PA nixes Israeli offer to halt IDF activity in Ramallah, Jericho

Palestinians insist Israeli army stop operating in all Palestinian cities; PA officials warn end to security cooperation seriously considered

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.

Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers during a protest at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 5, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers during a protest at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 5, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority recently rejected an Israeli proposal to cease IDF operations in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho, and instead demanded that the army halt its activities in all areas controlled by the Palestinian governing body.

The proposal, presented in late February, was raised as part of ongoing talks between Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials over the past weeks regarding the continuation of security coordination in the West Bank, Palestinian security sources told The Times of Israel Monday.

According to the sources, Israeli officials in the secret talks offered an end to IDF operations in Ramallah and Jericho as a first step toward enhancing security coordination, and said only later would the government consider applying a similar measure to other areas in the West Bank.

However, the Palestinian Authority officials rejected the offer and demanded that Israel present a comprehensive timetable for a full cessation of military activities in Palestinian-controlled territories.

As per agreements reached under the Oslo Accords, Palestinians maintain civilian and security control of territories in the so-called Area A, including Ramallah, Jericho and other major Palestinian population centers. However, Israeli forces often stage raids in these areas, often with the tacit support of the Palestinians, to arrest terror suspects, among other purposes. Many Israeli analysts believe the current wave of Palestinian terrorism would be far worse were the IDF and Israeli intelligence active in Palestinian cities.

The Israeli proposal was first reported by Israeli daily Haaretz.

Officials in Israel and the PA have expressed interest in continuing security coordination, even as diplomatic ties have withered and amid the ongoing wave of violence and Palestinian terrorism.

However, senior political Palestinian officials have said behind closed doors that the PA has on several occasions warned Israeli representatives of the Shin Bet security service, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and the IDF that security coordination between the two sides could not continue as long as the army operates in the West Bank’s Area A territories.

According to PA officials, the IDF’s operations in Area A violate the agreements reached in the Oslo Accords, and are damaging to the PA’s standing on the Palestinian street.

Sources speaking to The Times of Israel on Monday said the Palestinian Authority had decided to reject the Israeli proposal as it did not provide concrete steps toward ending IDF military presence in all major West Bank cities.

The sources further stated that while the Israeli side aimed to merely improve the security situation in the West Bank, the PA wanted to progress toward a political process aimed at a final-status agreement.

The sources added that while Israeli officials were skeptical of the PA’s threats to end security cooperation, the Palestinian governing body was seriously weighing such an option if its demands were not met.

They further said that the PA was indeed on the verge of collapse, but that the Palestinians would rather break up the governing body of their own accord than due to Israeli actions.

Both sides see the security cooperation as key to keeping Hamas and other terror groups that could threaten Fatah’s control of the PA in check. However, the collapse of the PA would effectively spell the end of any security coordination and likely spiral into a breakout of violence in the West Bank, Israeli defense officials maintain.

Israeli officials have warned that the PA may be on the verge of collapse due to the lack of a successor to President Mahmoud Abbas, an unwillingness to hold elections for the presidency, and a surplus of weapons in the West Bank, which could allow policemen, security forces and others with illegal weapons to stage a coup.

Adiv Sterman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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