Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday said Israel will manage without security coordination with the Palestinian Authority, apparently confirming reports the Palestinians have suspended their joint efforts with Israel to prevent terror attacks.
“We’ve managed for many years without security cooperation, we’ll manage now as well,” Liberman told the Ynet news website.
The defense minister stressed, however, that the security ties were in the Palestinians’ best interest.
“It’s their decision,” he added. “It’s not that the security coordination is an Israeli need. Before our needs, it’s a Palestinian need first and foremost, and therefore if they want it, it will continue, if they don’t want it, they won’t. It’s their decision.”
Earlier Sunday, Palestinian sources said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had frozen the security ties in protest of the installation of metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the escalating violent clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israel Police that followed.
Abbas announced Friday night that he was suspending all contact with Israel. Palestinian sources later said the ban extended to a freeze on meetings between PA security officials and their Israeli counterparts at all levels, despite initial assessments the PA president would refrain from severing the military ties.
Abbas has not ordered a severance of security ties since he was elected nearly decade ago. Although Israel and the PA have not held peace talks for three years, cooperation between the respective security forces to maintain calm in the West Bank has been ongoing.
In announcing the break in contacts with Israel on Friday, Abbas castigated the deployment of the metal detectors at the Temple Mount compound — placed there by Israel after a July 14 terror attack in which three Arab-Israelis shot dead two Israeli police officers there with guns they had smuggled into the holy site. Abbas called the measures “falsely presented as a security measure to take control over Al-Aqsa mosque.”
On Saturday night, Liberman urged Abbas to publicly condemn a terror attack at the West Bank settlement of Halamish in which a Palestinian armed with a knife stabbed to death three members of the Salomon family during their Sabbath eve dinner. Although Abbas did condemn the Temple Mount attack that killed two Druze policemen, he has not condemned the carnage in Halamish.
There were varying reports on the extent of the halt in security meetings and the effect it would have on the ground in the West Bank where Israeli and Palestinian security forces coordinate operations to thwart terror attacks and other violence. Some sources said the freeze includes all government offices and all security coordination.
At Abbas’s instruction, individual humanitarian incidents that require coordination with Israel will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis at regional coordination centers.
Abbas has in the past stressed the importance of security cooperation and in 2014 told a group of Israeli peace activists that the security ties are “sacred.”
Israel did not immediately respond to Abbas’s announcement on Friday night.
Four Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces since Friday over the Temple Mount metal detectors, and another was killed Saturday when a petrol bomb he was planning to throw at Israeli security forces exploded prematurely.
The sharp escalation in violence came a week after the two Israeli Border Police officers were killed by Arab Israeli terrorists at the Temple Mount. In the wake of the attack, Israel closed the site for 48 hours as it searched for more weapons, and then installed metal detector gates at entrances to the compound.
On Friday night, three members of the Salamon family were stabbed to death in the Halamish settlement in the West Bank. The lethal terror attack unfolded when a 19-year-old Palestinian, Omar al-Abed, from a nearby village, burst into their home armed with a large knife and began stabbing the family members, who had gathered to celebrate the birth of a grandson.
Muslim leaders say the metal detectors mark a change to the status quo at the site. Israel says the July 14 attack showed an imperative for reinforced security measures.
The Islamic Waqf, Jordanian custodians of the holy site, opposed the presence of the metal detectors and called on Palestinians and Israeli Arabs not to enter the site to pray there.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews, as the site of the biblical temples. It is the third holiest site in Islam, where it is known as the Al-Aqsa compound or Noble Sanctuary, as the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.