As terrorism dips, IDF arrests on the wane in the West Bank

PA security forces also stepping up cooperation with Israel, scooping up Palestinians suspected of planning attacks

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

IDF soldiers patrol a street in the northern West Bank village of Salem, east of Nablus, during an operation to arrest wanted Palestinians early on May 30, 2016. (AFP/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)
IDF soldiers patrol a street in the northern West Bank village of Salem, east of Nablus, during an operation to arrest wanted Palestinians early on May 30, 2016. (AFP/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

The past two months have seen a significant drop in the number of arrests carried out by the IDF in the West Bank, as well as in the number of raids made by Israeli forces in Palestinian Authority territory.

The data is based on both the IDF and testimony from Palestinians, among them senior officials, who say it is the outcome of an implicit understanding between the sides. Senior Palestinian officials say contacts between representatives of the Israel and PA security services aimed at ending Israeli operations in Palestinian cities — an arrangement strongly opposed by members of the Israeli cabinet — have not borne fruit, yet the two sides agreed that IDF soldiers would operate in PA territory only in cases when they are preventing terror attacks.

Those understandings led to a drop in the number of arrests and entries into PA territory, the Palestinian officials said. IDF figures show that in March there were 338 arrests in the West Bank. But by April there was already a considerable drop, to 223 arrests, and last month the number had further declined to 215.

On the Israeli side, officials cite two main reasons for the drop. First is the plummet in the number of terror attacks, which has reduced the risk by a significant degree since the period between October 2015 and March 2016. The slackening of what has been termed the “lone wolf intifada,” the series of almost-daily terror attacks over those months, has lessened the need for Israeli operations in the Palestinian territories.

The second reason for the drop in Israeli arrest operations is the relative effectiveness of the Palestinian security services, which have been carrying out many arrest operations, targeting Palestinians suspected of planning stabbing and shooting attacks and bombings.

In general, the level of operations by PA security has significantly risen in recent months, and Palestinian officers are also active in the villages surrounding Jerusalem.

Despite the hinted threats by the Palestinians to end security coordination, so far the cooperation remains in place and the joint activities between the two sides have only been increasing.

The months from October last year till March saw near-daily stabbings, car-rammings, and shootings by Palestinians that claimed the lives of 29 Israelis and four foreign nationals. Some 200 Palestinians have also been killed over the same period, the majority of them while carrying out attacks against Israeli civilians or soldiers, and the others during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.

In April Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to fire Education Minister Naftali Bennett as the two rowed over limiting IDF operations in the Palestinian territories with Bennett, who leads the nationalistic Jewish Home party, vowing to keep backing unrestricted Israeli security services access to all areas of the West Bank.

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