Gallant says Hamas inciting West Bank terror, urges strengthening Palestinian Authority

Defense minister says transferring funds, allowing Palestinian laborers into Israel are crucial to prevent escalation of violence; pressured by far-right ministers, PM has resisted

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at a briefing with commanders in the IDF Judea and Samaria Division on January 14, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at a briefing with commanders in the IDF Judea and Samaria Division on January 14, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned Sunday that Hamas is trying to incite violence in the West Bank, and said Israel must take steps to prevent an outbreak of terror by strengthening the Palestinian Authority.

“Hamas is trying to link up Gaza with Judea and Samaria, and to rile up the area,” said Gallant in comments supplied by his office, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

“We must prevent this in every way and deal with the issue of laborers and money,” he added. “This could harm our ability to achieve our war goals.”

Gallant referred to proposals to allow Palestinian laborers from the West Bank back into Israel to work, as well as the frozen tax funds that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority — issues that have been highly contentious in the cabinet since the start of the war.

He added that he “hopes that the government will accept the position of the IDF and the Shin Bet on everything that is connected to laborers and money. I will say this in the clearest way possible: A strong Palestinian Authority is in the best security interests of Israel.”

Prior to the Hamas October 7 onslaught and subsequent war, some 150,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and an additional 18,500 from the Gaza Strip had permits to enter Israel for work, according to the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Thousands more Palestinians are thought to enter illegally for work as well, a phenomenon Israel had largely turned a blind eye to before cracking down in recent years over security concerns.

According to the Ynet news site, a pilot program would initially allow the entry of some 5,000 workers from the West Bank into Israel, with strict supervision the whole time they are in the country, after undergoing security checks at checkpoints.

Laborers would board specially provided buses to their places of work and then return home, limiting their interaction with Israeli civilians. If the program is successful, the number of workers allowed in would grow, the report said.

File: Palestinian laborers line up to cross a checkpoint at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

“It needs to be understood that the young Palestinian is sitting at home not working, and is looking to earn money,” a senior security official told Ynet.

“This is where the Iranians and Hamas come in, giving money to whoever causes harm or even just takes part in parades with weapons, or identifies with the terror group,” the official stated.

“The moment he doesn’t work and stays at home, the temptation rises. If a decision isn’t made about the workers, there is a concern of an intifada on the street, because it won’t be an intifada of stones, but one of guns, and this will lead to an explosion,” he added.

For months, the security establishment has urged Netanyahu to reverse the cabinet decisions made after October 7 to withhold hundreds of millions in tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and prevent the return of some 150,000 Palestinians from work inside Israel and the settlements.

The former decision was taken as part of an effort by Israel to disconnect from Gaza, because some of the tax revenues are used to pay services and employees in the Strip. The latter decision was taken as a security precaution following the Gaza-ruling Hamas’s terror onslaught, in which some 1,200 Israelis were brutally killed and roughly 240 were taken hostage.

The security establishment has warned that the policies risk collapsing an already cash-strapped PA, which would leave Israel responsible for providing services to millions of Palestinians in the West Bank. Those warnings have increased in reports in recent days.

Netanyahu has not budged on the matters amid pushback from far-right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, whose support he needs to maintain his coalition.

The Israel Defense Forces has continued to operate throughout the West Bank and police have been on high alert in Israel, in light of concerns about a possible escalation of violence.

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