PA announces halt to security coordination with Israel; US cautions against move

Biden administration says security ties should deepen; previous Palestinian moves to suspend coordination have been short-lived

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, center, attends a Christmas midnight Mass in the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 25, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/Pool Photo via AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, center, attends a Christmas midnight Mass in the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 25, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/Pool Photo via AP)

The Palestinian Authority announced on Thursday that security coordination with Israel will cease in response to a deadly Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that killed nine Palestinians, including at least one civilian.

Previous Palestinian moves to suspend this coordination have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the PA enjoys from the relationship and also due to US and Israeli pressure to maintain it.

The PA has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and its forces have little authority in militant strongholds like the Jenin camp.

Deputy Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Nabil Abu Rudeineh said that in the wake of the Israeli operation “security coordination with the occupation government no longer exists as of now.”

He added that the cut security coordination comes in “light of the repeated aggression against our people, and the undermining of signed agreements, in reference to commitments from the Oslo peace process in the 1990s.

Rudeineh also said that the Palestinians planned to file complaints over the raid with the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court, and other international bodies.

The Israeli security establishment has long hailed coordination with PA forces as critical for combating terror and maintaining stability in the West Bank. While PA President Mahmoud Abbas has previously praised the security ties as well, they are not particularly popular among the Palestinian public, and he has made a habit in recent years of threatening to cut coordination amid growing frustration with Israel.

In May 2020, he acted on the threat, halting security ties between Israeli and Palestinian forces for months amid Israeli declarations to annex large parts of the West Bank and make a potential future Palestinian state unviable. But six months later, the PA resumed cooperation, signaling the financial importance of the relationship and the Palestinians’ relief at the election of US President Joe Biden.

The PA government cut all ties with the Trump administration in 2017, accusing the former US president of pro-Israel bias for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It also briefly suspended security coordination with Israel in protest at Israel installing new security measures at the entrance to the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem following a terror attack in which two Israeli policemen were killed by Arab Israeli gunmen who emerged from the holy site to commit the murders.

The Biden administration on Thursday cautioned the PA against cutting security ties with Israel again.

“We don’t think this is the right step to take at this moment,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf told reporters in a phone briefing. “Far from stepping back on security coordination, we believe it’s quite important that the parties retain, and if anything, deepen security coordination.”

Leaf said she and several of her colleagues have been “working the phones” since early Thursday morning, speaking to Israeli and Palestinian officials in an effort to restore calm. The senior Biden official expressed concern over the civilians killed in the IDF raid but said Israeli officials told her the forces were operating amid a “ticking time bomb of a terrorist threat.”

The IDF said Thursday’s operation was necessary to quash a credible terror threat.

The IDF said troops entered the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on Thursday to foil imminent attack plans by a local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. The cell had primed explosives and firearms, according to the IDF.

Nine Palestinians — including several members of the PIJ cell, other gunmen, and at least one uninvolved civilian — were killed, and another 20 were wounded in the clashes that ensued.

A senior IDF officer said the forces had foiled the plan after receiving “accurate intelligence” from the Shin Bet security agency about the cell’s hideout apartment in the camp. He said the raid lasted some three hours.

The senior officer said the IDF was “ready and prepared for any scenario,” including possible rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, in response to the deadly clashes. Over the past year, the PIJ has launched rockets at Israel in response to members being killed or arrested in the West Bank.

The officer said the military was prepared for an escalation in other areas as well, including the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and military officials held a separate call on the developments.

“Netanyahu made it clear that Israel is not looking to escalate, but instructed the security forces to prepare for any scenario in the various arenas to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens,” his office said in a statement.

In a message to government ministers, the Prime Minister’s Office said that there are “no cities of refuge for terrorists.”

In a jab at the PA, Netanyahu’s office said, “Everywhere the Palestinian Authority doesn’t fulfill its authority, we’ll be forced to enter and foil terror attacks.”

The PMO also stressed that IDF forces were fired on first, and made every effort to avoid hitting innocent civilians.

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