A group of red-beret-wearing Palestinian police scuffled with Israeli soldiers near Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ residence last week and ordered the military to leave the area of the West Bank under Palestinian security control. Footage of the December 21, 2015 incident was published by local media. It shows Palestinian presidential guards threatening Israeli forces outside of the city of Beitunia near Ramallah.
A Palestinian security official said his officers told the Israeli soldiers they would shoot if the soldiers did not retreat, reported the Bethlehem-based outlet Ma’an News Agency.
Because the confrontation involved Abbas’ personal protection force, the dispute was upgraded to the political track.
Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly apologized to the Palestinian leadership, citing the movement into a region controlled by Palestinian security as a mistake, according to Defense News.
Defense News went on to report the account of an unnamed senior Israeli official who said: ”Our soldiers came to the barrier that blocked off the street and told their soldiers to lower their weapons, that we needed to work here,” continuing, “The security of Abu Mazen [Abbas] started arguing, and after a few minutes, our soldiers understood. They took a different route. There was no violence; just shouting and perhaps pushing.”
The Palestinian leadership did not log the incident in its daily monitoring report of Israeli military activities inside of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.
While interactions between Palestinian security and Israeli military forces are not rare, the schism marked the first time in years when Palestinian police removed Israeli soldiers from a city in the West Bank.
Under the Oslo agreement the West Bank is divided into three regions (area A, B and C). Area A includes all of the major Palestinian cities and is under full Palestinian security control. Israeli forces are prohibited from entering these islands of autonomy, although in practice they cross into area A several times a week. Typically they enter for nighttime incursions and arrest operations, at which time Palestinian police are generally out of sight as a byproduct of security coordination between the armed forces.
The relationship between the two armed outfits has come under increased scrutiny by Palestinians who perceive security coordination as an example of their leadership sanctioning Israeli military control over the West Bank. In a recent survey by the leading West Bank pollster, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 64-percent of Palestinians said they support an end to security coordination with Israel.
Last year the Palestinian leadership voted to end security coordination with the Israeli military, which in theory would mean Palestinian police would make inroads to remove Israeli forces from area A of the West Bank. Despite the formal decision of the Palestinian government, implementation is still under debate. Palestinian leaders are meeting this week in Ramallah for continued discussions on when cutting ties with the Israeli military will take place.
The Palestinian presidential guard is one branch of the Palestinian police force established by the Oslo Accords. The forces train in the West Bank city of Jericho at a $10 million police academy funded by the U.S. government. In 2014 they added the first all-women unit.
The last notable confrontation between the presidential guard and the Israeli military took place in September 1996 when the presidential guard fired shots on Israeli soldiers in both the West Bank and Gaza, during clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinian demonstrators. The incident caused a diplomatic frenzy, and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, serving his first term, met with the former chairman of the Palestinian government Yasser Arafat.