A Shin Bet security agency paper expressing serious reservations about a possible move to withdraw Israeli soldiers from Palestinian cities is being kept from members of the security cabinet, the prime minister’s inner circle of senior ministers that makes key policy decisions, it was reported Monday.
Furthermore, the report in the Hebrew-language daily Haaretz said citing a senior source, a senior Shin Bet figure, who took part in a West Bank tour for cabinet ministers some ten days ago, was prevented from presenting his organization’s position when the subject came up for debate.
Israeli-Palestinian talks over recent weeks have centered on honoring a provision of the 1993 Oslo Accords that gives the Palestinian Authority responsibility for civilian and security affairs in Area A, which includes the main Palestinian cities and villages around them and makes up about a fifth of the West Bank.
After Operation Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 — a massive Israeli military campaign to quash terrorism during the Second Intifada — Israel stopped honoring that clause and the army has been operating in Area A with complete freedom ever since.
The Palestinians are demanding that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw simultaneously from all the cities and rejected an initial Israeli offer to withdraw completely from Ramallah and Jericho first, and to restrict activities elsewhere in the West Bank to arrests of Palestinians suspected of intending to carry out imminent attacks.
The IDF and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon believe that the Palestinian security services are capable of undertaking a sizable chunk of the work that the army does today.
The unnamed senior official was quoted by Haaretz as saying that the sides were now discussing a temporary limit on IDF activities in all Palestinian cities with increased responsibility for Palestinian security services. IDF entry into Area A would require the approval of the head of the army’s Central Command rather than that of a division commander, as at present.
Palestinian sources said an additional meeting took place Sunday with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), and Roni Numa, the head of Central Command, representing Israel, along with a Palestinian team including PA Civilian Affairs Minister Hussein El-Sheikh and Majed Faraj, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service.
The Palestinians are keen to reach an understanding before Tuesday’s meeting of donor nations to the Palestinian Authority in Brussels.
But the Shin Bet fears that a restriction on IDF activities in Area A could compromise efforts to prevent terror attacks, the report said.
Right-wing lawmakers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), as well as Zeev Elkin and Gilad Erdan (Likud), are up in arms, fearing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ya’alon are making political decisions on Palestinian-related issues via the army, and representing them as security talks about tactical changes on the ground, according to the report.
Neither the Shin Bet nor the Prime Minister’s Office denied the existence of the position paper. The security service just said that its stance on “sensitive political issues” was presented to the political echelon and not through the media. The PMO was quoted as saying that “the IDF maintains and will always maintain complete freedom of activity in every place in accordance with operational needs.” It added, “This policy will not change and will continue in the future.”