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Washington 'greatly concerned' by security situation

Senior Biden official: US aiming to boost Israel-PA security ties amid violence wave

Barbara Leaf says security situation in West Bank cannot be looked at in a vacuum, improvements to Palestinians’ economic conditions essential for stability

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group participate in the funeral of Taher Zakarneh, 19, who was killed during clashes with Israeli forces, in the West Bank town of Qabatiya, near Jenin, September 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group participate in the funeral of Taher Zakarneh, 19, who was killed during clashes with Israeli forces, in the West Bank town of Qabatiya, near Jenin, September 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The Biden administration is working to ensure the continuation of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority amid the ongoing spike in West Bank violence, a senior US official said Wednesday.

During a phone briefing with reporters recapping her trip to the region earlier this month, US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said the US is “greatly concerned” by the security situation beyond the Green Line.

Leaf did not comment on the latest deadly clash, which took place early Wednesday and saw an Israeli officer killed by two Palestinian gunmen, one a member of the PA security services, who were both shot dead in the ensuing gunbattle. But she said the US is working “to ensure to the greatest degree possible that security cooperation is robust and continuing.”

Israeli forces have been carrying out nightly raids in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank for months as part of Operation Breakwater, launched after a series of deadly Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May.

More than 2,000 suspects have been detained since the start of the operation, according to the Shin Bet security service. Meanwhile, at least 97 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces so far this year, according to a tally from the PA health ministry. The list included Palestinians who carried out attacks inside Israel, teens violently protesting the IDF’s nightly raids and Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.

Leaf’s emphasis on Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation echoed remarks made on Monday by State Department spokesman Ned Price who also recognized the “undeniable” security threats Israel faces from terror groups and lone actors in the West Bank. At the same time, Price said the PA’s ability to address security threats in the West Bank is hampered when its ties with Israel “are at a nadir.”

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the latter’s office in Ramallah on June 11, 2022. (State Department/Twitter)

For her part, Leaf on Tuesday credited US Security Coordinator in Jerusalem Mike Fenzel for facilitating the Israeli-PA security cooperation.

Leaf added that bolstering the security coordination alone will not be sufficient in clamping down on the recent violence, saying that “other things are done around and outside that security cooperation that sustain it.”

The senior US official said many of her meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials focused on improving economic conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, explaining that this “can help and sustain improvement in security conditions.”

File: Mourners carry the body of Ali Harb, who was allegedly stabbed to death by an Israeli settler, during his funeral in the northern West Bank village of Iskaka on June 22, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Leaf highlighted the granting of 4G cellular access to Palestinians and opening of the Allenby crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24/7 — two announcements made by the US during President Joe Biden’s July trip to the region, which Leaf said she pushed Israel to follow through on.

According to a Channel 13 report from last week, Leaf’s meetings with Israeli officials were somewhat tense as she expressed her concern over the high Palestinian casualty count.

While Israeli officials in turn clarified that they are not interested in an escalation of violence, they said the IDF would continue its operation throughout the West Bank aimed at clamping down on terror threats in order to protect the lives of its citizens.

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