Diplomacy & defense
Secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have taken place in the last few weeks addressing the return of full Palestinian security control over cities in Area A of the West Bank, Haaretz reports.
According to senior IDF officials quoted in Haaretz, the IDF would use Ramallah and Jericho as test cases, withdrawing from them initially and then from other Area A cities depending on how the "trial" goes.
The IDF would retain the ability to enter these cities in "ticking bomb" situations, Haaretz says.
While Area A — about 17 percent of the West Bank — was designated as being under full Palestinian security and administrative control in the Oslo Accords, when Operation Defensive Shield began with the IDF's incursion into Ramallah, the army once again began operating in the territory, despite the ongoing presence of the Palestinian police force.
Nonetheless, the talks — which according to Haaretz were intended to improve security cooperation between Israel and the PA and to improve stability in the West Bank — are currently deadlocked, hampered by a lack of buy-in at the political level on both sides.
Haaretz reports that the talks were initiated by the Coordinator of Government Affairs in the Territories Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads up Israel's military government in the West Bank, and head of Central Command Ronny Numa.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have all been kept apprised of the talks, Haaretz says.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, head of Palestinian intelligence services Mahjid Faraj and head of preventive security Ziyad Hab el-Reikh also took part in the discussions.
US security coordinator Fred Rodsheim was also kept in the loop about the talks, Haaretz says.
According to the report, the talks were initiated following a security coordination meeting between the two sides in which the Palestinians — all three who ended up being involved in the negotiations — threatened that the PA would end its security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank unless the IDF stopped operating in Area A.
The Palestinians also said that the situation in Area B — which is under Palestinian administrative control and Israeli security control, and makes up about 23 percent of the West Bank — would have to be restored to pre-2002 conditions. According to Haaretz, Israel is also restricting the PA's activity in this territory.
According to Haaretz, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is struggling with the proposal from a political perspective because, among other things, it would involve formally recognizing Israel's right to operate — no matter how infrequently — in Area A, in the event of a "ticking bomb" scenario.
On the Israeli side, Haaretz reports, Netanyahu has said that he needs a quid pro quo from the Palestinians that he can pass through the security cabinet.
The proposal, while currently stalled, is already causing controversy. According to Haaretz, head of Habayit Hayehudi and Education Minister Naftali Bennett has reacted negatively. Sources close to Bennett said that the plan puts the security of Israeli citizens at risk and that it would overturn what Israel believes was accomplished by 2002's Operation Defensive Shield.
Meanwhile Absorption Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), who is also a member of the national security cabinet, responded: "I am utterly opposed to the idea of reducing the IDF's security operations in Area A and handing responsibility to the Palestinians, especially at a time of rampant Palestinian terrorism.
"The Palestinian Authority, which incites on a daily basis, is the source of the problem and certainly not the solution."