Can the Palestinian Authority survive without the IDF?
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Can the Palestinian Authority survive without the IDF?

Former Netanyahu security adviser says it’s illogical for the PA to demand Israel leave the West Bank; Palestinian official says it’s unreasonable for it to remain

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Illustrative photo of an IDF officer during search near Nablus in the West Bank, June 18, 2014 (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an IDF officer during search near Nablus in the West Bank, June 18, 2014 (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

The Palestinian leadership is bound for the UN Security Council, where it will demand a deadline for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. But, given the risk of a swift Hamas takeover of the West Bank, a former Israeli security official questioned the sincerity of the Palestinian demand, speculating that it may be acting against its own self-interest just to spite Israel.

Addressing donor states in a conference for the rehabilitation of Gaza last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not cite November 2016 as the final date by which Israeli troops are to leave the West Bank (as indicated in a draft resolution). He did, however, stress the need to set a time frame for Israeli withdrawal.

“Our Palestinian people and the region as a whole cannot bear much more. The regional situation is on the verge of the abyss,” Abbas said. “Therefore, we demand that the international community, more than at any time in the past, support our bid for a UN Security Council resolution setting a deadline for the end of the occupation.”

But Yaakov Amidror, who was national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until November 2013 and is currently a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said that “the end of the occupation” would soon become the end of the PA and its leader, Abbas.

“Without Israel, Abu Mazen (Abbas) and Fatah cannot survive for even 10 minutes,” Amidror told The Times of Israel. “The problem is, they can’t say it. Their overt behavior — driven more by emotion than by logic — would lead to the end of their regime if Israel were to withdraw, which it won’t do because of its own interests.”

Former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror (photo credit: Flash90)
Former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror (photo credit: Flash90)

Fatah’s defeat to Hamas in the national elections of 2006 — the last elections held in the PA — as well as Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, prove how little support Abbas and his men enjoy on the ground, Amidror said.

“There’s a difference between the image and reality,” he noted.

The reality Abbas publicly espouses is a careful Israeli pullback with international safeguards that satisfy both sides. In a televised speech to an Israeli conference in January, Abbas said he would accept a gradual Israeli withdrawal over three years, with NATO replacing the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank. Abbas indicated that such a withdrawal would be a Palestinian interest as much as it would be an Israeli one.

Netanyahu, for his part, has rejected the notion of NATO forces in the Jordan Valley, while Palestinians have angrily rebuffed an American proposal that the IDF remain in the Jordan Valley for 10 years following an agreement.

“Those who are proposing 10 to 15 years (before a withdrawal) do not want to withdraw at all,” Abbas said in his televised speech. “We have no problem with a third party [taking over] during and after Israel’s withdrawal to reassure the Israelis, and us too, that things will go normally.”

Whether the Israeli withdrawal be quick or slow, Amidror asserted that without Israeli boots on the ground, Abbas had no realistic way of overcoming a Palestinian Islamic movement bent on his destruction.

“Abu Mazen and his people will have to deal with more extreme Islamic elements. They have no real intelligence and security capabilities to withstand these elements,” he claimed.

Today, more than 90 percent of the arrests of Hamas operatives in the West Bank are carried out by Israel, not the PA, Amidror noted. Palestinian security forces are primarily tasked with maintaining law and order. Under the Oslo Accords, they are banned from owning the heavy weaponry Israel habitually uses in the West Bank.

Hamas official Hassan Yousef is arrested by IDF troops following the abduction of three Israeli teenagers, June 15, 2014 (screen capture: YouTube)
Hamas official Hassan Yousef is arrested by IDF troops following the abduction of three Israeli teenagers, June 15, 2014 (screen capture: YouTube)

“It is plainly clear that if Israel leaves the territory, their ability to act will be very limited,” he added. “But they can’t talk about their true interests, because that will harm their status and their honor.”

But Abbas did, in fact, speak up recently about the potential risk to his regime from Hamas. After obtaining Israeli intelligence information from Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen in August about a Hamas plot to overthrow him, Abbas reportedly spilled the beans on the Islamic movement’s intentions in an emotional meeting with Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha. Abbas told his Qatari counterpart that Hamas had tried to assassinate him in 2006, calling its political leader Khaled Mashaal “a liar.

“Since the creation of the Palestinian Authority, they [Hamas] have been trying to undermine and topple it,” Abbas said. “They issue [religious rulings] to suit them and use religion to serve their purposes.”

While Amidror and his former colleagues in the security establishment may view such reports as proof positive of Abbas’s need for Israel, Palestinian officials take offense over Israel’s assertion of indispensability. Since the signing of a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas this summer, the Islamic movement no longer poses an existential threat to the Palestinian Authority, said Abdallah Abdallah, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council and deputy director of its International Relations Commission. Even if it did, he added, it would be none of Israel’s business.

Fatah official Abdallah Abdallah during a meeting with Israeli parliamentarians at the Knesset, July 31, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Fatah official Abdallah Abdallah during a meeting with Israeli parliamentarians at the Knesset, July 31, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Don’t worry, leave Hamas to us,” Abdallah told The Times of Israel in a telephone interview. “Let us deal with Hamas. It makes no sense for you (Israel) to help us in that regard.”

Abdallah said that far from guaranteeing Palestinian stability, Israel caused a war to erupt in Gaza over the summer due to its strategy of refusing to allow Gaza and the West Bank to become a single political unit again. Abdallah was convinced that Hamas would not attempt to repeat the 2007 violent Gaza takeover in the West Bank.

“Israel wants the schism to remain,” he argued. “But if it were to think rationally, it would appreciate the tremendous move of the Palestinian leadership headed by Mahmoud Abbas, who brought Hamas into the Palestinian political fold. But unfortunately [Israel] only acts on its greed.”

At the moment, the Palestinian Authority is consulting with the regional groups in the UN on a date for a Security Council vote ending the Israeli presence in the West Bank within three years, or around November 2017.

“Our principle is that Israeli occupation cannot remain forever on our land, preventing our people from practicing their rights,” he said. “This occupation must end peacefully, if possible.”

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