A few weeks ago, a senior Israeli religious official wanted to visit Joseph’s
Tomb in Nablus. He asked for permission from the IDF, which in turn coordinated
the visit with the Palestinian Authority and its various security
A visit to Nablus is not taken lightly by Israelis who are
easily reminded of the dozens of suicide bombings, car bombings and shooting
attacks that originated in the city – home to about 130,000 Palestinians –
throughout the second intifada, whose 10th anniversary was commemorated earlier
Given the green light, a convoy of armored cars entered
Nablus in the middle of the night. What was immediately noticeable was that
after crossing into the city, two more jeeps joined the convoy, this time filled
with armed PA security officers. As the convoy rolled down the mostly empty
streets, PA security officers were standing at every street corner, blocking off
traffic as they held their Kalashnikov assault rifles in front of their
After a five-minute drive inside the city, the convoy arrived at
the tomb, whose dome – smashed during riots in October 2000 – was recently
rebuilt by the PA, which also allowed Israel to insert a fiveton stone atop the
site of the grave. The religious official pulled together a minyan and began to
pray the evening service, while IDF and PA officers conversed outside in a mix
of Hebrew and Arabic.
Once unheard of, visits to Palestinian cities which
are home to Jewish religious sites are fairly common these days, made possible
by the unprecedented security cooperation with the PA. This is because the PA’s
interests are aligned with Israel’s interests, which both center on preventing
Hamas and other terrorist organizations from taking over the West Bank as they
did Gaza in the summer of 2007.
Israel cracks down on Hamas in the West
Bank since it wants to prevent terror attacks against the settlements as well as
inside the country. The PA cracks down on Hamas since it does not want its rule
to be challenged and since an increase in terrorism would undermine the
legitimacy of its call for statehood – primarily based on the impressive
security reforms it has made in recent years.
In two weeks, a sixth
battalion trained by the US in Jordan will deploy, raising the number of PA
security officers in the West Bank trained by the West to just over 3,000. A
seventh battalion will soon after depart for Jordan, continuing the process
aimed at creating a standing force of 10 battalions and 10,000 US-trained troops
by the end of 2011.
The increased coordination is more than just about
visits to places like Joseph’s Tomb. In recent months, Israel has relied on PA
security forces in assisting Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and IDF
investigations into various terrorist attacks. The coordination has paid off and
in several cases, the PA actually helped solve the case.
This trend is
what turned 2009 into the first year in a decade without a suicide bombing
inside Israel. This has continued so far this year.
WHERE IS all this
headed? The PA is doing an effective job in stopping terrorism, successfully
undermining the Israeli argument that it requires a military presence and
operational freedom in the territories to stop attacks. Defense officials and
senior IDF officers stationed in the West Bank readily admit that what they are
witnessing is essentially the building of an independent state by the
While the IDF could still argue that the PA is
not yet ready, a continuation of the lull will make for a strong
In addition, under orders from the Defense Ministry,
Central Command has been drafting plans for steps that could include the
complete transfer of security responsibility over certain West Bank areas to the
PA. One area under consideration is the larger Ramallah region, which would
include Beitunya, El-Bireh and possible even Bir Zeit, parts of which are in
Area B, which according to the Oslo Accords is meant to be under Israeli
security control until a final agreement.
Such a step, which would
require a political decision, appears unlikely today as the Netanyahu government
continues to debate the pros and cons of extending the freeze on settlement
But IDF officers and senior defense officials admit that
there really is no obstacle to handing over security control of areas like the
Ramallah region to the PA.
“We don’t really go in there anymore,” one
senior officer explained, adding that due to the lull in terror, military
commanders in the West Bank actually have more time to trying to curb the rise
in settler violence against Palestinians, even though without too much success
The decision of how to advance will ultimately be up to Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who will have to decide whether to give in to US
pressure on the settlements or to maintain the stability of his coalition and
continue to press for PA recognition of Israel as a Jewish state at the risk of
completely derailing the nascent peace talks.
Netanyahu’s resolve was
clearly demonstrated by his rejection to date of an unprecedented US security
package ironed out by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Dennis Ross, a senior
adviser on the Middle East at the National Security Council, as well as between
the IDF Planning Division and Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.
Exact details on the incentives offered have not been
made public, but officials said that it would likely include guarantees that
Israel would retain a long-term presence in the Jordan Valley.
also include a commitment that it will retain its qualitative military edge in
the region possibly by receiving another squadron of F-35s, the first squadron
of which was officially ordered two weeks ago. If this were to happen, Israel
would receive 40 F-35s for the price of 20, making the most expensive aircraft
Israel has ever purchased even cheaper than the average F-16.
public knew what was really offered, it would be calling on Netanyahu to extend
the freeze for eight months and not eight weeks,” one defense official
A year ago, many Israelis speculated about the possibility of
a Yitzhar-for- Bushehr plan, meaning an evacuation of the settlements would lead
the US to eliminate the threat from Iran’s nuclear program.
A squadron of
F-35s for an eightweek freeze is slightly more modest, but it is an offer Israel
cannot lightly ignore.