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Israel, Palestinians making progress on talks to limit IDF activity in West Bank

An Israeli soldier takes aim during clashes with Palestinian youths in the village of Qabatiya, near the West Bank town of Jenin
Jaafar Ashtiyeh (AFP/File)
Deal would give Palestinians back full control over Area A, severly scale back Israeli military activity

Israelis and Palestinians are inching closer to a possible deal that would limit Israeli military activity in areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli officials and Western diplomats familiar with the secret talks told Haaretz.

The talks, first reported on by Haaretz, are centered around improving security cooperation between Israel and the PA and to improve stability in the West Bank.

Israel proposed that its military would end all activity in Area A — the part of the West Bank that, according to the Oslo Accords, is supposed to be under full Palestinian control — but retain the ability to enter these cities in "ticking bomb" situations.

The talks are being conducted between the Coordinator of Government Affairs in the Territories Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads up Israel's military government in the West Bank, head of Central Command Ronny Numa, and the Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, head of Palestinian intelligence services Mahjid Faraj and head of preventive security Ziyad Hab el-Reikh.

Both Israeli officials and Western diplomats said that the two sides met three times over the past few weeks and have resolved some of the disputes, but not yet enough to make a final agreement possible.

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.

Israel proposed that it 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.

But the Palestinians rejected this idea, demanding that the IDF stop operational activity in all cities in Area A.

They argue that accepting the Israeli proposal would grant a de facto Palestinian seal of approval to IDF activity in other West Bank cities and legitimize a unilateral Israeli violation of the Oslo Accords.

A Palestinian official said the Palestinian Authority wants to resume full security control of all major Palestinian cities in the West Bank and will not agree to a “Ramallah and Jericho first” model.

In exchange for an end to Israeli military operations in these cities, he said, the Palestinians will commit to continue security coordination with Israel.

Both Israelis and Palestinians are trying to present the talks as strictly security-oriented rather than as diplomatic negotiations.

In an interview with Israel's Channel 2 television last Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned of potential 'chaos' in the event that the Palestinian Authority cease its security cooperation with Israel.

Abbas said that since the second Intifada erupted in late 2000, Israeli forces have entered Area A every day, in violation of the Oslo Accords.

"Try me for a week — if I don't meet my responsibilities, then come back," he told interviewer Ilana Dayan.

"Give me responsibility for the Palestinian territories, and test me… if Israel has specific intelligence information, give it to me and I'll handle it… But they don't give me the intelligence information," Abbas said.

He also said he had offered to meet with Netanyahu to discuss his demand for an end to IDF activity in Area A, but Netanyahu refused.

Netanyahu denied this, charging that Abbas was the one who wasn’t willing to meet.

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