Analysis: Taking calculated risks for Abbas

Altering the tight security envelope the IDF has created in the West Bank comes with a degree of danger.

idf checkpoint 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
idf checkpoint 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
At noon on Monday, IDF troops arrived at the Rimonim checkpoint near the settlement of Kochav Hashahar and began taking it apart, piece by piece. Less than five hours later, and a mere 15 kilometers away, a Palestinian was shot dead after he tried to stab a group of hitchhikers outside the settlement of Shilo. Beyond serving as ammunition for the settlement movement in its campaign against the goodwill gestures Defense Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians on Sunday, the sequence of events demonstrates the risks involved in altering the tight security envelope the IDF has succeeded in creating in the West Bank in recent years. The removal of the Rimonim checkpoint - which connects Ramallah with Jericho - on Monday has created a number of headaches for the IDF's Central Command and its commander, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni. From a military perspective, the checkpoints are a crucial tool in the war against terror, with troops catching Palestinians on a daily basis trying to cross them carrying weapons or explosives. Officials close to Barak admitted on Monday that the lifting of the roadblock was accompanied by a number of security risks. But, they said, the risks were "calculated." As demonstrated by the 35-page report that Barak presented US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with on Sunday, Israel's primary objective with the gestures is to bolster PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his government in Ramallah. This is being done in face of the growing Hamas threat in the West Bank and the terror group's takeover of the Gaza Strip in June. Bolstering Abbas comes with a degree of danger. The lifting of 50 dirt roadblocks, as well as the Rimonim Checkpoint, will allow Palestinians to travel on roads they did not have access to in the past. Weapons smuggling will most likely increase, and there is a fear in the IDF that drive-by-shootings will as well. "The Palestinian people in the West Bank only care about one thing, and that is having a better quality of life," a top IDF general explained on Sunday regarding the need for the gestures. "The hope is that once their lives improve they will begin to appreciate Abbas more and Hamas less." While this tactic has a chance at working, Israel's recent decision to impose sanctions on the Gaza Strip has so far failed. According to the general, the cuts to electricity, fuel and raw material supplies to Gaza have not only failed to turn the people there against Hamas, but have instead had the opposite effect, bringing about an increase in the people's hatred for Israel. This is where the gestures come into play. Israel does not require intelligence briefings to take note of Hamas's growing presence in the West Bank, not just militarily but mostly through the social services it provides the people. So the IDF is bringing government ministers to meet with their Palestinian counterparts - to get them to create new joint initiatives, like the establishment of a Palestinian National Insurance Institute, which will be able to provide social services in the West Bank instead of Hamas's Dawa institutions. Fatah, a top Israeli defense official said Monday, is still perceived as being corrupt in the eyes of the Palestinian public, and it is likely that in the next elections Hamas would win again. For this reason, the chairman of the Palestinian elections committee recently said during a meeting with Israeli officials that his recommendation to Abbas was to stave off elections for as long as possible.