broke out in October 2015.
Last January, Majed Faraj, the commander of the PA’s General Intelligence Force in the West Bank, revealed that his officers had prevented an estimated 200 terrorist attacks against Israel since the outbreak of violence. A large number of weapons were confiscated, and another 100 Palestinians, mostly Hamas members, were arrested on suspicion of planning attacks against Israelis.
Yet in the past couple of years Palestinians have frequently threatened to end the security cooperation with Israel – such as on March 5, 2015, when the PLO Central Council voted to halt security coordination with Israel, in response to the Israeli government’s decision to withhold tax revenue belonging to the Palestinians and the ongoing stalemate in the peace process.
The decision has not been implemented, as Abbas was said to be unwilling. In March of last year Abbas told Channel 2 News that chaos and a “bloody intifada” would erupt if the security cooperation between the two governments would stop.
“If we give up security coordination, there will be chaos here. There will be rifles and explosions and armed militants everywhere,” he said.
In the interview, Abbas addressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying: “Give me responsibility for the Palestinian territories and test me. If Israel has specific intelligence, give it to me and I’ll handle it. If I don’t handle it, he [Netanyahu] can come and do it, right?” In November the PA security forces foiled a terrorist attack against IDF soldiers in Hebron. The PA had received intelligence of an explosive device attached to a barrier that separates the Israeli side of Hebron from the Palestinian side. Palestinian security forces immediately informed the IDF and Israeli police, and the device was safely detonated.
A Palestinian security source told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview that the Palestinians would “expect that the Israelis would do the same” to prevent attacks against Palestinians.
While Israel and the PA have many shared interests in continuing the security coordination, none are as important as the threat of Hamas wresting power from the PA in the West Bank. Hamas has repeatedly bashed the PA for its cooperation with Israel, accusing the security services of collaborating with Israel to perpetuate the “occupation.”
Despite having announced that they have agreed to form a national unity government, Hamas and the PA have accused each other of making politically motivated arrests and are employing “extreme torture.”
The two Palestinian groups have vied for power since the first intifada in 1987, and in the last few months there has been an increase in infighting, raising the chance of Hamas cells in the West Bank attacking Israelis in an attempt to delegitimize the PA.
Hamas cofounder Mahmoud al-Zahar in December 2014 declared that “just as we liberated Gaza, we will make the same effort in the West Bank, as we prepare to extend our presence to all of Palestine.”
Just last month Israeli security forces arrested 13 Hamas operatives in the West Bank who were attempting to establish terrorist infrastructure and undermine the PA.
According to a statement put out by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the cell shows the “continued strategic intentions of Hamas to operate and establish its presence on the ground in an attempt to topple the Palestinian Authority.”
In a recent interview with the Post’s legal correspondent, Yonah Jeremy Bob, Maurice Hirsch, a former lieutenant-colonel and newly retired chief IDF prosecutor for Judea and Samaria, said that the “Fatah-run West Bank will not last for very long.
“The basic understanding is that Hamas will take over. Very soon, we will find ourselves with a Hamas-led government in the West Bank,” he said.
Hirsch said while there is “tremendous support” for Hamas among the Palestinian people, who have had enough of PA corruption, one cannot forget that “Hamas is a terrorist organization, which will use all means, even violent means, in order to achieve its goals.”
While the threat of cutting ties is not new, with the increased menace of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank, Abbas’s threat should be taken seriously by Israel.
The repercussions of cutting ties entails monumental risks on the ground for both sides, risks that neither can afford to take.