Exclusive'Hamas, Islamic Jihad want to destroy West Bank, oust PA'

Senior PA security official: Hamas, PIJ recruiting youth ‘with nothing to live for’

Brigadier general says Palestinians being paid to target settlers and IDF; says he urged CIA to push Israel to combat settler violence, approve more permits, in order to flip trend

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

File: Undated image of Palestinian Authority security forces with the Fatah flag. (Hamas-affiliated al-Aqsa TV channel)
File: Undated image of Palestinian Authority security forces with the Fatah flag. (Hamas-affiliated al-Aqsa TV channel)

The Palestinian Authority faces an uphill battle in its attempt to curb terror in the West Bank, where Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been recruiting impoverished youth to carry out attacks, a senior officer in the PA’s Preventive Security Service revealed in a meeting this week, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told The Times of Israel.

Brigadier General Hassan Asfour, who serves as director of central operations in the Preventive Security Service, told members of the Palestinian diaspora in the US that the PA has intensified its arrests of Hamas and PIJ fighters in the West Bank in recent months.

While interrogating those suspects, the Preventive Security Service learned that many of them are from the poorest segments of society with “no food to eat” and “nothing to live for,” Asfour said, according to the source, who requested that the exact time and location of the meeting in the US not be shared in order to protect his identity. Asfour held several recent meetings with Palestinian diaspora communities in Virginia and Chicago and posted pictures from the latter gathering on Sunday.

The source said Asfour shared that the suspects arrested by the PA are often paid by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to carry out attacks against settlers and Israeli security forces. “Hamas and Jihad want to destroy the West Bank, and they don’t want the PA to be around,” said Asfur, whose Preventive Security Service is tasked largely with counter-terror operations targeting the two terror groups that are Ramallah’s main rivals in the territory.

Such detailed comments about the PA’s efforts to combat terror and the deteriorating situation for Palestinians in the West Bank are not typically shared publicly by government officials. Even rarer are candid remarks by a member of the domestic intelligence service to Palestinian expatriates.

Asfour said that in addition to being motivated by the money offered by terror groups, some of the suspects arrested by the PA confided with their interrogators that problems at home led them to participate in West Bank clashes.

“Someone who gets into a fight with his lover, his sister or his mother then wants to take it out on a settler,” he said.

Asfour told the group he was in the US for meetings and training at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Washington area, according to the source.

Asfour urged his American counterparts to pressure Israel to combat rampant settler violence and approve more permits for Palestinians to work inside Israel so that the younger generation suffering under Israel’s military control of the West Bank can have more “to live for,” the source said.

A spokesperson for the Preventive Security Service said Asfur did indeed meet with members of the Palestinian American community but denied the remarks attributed to him in this story. A CIA spokesperson declined to comment.

An undated image of members of the Jenin Battalion, affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (Telegram/used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The PA has slowly lost security control over areas of the northern West Bank amid allegations of corruption and its failure to reverse the expansion of Israel’s civilian and military control over the West Bank. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups financed by Iran have sought to fill the vacuum and have been increasingly targeting settlers and army positions in recent months.

In an effort to reverse the trend, PA President Mahmoud Abbas directed security forces earlier this month to operate against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the northern West Bank, particularly in Jenin, where the IDF carried out an extensive counter-terror raid on July 3 and 4.

While heavily criticizing Ramallah’s welfare system, which includes payments to imprisoned terrorists and their families, Israel has recognized that it prefers a functioning PA, given that it provides services to millions of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C-R) and PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (C-L) arrive to lay a wreath of flowers by the graves of Palestinian combatants killed in recent Israeli military counterterror raids on the Jenin refugee camp, July 12, 2023 (Zain Jaafar/AFP)

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government passed a decision to take steps to prevent the cash-strapped PA’s collapse. However, the resolution did not include any tangible steps, which will likely be difficult to push through, given the support of many members of Netanyahu’s cabinet for annexing large parts of the West Bank and even dissolving the PA.

Netanyahu himself reportedly said last month that Israel must “crush” Palestinian ambitions for statehood while clarifying that Israel still needs the PA, ostensibly as its security subcontractor.

In an interview earlier this month, Netanyahu laid out a vision for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which all Israeli settlements would be allowed to remain as enclaves under Israeli control, while Palestinians would receive a sub-sovereign state on the territory that remains, without security control, which would remain in Jerusalem’s hands.

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