Terror groups in the West Bank are better armed than the Palestinian Authority security forces, as the communication between the PA erodes and communities under its control fall apart, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said on Tuesday.
There is a “very significant uptick in the availability of very sophisticated weapons that are around all over the West Bank,” Wennesland told the World Summit of Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya.
These weapons are “not in the hands of the Palestinian security forces, but of organized groups either connected to Hamas or Islamic Jihad or others or more rag-tag” entities, he explained.
The sophistication of these weapons is such, he said, that they are scarcely available to the Palestinian security forces who must combat such groups.
The systematic flow of these sophisticated weapons along with funding to West Bank terror groups create massive disturbances, Wennesland explained.
It “further undermines the PA and its security system on the ground,” Wennesland said. It also promotes “a blatant and proactive attack on Israel, either as terrorist attacks in the streets of Israel as we have seen in terribly growing numbers,” he said. These attacks have also occurred against Israeli civilians in the West Bank, he said.
Unless security coordination between Israel and the PA is improved, “this problem will continue,” Wennesland said.“It is affecting the life of civilians,” Wennesland stated. “I know that people are scared in Israel, I can assure you, people are very scared in the West Bank as well because of the whole trajectory of this dynamic.
“Even in places that we consider to be safe and sound and quiet like Jericho” have become conflict zones, he added.Among the factors that are contributing to unrest in the West Bank, he said, are tensions and a lack of trust between Palestinian communities and the PA.
“I have not seen the fabric of society at the West Bank falling apart the way it is doing at the moment,” Wennesland stated. The fragility of this relationship “is a massive security problem,” he said.
“Politics is very dangerous [in] the West Bank now,” Wennesland stated. He explained that it would take “ a different degree of political leadership and courage than we have on the Palestinian side at the moment” to tackle the problem.
Settler violence has significantly 'ramped up'
On the Israeli side, Wennesland said, violence by settlers in the West Bank has been significantly “ramped up.” He welcomed statements by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director Ronen Bar, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai condemning such violence and calling it an act of terror.
Such settler violence, he said, is well-organized and “very dangerous.”
Wennesland revealed that an “American civil servant” was “run after by a group of armed settlers” during a recent visit to the West Bank.
“He was clearly shaken and disturbed by what was happening,” Wennesland said.
He noted that he has been involved in the region for almost 30 years and “I have never seen the West Bank as it is at the moment, ever,” said Wennesland.