Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Improving Situation in the West Bank?

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Update from AIJAC

December 4, 2008
Number 12/08 #02


It has been little noted in Australia, but there appear to have been signs in recent months that the situation in the West Bank is improving, in terms of the threat to Israel from terrorism, the threat to the Palestinian Authority from Hamas, and the welfare of the population. This Update features reports on these positive developments.

First up is the incomparable Ehud Ya'ari, Israel's top journalist dealing with Arab affairs, who just visited Australia. He says terrorism has been defeated pretty comprehensively in the West Bank over the past six years, via Israeli intelligence work and continuous small raids. He also discusses new arrangements whereby the Palestinian security forces are taking a much more important role and reducing the need for Israeli action in some towns. He says the key to consolidating these gains now is to bring in money, which Arab donors have pledged but failed to supply, to build economic momentum in the areas stabilised. For Ya'ari's full analysis, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, discussing the importance of the security barrier to stabilising the security situation in the West Bank is Canadian journalist and recent visitor to Israel Licia Corbella.

Next up, Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel of Haaretz have penned an important feature on recent events in the West Bank, and how Israel is responding to them. The story makes it clear that Palestinian security forces have recently been notably successful in restoring order in some  West Bank cities, and are now cooperating well with Israeli authorities. Moreover, past predictions that, without Israeli action, Hamas would soon take over in the West Bank now appear to be no longer operative. The piece also discusses the preparations by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the expiration of his term in January, and Israeli security force thinking with regard to Gaza. For this highly informative report, CLICK HERE.

Finally, the Jerusalem Post reports on an Israeli Defence Ministry assessment which details strong economic improvements in the West Bank as the result of the calm and improved law and order there. The report describes improvements in employment, wages and security forces cooperation, and attributes the positive developments primarily to PA efforts to stamp out Hamas' influence. It also mentions 117 West Bank roadblocks removed by Israel this year. For the full story, CLICK HERE.

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A West Bank Victory

By EHUD YA’ARI


An article in Issue 17, December 8, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report.

Terror has been defeated in the West Bank.

Israel has managed to register a clear victory against the menace; even though isolated bombings, shootings or stabbings may still occur, the backbones of the terrorist military organizations have been broken. This is a major achievement that must not be wasted.

It has taken six years - since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 - of systematic effort to reach this result, including nightly raids, usually by small detachments, into Palestinian towns and villages to arrest or kill terrorists, concentrated and focused coordination between all branches of the defense establishment, and above all, acquisition of accurate, real-time pinpointed intelligence. This achievement must be credited to the Shin Bet's ability to crack the terror networks by making them transparent and creating an almost intimate closeness to the top terrorist operatives.

At this point, all of the participants in this sacred campaign agree that the West Bank has been thoroughly cleansed of active terrorist networks. Of course, sleeper cells may still lay dormant here and there, and there is always the danger that a new network, about which there is no information as yet, is in the process of being set up. However, the production line of suicide bombers, explosive belts and roadside bombs has been totally destroyed. And attempts to manufacture homemade rockets, like the Qassams in Gaza, have not succeeded anywhere on the West Bank, thanks to the Israeli raids.

The final phase of this confrontation, directed against the Islamic Jihad terror network, has been taking place over the last year and a half in the Jenin - Tulqarm sector in the northern West Bank. Fifteen terrorists have been killed and some 150 have been captured, and stores of weapons and explosives have been uncovered. Jenin, which had been the terrorists' capital city since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, has become a model of peacefulness - so much so, that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ventured there during her early-November visit to the region.

The Israeli army has permitted a battalion of the Palestinian National Security Forces, trained in a special camp near Amman, Jordan, under the supervision of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, to deploy in the Jenin area, where it continues to systematically harass Hamas and Jihad militants by acting against their "civilian" infrastructure: mosques, charities, businesses and educational and health institutions. The level of coordination between the Palestinian commanders and their Israeli counterparts is surprisingly high, and the cooperation is producing results daily.

A second Palestinian battalion has completed the training in Jordan and now operates in Hebron, where it has racked up considerable success against Hamas terror cells and stymied the Islamist movement's other functions.

All this, however, has not convinced Israel to transfer full responsibility for security in these cities to the Palestinian officers. The Israeli army and the Shin Bet have reserved the right to operate independently when they see fit, although the need for such operations is steadily decreasing. Accordingly, we can expect to see additional sectors in which Palestinian forces are operating, with the arrival of four more battalions that are scheduled to train in Jordan. Parts of the rural district between Hebron and Bethlehem will be soon handed over to them, as will the villages and countryside surrounding Jenin.

But the process is too protracted and tedious. In Nablus, for example, an attempt to deploy Palestinian forces to enforce law and order failed, and another attempt will have to be made in the future. Furthermore, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Salem Fayyad have not yet succeeded at another daunting task: the unification of the different Palestinian intelligence agencies under a single, effective, command. The early November ousting of Gen. Taufik Tirawi as head of General Intelligence was a step in the right direction, but not sufficient in itself.

The significance of these developments is in the emergence of a new security framework in the West Bank: The Palestinians are taking the direct struggle against Hamas and Islamic Jihad into their own hands, while Israel remains in the background - poised to act, but preferring to leave it to the Palestinians. That which could never have happened in the days of Yasser Arafat is happening: effective partnership against terror. But this partnership would never have developed if Israel had not, on its own, eradicated the terrorist menace first. And, of course, what motivates the Palestinian troops now is the realization that if they do not act forcefully now - Hamas is bound to ultimately take over the West Bank.

In order preserve and develop this pattern further, it is important to take care not to assign the Palestinian units tasks that are beyond their ability; to retain the authority of the Israeli security forces to intervene in special circumstances; and to strictly maintain a fair system of cooperation.

And it is crucially important to guarantee that the "new order" in Jenin and Hebron and elsewhere is accompanied by economic momentum. The plans for such momentum exist, but the money promised by the "donor states" - and especially the Arab states - has not been forthcoming. Rapid improvement in the economic atmosphere is a virtual prerequisite for the stabilization of the security achievements, but these improvements lag far behind. Removal of Israeli army roadblocks alone will not bring a sense of prosperity and progress.

The slogan should read: "Money Now!" •

An article in Issue 17, December 8, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report.

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The IDF's preoccupation


By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel


Haaretz, 27/11/2008   

RAMALLAH - While Israeli security officials and some Fatah people are asking themselves how much longer Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will remain in office, he is signaling that he intends to remain on the job well beyond January 9 - the date when Hamas insists his tenure will end.

Last Sunday, shortly after 11 A.M., a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council got under way at the Muqata government headquarters. The Palestinian anthem, "Biladi," was sung; the opening chapter of the Koran was read; and Palestinian National Committee speaker Salim Za'anun offered opening remarks. In his speech, Za'anun first criticized Hamas and then Israel. The real threat is coming from Hamas - it must be dealt with first, he said. Official Ramallah understands that the upcoming Knesset elections will significantly delay the final status negotiations, particularly if Benjamin Netanyahu emerges victorious.

The next speaker was Abbas, the ra'is himself. Abbas, who exuded self-confidence and cracked jokes, sounded determined to bring the Arab peace initiative to fruition. He has been holding many consultations about how to sell it to both Israeli and American public opinion. He has even adopted a new diplomatic slogan: When Jordan's King Abdullah told him that what's needed is a solution of "two states for two peoples," the PA chairman replied: "We're talking about a 58-state solution" - referring to 57 Islamic and Arab states that could reach a full peace with Israel, the 58th state.    

Abbas reserved the real news for the end of his address: If the crisis with Hamas is not resolved by the beginning of 2009, he warned, he would announce early elections for the presidency and the parliament. Abbas refrained from giving an exact date. But this comment was an explicit threat aimed at Hamas, making it clear that Abbas is not afraid to compete for the support of the Palestinian street.

The latest polls are predicting a landslide victory for Abbas and Fatah, but then again, Palestinian pollsters utterly failed in predicting the Hamas upset in the January 2006 parliamentary elections. Conversations with residents of Ramallah and the Jenin area mostly indicate a sense of exasperation and weariness with Palestinian politics and with both Fatah and Hamas. Still, the achievements of Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad over the past year and a half, in making the West Bank a much more bearable place to live, cannot be ignored.

In three cities - Jenin, Nablus and now Hebron - the PA has been able to assert its sovereignty. Armed militants are no longer on the streets, and the general atmosphere of anarchy has faded; even in Hebron, a putative Hamas stronghold, the PA is chalking up some surprising accomplishments. However, PA efforts still do not reflect a full-blown policy: The police and the judicial system in the West Bank need to undergo significant changes to ensure genuine governmental stability, but for now at least, residents are feeling as though public order is being restored to their cities. And while the economic situation isn't great, it's immeasurably better than in Gaza, under Hamas.

Last week, Abbas launched a head-on confrontation on another front as well, with Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League. Moussa, who supported the Egyptian initiative for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, had threatened that the League would not hesitate to assign blame to any party that thwarted the success of the talks that were supposed to be held in Cairo. After Hamas canceled its participation in the Egypt summit - primarily because it feared that reconciliation would hurt its control over Gaza - Abbas and his supporters expected Moussa to cast the blame on their Islamic adversary.

In fact, Abu Mazen explicitly requested such a condemnation at the Middle East Quartet meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh two weeks ago. But Moussa did not comply. Speaking to Nabil Shaath, a close Abbas associate, he said that the PA and Israel had reached a secret agreement of principles behind the Arab League's back. Shaath reacted angrily. Following this exchange, Abbas decided, in an unusual step, not to attend the meeting of Arab foreign ministers that took place in Cairo a couple of days ago.

There will be blood


Official Israel is refraining from making too many statements, but feverish discussion of what will happen after January 9 continues. Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin diagnosed the destructive potential of the political crisis in the PA some months ago. Under pressure from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's people, the Israel Defense Forces has also been drawn into the massive preoccupation with this issue. Senior officers said this week that the IDF is preparing for various possible scenarios in the West Bank, including Abbas' resignation because of the legal controversy regarding his standing, a serious blow to his health or even his assassination. A Hamas declaration that Abbas' tenure is "illegal" could be equated with a license for him to be killed. Nonetheless, a senior defense official said: "[Abbas] wishes to remain in office and will find a way to do so."

Meanwhile, Fatah officials are not only pressing Abbas to stay - the more fervent among them are urging the PA chairman to declare Gaza a separate district and to call for elections in the West Bank only. They are advising him to stop paying the salaries of unemployed PA workers in Gaza, a move that would exacerbate the economic situation there.

The IDF believes that the roots of Fatah's new, more determined stance in the internal Palestinian conflict lie in a series of events that began with Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007. The iron fist with which Hamas subsequently dealt with the Strip's Hils and Durmush clans sharpened the message. A series of Israeli operations against Hamas' civilian infrastructure, primarily last summer's raid of a mall owned by Islamic associations in Nablus, convinced the PA that it would be better if its security apparatus, and not the IDF, did the dirty work. The result has been the closure of dozens of Hamas-affiliated associations and offices, and the arrest of hundreds of its members.

Sources in the Israeli defense establishment confirm the claim made by the heads of the Palestinian security forces, to the effect that they are close to crushing Hamas' military infrastructure in the West Bank. Hamas has also drastically reduced its money transfers to its charity organizations in the West Bank, fearing the PA will get its hands on the money.

"They've stopped pulling one over on us," says an official in the IDF General Staff. Another officer adds: "We now have an excellent subcontractor in dealing with Hamas. It's not like in the past, when we transferred responsibility to the PA. You can see the spark in their eyes." The assessments made merely six months ago, to the effect that Hamas would require just 72 hours to take over the West Bank from Fatah, have been tossed onto the intelligence junk heap.

In the long term, the General Staff predicts, Fatah and Hamas do not believe they'll be able to coexist. But in the short term, although it is not interested in reconciliation, Hamas does have an interest in reaching a tactical time-out, since it still needs to consolidate its control over Palestinian society and the administration in Gaza. As part of its comprehensive strategy, Hamas agreed to a tahadiyeh (period of calm) with Israel. In Israel, the tactical need for quiet has trumped strategic considerations.

However, experience in the territories shows that an unexpected scenario tends to scuttle even the best plans. Officers remind Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel of how, in February 1994, as head of the General Staff's operations division, he quickly dispatched 185 companies to the territories, following the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein. One incident, from the Israeli or Palestinian side, could shake up all earlier predictions.

What's the rush?

A few months ago, Defense Minister Ehud Barak may have been sending out a vague, double message about a broad IDF operation in Gaza, but this week he stated in an unusually direct speech at the Knesset: "I haven't come here to apologize. I do not regret a single day of calm and I will not regret any additional days, as long as it serves the interests of the State of Israel."

Barak warned against those who believe, futilely, in a "sterile aerial solution" to the problem of the rockets from Gaza. "Whoever wants a stable and permanent solution to the Hamas threat from Gaza will have to go in there and take care of the problem. Don't play around with empty words: If you're calling for a return to Gaza, then say so out loud and clearly acknowledge the implications."

The war option isn't about to be used, Barak said, emphasizing that he had no desire to return to the alleyways of the Jabaliya refugee camp. Perhaps once his party loses a few more Knesset seats in the polls, we'll get to hear what he really thinks about the negotiations to return kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

The Israeli interest, as perceived by General Staff officials, is to weaken Hamas. But as long as Abbas' security forces aren't strong enough to replace Hamas in Gaza, there's no point in rushing. Most of the generals (a minority opinion is held by Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, head of the Southern Command) seem to believe that even if the government decides on a limited occupation of parts of the Gaza Strip, there's a danger that continued the rocket fire during the operation could generate pressure from Israeli public opinion to solve the problem once and for all. From there, it's not a big leap to a call-up of several more reservist divisions, a full occupation of the Gaza Strip, and a long-term relationship with a million and a half Palestinians, whom Israel wrongly thought it finished dealing with after the disengagement.

Military estimates declare a daily price tag of NIS 17 million just to cover the cost of medicines, baby food, diapers and basic supplies destined for the occupied population in part of the Gaza Strip. Amid a worldwide economic crisis, even half a billion shekels a month (not including the costs of maintaining an army in combat and reserve duty days) cannot be easily dismissed.

The transition government is turning Olmert's tenure into the longest term ever of a government of national paralysis. Ever since the failure in the war in Lebanon, the distraction of constantly being preoccupied with the next commission of inquiry has affected the government's (non)decision-making - from pointless discussions about Gaza to not-very-serious meetings of the ministerial committee discussing a prisoner exchange for Shalit. Practical preparations for a massive invasion of Gaza have been frozen for now. Barring an extreme scenario such as mass casualties in a rocket attack, it's hard to envision an invasion of Gaza in the near future.

The war games considered by the IDF, in the event of a large-scale ground operation, involve a major blow to Hamas, but not its total defeat. One scenario predicts eight days of combat, approximately 650 Hamas casualties, more than 30 IDF casualties and a good number of Palestinian civilians, who would hurt or killed in the crossfire. And even after all that, only part of the Strip would be occupied, there would be tremendous infrastructural damage on the Palestinian side, and the Qassam fire would continue. Not to mention the expected international criticism of such an operation and the possibility that Hezbollah might use the opportunity to open a second front in Lebanon.

The IDF would incur most of its casualties from large explosives, attacks that make use of tunnels and anti-tank rocket fire, but at this point there is no concrete intelligence pointing to the fact that advanced anti-tank missiles, like the Matis and Kornet, in the hands of both Syria and Hezbollah, have been smuggled into Gaza.

"Occupying Gaza is a political decision," says a senior officer. "On the operative level, there is no discussion about the outcome. Everyone knows it won't be a walk in the park, but, if given the assignment, the IDF knows what to do. The question is a strategic one: What does Israel wish to attain and to whom will it hand the keys after the occupation?"

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Israel: Economic surge in W. Bank

Yaakov Katz

THE JERUSALEM POST, Dec. 1, 2008

Unprecedented military coordination and a sincere effort by the Palestinian Authority to crack down on Hamas has led to a unique economic surge in the West Bank in the past year, according to an internal Defense Ministry report obtained on Monday by The Jerusalem Post.

Prepared by the IDF's Civil Administration, the report cites a three percent drop to 16% in Palestinian unemployment since the beginning of the year. In addition, the report cites a 24% increase in Palestinian average daily wages, up from NIS 70 in 2007 to NIS 86.9.

The stats were collected in recent months from a variety of sources, including the PA and the United Nations International Labor Organization. Since the beginning of the year, the IDF has also removed 113 roadblocks and dirt mounds throughout the West Bank, enabling easier travel between Palestinian cities.

Officers in the Civil Administration said the economic surge was the result of a number of parallel factors but was mainly due to improved coordination between Israel and the PA, as well as a decision by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to make a concerted effort to stop Hamas' build-up in the West Bank.

"On the one hand, there is the Israeli policy to separate Gaza from the West Bank and improve the reality on the ground in the West Bank," one officer noted. "There is also the PA, which is fighting for its survival and understands that it needs to fight against elements that could undermine its regime like Hamas and Islamic Jihad."

The officer noted the deployment of newly trained PA forces in Jenin, Hebron, Nablus and soon in Bethlehem as a demonstration of that effort.

In addition to the increase in wages, the recently ended olive harvest also saw a major boom, jumping from NIS 200 million in revenue in 2007 to NIS 517.5m. in 2008. Military sources said that the IDF-PA coordination was not the only factor - traditionally every other year is a bad harvest - but had contributed to the dramatic increase.

There was also a 10% increase in the number of workers employed in settlements - up from 23,000 in 2007 to 26,000 in 2008, as well as a 10% increase in the permits issued for Palestinians working in Israel - 23,000 compared to 21,000 in 2007.

Security coordination with the PA had also reached new heights, the report claimed, noting that 247 meetings had been held between IDF and Palestinian officers since the beginning of the year.

In addition, the IDF has permitted the opening of 20 Palestinian Police stations throughout the West Bank that facilitate activities both in the rural areas and towns.

Also, at the request of the PA, Israel facilitated the deployment of Palestinian Police Forces in Hebron in a successful attempt to challenge Hamas terrorist infrastructure and is currently in talks to allow the PA to reinforce forces in Bethlehem ahead of Christmas later this month.

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