Analysis: Between Israel and an 'independent' PA

In the West Bank, the Civil Administration helps the PA establish control over its own destiny, while simultaneously safeguarding Israeli security interests.

Palestinian Flag 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Flag 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Juneidi milk factory is located along Road 60 on the outskirts of Hebron. Home to several hundred cows, the factory is the largest supplier of milk and dairy products to Palestinian cities, towns and villages in the West Bank. Five trucks also drive each day to the Kerem Shalom crossing in the South and transfer products to the Gaza Strip.
Over the years, the Palestinian Authority has been offered milk products from Israel but has persistently rejected the offer, preferring instead to invest in Juneidi and retain an independent milk-production capability.
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On Sunday, the head of the IDF’s Civil Administration, Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz, visited the factory to review the owner’s request to expand it by about 500 square meters in the direction of Road 60.
The problem is that the land is defined as Area C – West Bank territory under full Israeli civil and military control – meaning that the expansion requires Almoz’s approval.
After reviewing the plans, Almoz moved on to his next meeting, with the Hebron Municipality’s chief engineer.
The Palestinian official came with a request to open a road that runs alongside Kiryat Arba and connects to the Lapid Junction, named for Mordechai and Shalom Lapid, a father and son who were killed there in a shooting attack in 1993.
The engineer came with another man in a suit and tie. He was the city’s electrical engineer and had another request for Almoz: to replace the electricity cables that run throughout Hebron. The PA requires Israel’s permission since the lines run through Area C.
Almoz studied the maps on the hood of his Mitsubishi SUV and then took off to his final meeting in the city, with Sheikh Jabari, leader of the 30,000- strong Jabari clan from Hebron and a key player in keeping peace there.
During the meeting in the sheikh’s luxurious living room, Jabari gave Almoz a briefing on Jewish-Palestinian ties in Hebron, known for its tension between the two populations. His assistant gave examples of how the sheikh’s intervention over the years had prevented violence.
At the end of the meeting, the assistant had a request: allow Palestinian schoolchildren to visit the beach near Zichron Yaakov. Another assistant asked Almoz to remove a roadblock around the corner that forced the sheikh to walk another 30 minutes through the city to visit his sister.
This is the job of the Civil Administration. On the one hand, it is up to Almoz and his men to continue coordinating with the PA and working to help it establish greater independence and control over its own destiny, while simultaneously ensuring that Israeli security interests are taken into account.
At a time when the political echelons are not speaking to one another and the Israeli government has publicly denounced the new Fatah- Hamas reconciliation agreement, this is not an easy job.
Almoz’s important work is continuing even though the government is aware that it is assisting the Palestinians in creating the necessary infrastructure and institutions it requires for a state, essentially helping the PA – albeit indirectly – make a unilateral claim for statehood at the UN in September.
In Hebron, for example, the municipality recently published a massive book in English detailing in text and pictures all of the new projects started in 2010. There are dozens, and the majority have been coordinated with the civil administration.
The thinking within the defense establishment is that as long as the coordination with the PA is beneficial for Israel and the reconciliation agreement with Hamas does not take on a practical form in which its men take up positions within the Palestinian security forces, the administration will continue to work with the PA.
“As long as there is no change in policy there is no reason to change the way we work with the Palestinians,” a senior IDF officer said. “The moment that changes, though, our work with the PA will also change.”