Smotrich abstains; Ben Gvir votes against

Security cabinet votes in favor of steps to ‘prevent PA’s collapse’

Ministers deliberate measures on economy, travel and security, many of which have been promised by past Netanyahu governments but were not carried out

Palestinian gunmen take up positions during a confrontation with the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 3, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Palestinian gunmen take up positions during a confrontation with the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 3, 2023. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Ministers in the high-level security cabinet voted in favor of a series of measures aimed at bolstering the Palestinian Authority on Sunday, though they included steps that have remained unimplemented in the past, and it was unclear whether they would be translated into significant action.

The far-right’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich abstained and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir voted against, having vowed to oppose the measures.

An unnamed political source told the Haaretz daily that the decision was mostly a declarative one, intended to signal to the international community, and particularly the Biden administration, Israel’s desire to assist the PA. He added that another discussion will be held later this week on practical moves that can be implemented, given opposition from some ministers and the “unstable security situation.”

Many of the steps that were discussed, according to media reports, have been promised by past governments led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but have yet to come to fruition.

In a statement, the government said that the vote was geared toward “preventing the collapse of the Palestinian Authority while advancing the demand that [it] cease its activities against Israel in the international legal-diplomatic arena, [end] incitement in its media and education systems, [stop] payments to families of terrorists and murderers and illegal construction in Area C.”

Sunday’s vote followed a major counterterror operation carried out by Israeli forces last week in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, which Israel views as a hotbed of terror and where the PA has little authority.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 9, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

According to Hebrew media reports, the proposals deliberated Sunday are backed by the security establishment and include economic, travel, and security measures aimed at stabilizing the PA.

Among the steps discussed by the cabinet were the approval of a new industrial zone in Tarqumiyah, near the southern West Bank city of Hebron, a move long supported by Israeli security officials, and the extension of hours at the Allenby border crossing with Jordan, Channel 12 reported.

The cabinet was also said to debate economic measures including easing the schedule for PA debt payments to Israel, and the restoration of VIP permits for senior PA officials. The permits were canceled by the government in January in response to the UN General Assembly’s approval of a resolution promoted by the Palestinians requesting that the International Court of Justice weigh in on the conflict.

Security officials told Channel 13 news that they have warned the political leadership of the PA’s possible fall and called for advancing the measures quickly.

The measures are also intended to counter Iran’s influence in the West Bank, Ynet reported, following a series of attacks claimed by the Tehran-backed terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The decision also comes weeks after Netanyahu pledged that Israel will work to develop a natural gas field for the benefit of Palestinians off the coast of the Gaza Strip, a proposal that has been repeatedly floated for more than two decades.

The move is seen as an olive branch to the Palestinians and, if carried out, is expected to bring in billions of shekels to the PA.

The PA’s collapse would create chaos and a power vacuum in the West Bank, and serve as an opportunity for terror groups to seize control, similar to the situation in Gaza, where Hamas violently ejected the PA in 2007. The PA has increasingly lost control over the northern West Bank, empowering terror groups, and spurring Israeli forces to carry out regular operations in the area.

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