Many politicians on the Right may have been critical of the recent ceasefire agreement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. They warn that it could jeopardize Israeli security in the future by losing its power of deterrence. Yet, many of these right-wing officials may be the same advocates for annexation of the West Bank, which would risk losing another critical source of Israel’s security: security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, by going forward with annexation, the Right may be bringing rise to the very violence in the West Bank that they have long warned of.
The security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority may be one of the few successes of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Although the PA is certainly a flawed governing body with high levels of corruption and incitement, its security forces have proven to be a reliable partner for Israel’s security. As Neri Zilber and Ghaith al-Omari have pointed out, a couple of ways in which Israel and the PA security forces cooperate with each other is through intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism. This means that Israeli and Palestinian officers are in contact on a daily basis to share intelligence information they have collected on the situation in the West Bank, which helps them prevent a terrorist attack before it happens. The IDF and Palestinian security forces also work together to suppress their common enemy in Hamas and other terrorist cells throughout the West Bank. For example, during the terrorist attacks between 2015-2016, the PA arrested a third of the suspected terrorists and reported to have prevented up to another 200 terrorist attacks against Israelis.
Indeed, the Palestinian security forces have proven to be a competent and reliable security partner for Israel over the past decade, and many Israeli security officials have acknowledged this. For instance, Commanders for Israel’s Security, an organization of 280 retired Israeli military generals, have emphasized that preserving security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority is essential to keeping Israelis safe. However, if Israel annexes the West Bank – in part or in whole – that could risk terminating their security ties.
The first consequence of annexation is that it may bolster Hamas. While resolving the humanitarian crisis is necessary for quelling the violence coming out of the Gaza Strip, if Israel gives economic relief to Gaza after every round of violence and then goes forward with annexing large parts of the West Bank, that sends the message to the Palestinians that violence brings concessions while cooperating with Israel only leads to losing more land. If, however, Israel provided the necessary economic relief to Gaza while still pressuring Hamas, but also rewarded the PA by granting them more land for greater freedom of movement and state development, that would tell the Palestinians that cooperation works and thus relieve the Palestinian security forces of much of the public pressure they are currently facing.
Many within the Palestinian Security Service may receive pressure from their friends and family to cease cooperating with Israel because they see it as serving the occupation. A likely response is that their cooperation with Israel does not represent a change in their mission toward statehood, but rather represents a change in their approach to achieve it. As PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj has said, “We fought for many decades in a different way; and now we are fighting for peace… So I will continue fighting to keep this bridge against radicalization and violence that should lead us to our independence.”
The Palestinian security forces could also make the case that by cooperating with Israel they will earn Israelis’ trust and increase their chances of receiving independence. However, if Israel prevents the establishment of a viable Palestinian state through its annexation initiatives, the Palestinian security forces will then have to give in to public pressure and end their security ties, which would create a security nightmare in the West Bank.
ANNEXATION MAY ALSO risk an escalation of violence in the West Bank through state collapse. The Palestinian Authority may already be on the verge of collapsing and annexation would be the nail in the coffin. According to Israel Policy Forum’s Annexation Watch project, if Israel fully annexes Area C (60% of the West Bank), the Palestinians would be left in 169 disconnected cantons in Areas A and B, which would make it incredibly difficult for them to sustain a viable economy. As a result, the Palestinian Authority and its security services would likely implode and bring rise to violence out of the ensuing power vacuums. In the end, Israel would find itself having to contain 169 Gaza-like entities throughout the West Bank without the ability to communicate or cooperate with any Palestinian forces within them.
The far Right has often accused two-state supporters of bringing a “Hamastan” to the West Bank, but if they annex Area C, that is precisely what is going to happen. The Palestinian Authority is certainly no innocent peace partner and is greatly in need of reforms in regard to corruption and incitement, but Israel still can and should provide positive reinforcement to the Palestinian security forces for what they have done well. If the incoming Israeli government wants to continue to prevent violence coming out the West Bank, they would be wise to refrain from annexation and instead reward the Palestinian security forces for their cooperation.
The author is a contributing writer for the Israel Policy Forum.