The latest area of contention between Israel and the Palestinian leadership is urban centers across the West Bank and just who is running security on the ground.
Late last night in a joint statement by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the three said they were in charge.
“The IDF maintains – and will maintain – the possibility of entering Area A, and anywhere necessary, according to operational needs,” said the release, closing, “There is no other agreement with the Palestinians.”
The announcement put to bed a debate brewing for weeks within Israel’s security establishment about suspending incursions as a means to calm tensions amid six months of increased violence. Since last October Palestinian attackers have killed at least 30 Israelis and Israeli forces have killed more than 180 Palestinians.
Netanyahu was rumored to favor the withdrawal of forces, but his critics argued against a pullout in a meeting of Israel’s cabinet hours before the prime minister and security officials released their statement.
The Israeli outlet YNet reported an “unprecedented” dispute broke, according to a source in the meeting. The most serious incident arose between the prime minister and Education Minister Naftali Bennett who leads the far-right party Bayit Yehudi and is regarded as a power-challenger to Netanyahu.
Netanyahu reportedly chided Bennett, “Calm down, or I’ll fire you,” to which Bennett responded sharply, “You can do whatever you want, I’ll keep fighting for my security positions.”
Netanyahu then added, “You aren’t running things here.” But within hours it was Bennett’s will and not the prime minister’s that was affirmed by the security cabinet.
Yet under the letter of the law about Israeli and Palestinian security relations established through previous agreements inked by both parties more than two decades ago, West Bank urban areas are off-limits to Israeli forces.
The zones of just where and when the army can enter the occupied territory were outlined in 1993 in the Oslo Accords. Israel and the Palestinian leadership agreed to divided the region into policing districts, Area A, Area B, and Area C.
Israeli forces are prohibited from entering Area A, comprised of disconnected territorial islands encompassing the Palestinian metropolis of Ramallah and all other large cities. Turning over Palestinian cities to Palestinian security was viewed at the time as the foundation of readying the West Bank and Gaza for sovereignty. A cornerstone was the build-up of Palestinian security forces. Today they number more than 50,000 officers.
Despite protocol, Israeli forces do enter Area A nightly, mostly for arrest operations. Palestinians leaders regard this as a tell-tale sign of Israel’s lack of seriousness in working towards a Palestinian state now, or at any point in the future.
More to the point, Palestinians see Israeli soldiers in their cities as why they want out of Oslo and a driving cause of their forays at United Nations for a Security Council resolution to order Israel to turn over the keys to the West Bank and Gaza.
“Israel is being clear about their determination to bury all signed agreements and destroy the prospects for a two-state solution,” head of the PLO Saeb Erekat told me.
“It is clear that Israel is focused in advancing its plans to strengthen their political program of ‘one state and two-systems’ all over historic Palestine, known more commonly as an Apartheid regime,” he said.
Under Oslo’s standards, Israel is obligated to inform the Palestinian Authority of a person of interest instead of raiding Area A itself. It is then the Palestinian responsibility to detain the wanted and turn him over to Israeli security if need be. The arrangement is described as security coordination. Palestinians regard it as the most despised facet of their government, often described as “outsourcing” Israel’s dirty-work to the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian leaders understand the doctrine of security coordination is not working in their benefit. Officials are increasingly uneasy about the cost of their protection services.
Last year a PLO group voted to end security coordination, in effect canceling the Palestinian end of the Oslo Accords. Still, the decision has yet to be implemented. The question now remains, was Israel’s statement on operating in Palestinian cities their version of cutting ties with Oslo?