Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank have quietly stopped operations against Hamas in recent weeks, an Israeli newspaper reported on Sunday, as a top Fatah figure in the West Bank said prospects for Fatah-Hamas unity were “better than ever.”
The unofficial move to halt PA West Bank security operations against Hamas, which is expected to have a wide impact on the security situation in the area, is reportedly part of a reconciliation effort between Palestinian organizations in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense and the UN vote to grant “Palestine” nonmember observer state status.
Palestinian Authority security forces are widely credited as playing a major role in maintaining the relative calm in the West Bank over recent years. The agreement to lay off Hamas, as reported by Maariv, coupled with an increase in security incidents in the West Bank since the Israeli-Hamas ceasefire of nearly three weeks ago and the political changes in the region, has reportedly caused the IDF and Shin Bet to plan for a “new era” in the West Bank, and for the possibility of growing violence and intifada-like activity.
Last week saw several violent incidents in the West Bank. On Friday, two IDF soldiers and a border policeman were injured lightly, one sustaining a broken hand, when a group of about 40 Palestinian protesters bombarded them with stones.
Also on Friday, Palestinians threw stones at several Israeli vehicles traveling on Route 60, the West Bank’s main artery, and some 200 protesters gathered and hurled stones at IDF forces southwest of Bethlehem.
And on Thursday, a group of IDF soldiers on patrol in Hebron clashed with some 250 Palestinians after trying to arrest a Palestinian policeman.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s Shin Bet security service and military intelligence reported a spike in terror alerts, suggesting West Bank based terror organizations are planning to carry out additional attacks.
According to the report, 130 attacks or attempted attacks were launched from the West Bank in November alone.
Last week, the Finance Ministry announced that Israel will withhold NIS 450 million in tax revenues that were to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority, and use the money to offset a NIS 800 million debt to Israel instead. Some of that money was earmarked by the PA for security forces’ salaries.
Fatah, the organization which controls Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas, based in Gaza, have been bitter rivals since the 2006 electoral victories of Hamas, and the subsequent armed takeover of Gaza by Hamas forces. The two factions signed a reconciliation agreement in 2011 but it has yet to be implemented.
As part of the deal with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Hamas has reportedly agreed to release Fatah prisoners held in Gaza jails.
Israel, the US and European Union list Hamas as a terrorist organization. Israel is now holding indirect talks with the group as a result of the ceasefire arrangement that followed the November military escalation.
Ziad Abu Ziad, a veteran senior Fatah official, told Army Radio on Sunday morning that the prospects for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation were “better than ever.” He said a reconciliation meeting in Cairo between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other Fatah and Hamas leaders had only been delayed because of the instability in Egypt.
Abu Ziad also claimed that Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal’s declaration in Gaza on Saturday that Hamas would never recognize Israel and would pursue the armed struggle until all of Palestine was liberated “did not represent” Mashaal’s genuine positions, and that his inflammatory rhetoric “was designed to satisfy public sentiment” in Gaza. In practice, Abu Ziad claimed, Mashaal was prepared to accept a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines.
“From the sea to the river, from north to south, we will not give up any part of Palestine — it is our country, our right and our homeland,” said the Hamas chief. “We are all one,” he added, referring to Palestinians residing in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and inside Israel. “We are all united in the way of resistance.”