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(photo credit: AP [file])
Away from the media spotlight on efforts to kick-start diplomatic talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the two parties' police forces together with the IDF's civil administration are increasing their cooperation, and have implemented a series of confidence-building measures over the past two years.
The cooperation has taken a number of surprising forms.
One example is the payment of an estimated NIS 4 million in traffic fines paid to Judea and Samaria Police by PA residents. The police transfer the money to the civil administration, which in turn invests the money in Palestinian infrastructure in the West Bank.
The traffic offenses include speeding, U-turns, and failure to obey traffic signs, and the fines are given out by Judea and Samaria Traffic Police.
Ch.-Supt. Daniel Israel, who heads the Israel Police's Coordination Unit with the Palestinian Civil Police, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the fines represent an effort by both Israeli and Palestinian police to crack down on dangerous driving habits in the West Bank.
"Almost every day, traffic violations in Judea and Samaria kill Palestinians and Israelis. Those who are fined know they can't escape payment, because of the cooperation between the two police forces. The real deterrent effect is what is important," he said.
Daniel Israel is a fluent Arabic speaker. He began speaking the language as a child with Beduin neighbors who had resettled from the Negev to near his home in the Central region. He then studied the Middle East at university, and earned a master's degree in Arabic. In the army, his Arabic proved vital to his service in Military Intelligence.
Today, Israel communicates with his counterparts in the Palestinian police Arabic every day, through e-mails, faxes and phone calls, as well as in weekly face-to-face meetings.
"The cooperation between us certainly helps to build a positive atmosphere," he said. "It most helps in building deterrence, so that both Israeli [Arab] and Palestinian lawbreakers don't feel they can seek shelter in West Bank cities. We still have a long way to go - we still have criminal fugitives in Palestinian cities, and the PA will not transfer Palestinian criminals to our custody, even through this was mentioned in the Oslo agreements. But cooperation has been growing steadily," Israel said.
The Palestinian Civil Police has jurisdiction over 10 West Bank cities, including Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho. The Judea and Samaria Police are responsible for enforcing the law in the remainder of the West Bank.
"The PCP [Palestinian Civil Police]'s enforcement is improving. In traffic enforcement, the PCP has begun cracking down on drivers who talk on cellphones and who fail to buckle up. This is partly due to a political will by the Palestinians, to show that they are a future country," Israel said.
"The enforcement is being assisted by the European Union in the form of the EUCOPPS [European Union Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support] program, which provides training courses, vehicles and equipment on a large scale, and facilitates the opening of new Palestinian police stations in rural areas," he added.
"It is also being assisted by cooperation with us. In November we will hold a joint five-day joint training course with our Palestinian counterparts to study drug enforcement, traffic enforcement, and proper crime scene investigation conduct and evidence collection," he said.
One of the most important results of the cooperation is the safe evacuation of hundreds of Israeli civilians who mistakenly enter Palestinian cities in the West Bank every year.
Since January, 232 Israelis have been returned to Israeli police by Palestinian Civil Police officers. Some innocently drove down the wrong street, ending up in Jericho or Ramallah, while others were Israeli Arab lawbreakers who entered the West Bank as part of their activities.
Of the 24,000 cars that are stolen annually in Israel, 17,000 end up in the West Bank, and here too, the two police forces have been trying to stem crime together. So far this year, a mere 438 cars have been returned, but officer Israel says it is a start.
In 2008, Israeli and Palestinian police jointly interrogated two murder suspects - one, an Israeli resident from east Jerusalem, and the second from Ramallah, before trying them separately in Israeli and Palestinian courts for the same crime.
Palestinians who seek tourist visas from the US Consulate in east Jerusalem turn to the Israel Police for a document that states that they do not have a criminal record.
"These are confidence-building steps," Israel said.