The decision by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to allow Palestinian doctors to enter Israel with their vehicles has left some Palestinians wondering whether Israel and the Palestinian Authority are maintaining secret back-channel talks.
The latest COGAT decision regarding Palestinian vehicles follows a series of steps Israel has taken since its March 17 elections. These steps stand in sharp contrast to reports about growing tensions between Israel and the PA, especially in the wake of the Palestinian decision to join the International Criminal Court and threats to suspend security coordination between the two sides.
Israel’s first gesture came even before the election, when Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered water to be hooked up to the new Palestinian city of Rawabi.
One week after the election, in yet another surprise move, Israel decided to release frozen tax revenues belonging to the Palestinians. And in an even more surprising step, Palestinians living in towns surrounding Jerusalem woke up last week to discover that Palestinian policemen had been deployed in their communities.
For the first time since the signing of the Oslo Accords more than 20 years ago, Israel allowed armed and uniformed Palestinian policemen to operate in E-Ram, Abu Dis, Eizariya and Bido.
A spokesman for the Palestinian police told AFP that the deployment was the “result of coordination” with the Israeli authorities.
Ironically the deployment of Palestinian policemen in the towns surrounding Jerusalem (which are located outside the city’s municipal boundaries) came days after the PLO recommended that the Palestinian leadership suspend security coordination with Israel. The PLO, however, does not have the power to halt such coordination, and its decision – which was announced in Ramallah following a meeting led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas – is nothing but a recommendation.
Palestinian sources say that despite repeated threats by Abbas and other Palestinian leaders, security coordination with Israel continues as usual. This coordination, according to the sources, includes intelligence-sharing and dealing with daily issues concerning Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.
The ongoing security coordination is mainly directed against Hamas and other radical groups that pose a threat not only to Israel, but also to the PA.
Israel and the PA have a common enemy in the West Bank: Hamas. The PA leaders in Ramallah are well aware that without help from Israel, they would face another Hamas coup like the one that took place in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.
Today, the number of Hamas operatives and supporters whom PA security forces arrest in the West Bank is larger than the number of the ones Israel targets.
Hardly a day passes without reports about several Hamas supporters being arrested or summoned for interrogation by various branches of the PA security forces in the West Bank.
While the rhetoric of most Palestinian officials toward Israel remains inflammatory, there is a feeling among some Palestinians that matters between the two sides are not as bad as they seem to be. Many are convinced that Israel and the PA leadership maintain a form of secret back-channel dialogue that allows the two parties to continue working together despite apparent tensions between them.
Some have even gone as far as arguing that the recent Israeli gestures are part of a deal to stop the Palestinians from filing war-crime charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. Other Palestinians attribute the gestures to a strong desire on the part of the PA leadership to avoid an all-out confrontation with Israel, on both the diplomatic and security levels.
At the same time, Israel has an interest in preventing the collapse of the PA in the West Bank – a situation that would result in total anarchy and lawlessness and pave the way for another intifada.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post