The Biden administration is urging Ramallah to adopt a plan aimed at boosting the Palestinian Authority’s security presence in the northern West Bank, where fighting between Israeli forces and local armed groups has grown increasingly deadly.
The proposal was raised by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday, two US and Palestinian officials said, confirming an Axios report.
In recent months, the PA has seen its control over growing swaths of the West Bank slip away, particularly in northern West Bank cities such as Jenin and Nablus. Israel says that as a result, it has been forced to send its own troops into those areas — which under the Oslo Accords are supposed to be under full PA control — to carry out arrests of security suspects.
In the past similar raids may have been carried out by the PA, which maintained security cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces until last week.
Many of the Israeli raids have sparked increasingly violent clashes with armed Palestinians frustrated over the Israeli incursions and the PA’s willingness to cooperate.
Some PA security force members have taken to selling ammunition and weapons to fighters throughout the West Bank as a means to make a living amid Ramallah’s dire financial state, according to a senior Israeli official.
The plan would see the establishment of PA Civil Police SWAT teams in Jenin and Nablus in order to re-establish the PA’s control in the area. It would seek to reduce friction between PA police and Palestinian civilians by deploying civil police to operate and carry out arrests instead of paramilitary forces normally used, according to a source familiar with the matter.
While Abbas did not provide Blinken with a final answer regarding the proposal, PA officials have given a chilly response to it thus far, lamenting its lack of inclusion of an Israeli commitment to cease raids into PA-controlled Area A of the West Bank, a Palestinian official said.
The official added that recruitment for such a force would also be difficult amid growing public frustration with the PA. Israel, meanwhile, supports the US plan, according to Axios.
Abbas said last week that the PA was ending security coordination with Israel in response to an IDF raid in the Jenin refugee camp that left nine Palestinians dead, the most lethal operation in years.
Eight of those killed were members of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas terror groups but a 61-year-old woman was also killed and roughly a dozen other civilians were injured, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
On Sunday, the PA president appeared to walk back the freeze, telling US Central Intelligence Agency director Bill Burns that security ties were only partially cut and that intelligence sharing has continued along with the PA’s arrest of terror suspects, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.
The Jenin raid, and a Palestinian terror attack the following day outside of an East Jerusalem synagogue that left seven Israelis dead, wound up shifting Blinken’s priorities for his trip to the region, which wrapped up Tuesday. In response to the paroxysm of violence, the secretary of state moved restoring calm between Israelis and Palestinians to the top of his agenda, according to a senior US official.
The plan to shore up the PA’s security presence in the northern West Bank was crafted by US Security Coordinator in Jerusalem Mike Fenzel last year, the US and Palestinian officials said.
During the visit to the region, Blinken also reiterated US opposition to Israeli settlement expansion legalization of illegal outposts, moves toward West Bank annexation, home demolitions, evictions, settler violence and disruptions to the status quo at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, though he did not state how the administration would act if such actions continued.