Israel and Jordan recently offered the Palestinian Authority a pilot program that would leave security responsibility over a single West Bank city entirely in the hands of the PA, in an attempt to reduce tensions caused by recent deadly Israeli raids, according to a Thursday report.
According to an unsourced Channel 12 news report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II secretly discussed the proposal in their meeting in January. The plan would reportedly see Palestinian security forces given sole responsibility for conducting arrests of suspected terror operatives and maintaining law and order in either the city of Tulkarem or Qalqilya, thereby avoiding violent, often deadly clashes between locals and Israeli troops.
If the pilot were successful, it could then be expanded to other cities, the report said.
According to Channel 12, the PA was uninterested in the offer, believing that it would weaken its already-dire status in the eyes of many Palestinians, as they would be seen as fully cooperating with Jerusalem on arrests.
Although Tulkarem and Qalqilya are part of Area A — West Bank land under PA civilian and security control — the IDF regularly enters the territory to conduct arrests.
Such incursions have increased significantly over the past year as Israel has sought to combat an ongoing terror wave stemming largely from the northern West Bank, where the PA has lost significant control.
On Thursday, a wanted Palestinian gunman behind a series of shooting attacks in the West Bank was shot dead during a raid by Israeli forces near Tulkarem.
The purported pilot program was not included in a communiqué released after a summit between Israel and the PA at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Sunday. However, the document highlighted the “legal right” of the PA to exercise its security responsibility over Area A of the West Bank.
That territory with predominantly Palestinian contiguity makes up roughly 20 percent of the West Bank and was placed under PA security and civilian control in the 1995 Oslo II Agreement.
At the meeting, the two sides committed to deescalating tensions days before the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which began on Wednesday night.
Israel and the PA also agreed to “establish a mechanism” to improve the economic conditions of the Palestinian people as well as the financial situation of the cash-strapped PA. That mechanism will also report back to representatives from the US, Egypt, and Jordan at an April follow-up meeting.
In the previous regional summit last month in Aqaba, Israel urged the PA to do more to regain control over the northern West Bank, telling participants that the more Ramallah acts against armed groups in the region, the less the IDF will have to enter Area A for raids that have become particularly lethal in recent months, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel at the time.
The PA has countered that the IDF raids further harm its legitimacy. While the clamping down on armed groups is in Ramallah’s interest as many of them oppose its rule, the PA has argued that cooperating with Israel on this front without parallel steps by Jerusalem to boost Palestinian sovereignty only further weakens it in the eyes of the Palestinian public, which has been highly critical of Sunday’s summit with the hardline government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Over the past year, Palestinian gunmen have repeatedly targeted military posts, troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements, and civilians on the roads.
In separate arrest raids early Thursday, the IDF said troops detained eight Palestinians suspected of involvement in terror activities.
Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent months have left 15 people dead — almost all of them Israelis — and several more seriously hurt.
At least 86 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.