The poisoned chalice of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation

The poisoned chalice of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation
Analysis: Palestinian-Israeli security and civil coordination is an important part of the Palestinian Authority's existence, so when the cooperation becomes irrelevant, what purpose - and whose - does the PA serve?
6 min read
09 March, 2015
Many question the point of security cooperation with Israel [AFP]
The decision of the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to recommend that security cooperation with Israel be halted was primarily a response to Israel withholding tax funds from the Palestinian Authority.

But many believe the ruling calls into question the continuing relevance of the Palestinian Authority - and its very existence.

Security cooperation is a central plank of the Oslo accords, and its suspension will raise questions about the PA's continuing purpose. It may not be possible for the PA to do more than merely reduce - not suspend - its security cooperation with Israel without undermining the reasons for its own existence.

Some believe the PA is merely using the threat of its own dissolution as a bargaining chip, as it has many times before. But this bargaining chip may no longer be effective, as the Israeli government deals with the PA as if it is irrelevant anyway.

The threat of the dissolution of the PA is no longer the threat it once was, as some Israeli ministers now agree and openly support an end to the PA. Yuval Steinitz, for example, had wanted the PA wound up by the end of 2014 if it pushed for Palestinian statehood at the UN Security Council.
Palestinians are living in an increasingly tense situation that could explode any moment

However, many believe the threat of suspending security cooperation with Israel remains a potent one.

The US administration reportedly assigned Secretary of State John Kerry to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas against suspending existing political, security or economic agreements with Israel.

"The US administration wants to keep the agreements," a PA source told al-Araby on condition of anonymity. "To show the world that everything with the Palestinians and Israelis is under control, even though it knows that the reality is the complete opposite. Palestinians are living in an increasingly tense situation that could explode any moment."

Israeli military authority

The PA's mistake was undertaking to support the work of the Israeli Civil Administration.

So instead of going straight to the Israeli liaison office to get a travel or medical treatment permit, as was the case before the Oslo Accords, Palestinians now have to go to the offices of the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, which has to contact the Israeli liaison office for a decision on whether to accept or reject the application.

The Palestinian ministry then notifies the applicant of the Israeli office's decision.

"The Israeli government eased the pressure on it. Instead of employing 30 Israeli officers to process Palestinian applications, Palestinian employees started receiving the applications and forwarding them to the Israeli side. This means less burden on Israel, and more on Palestine," an analyst told al-Araby. "Most importantly, the agreement did not change any Israeli work rules or standards."

However, many Palestinians in recent years have attempted to cut out the middle-man and do straight to the Israeli Civil Administration themselves.

Today, Palestinians from all social classes can be seen in the Ramallah settlement of Beit El, or in the Jabal Manuh camp in southern Hebron, or near any Israeli camps where liaison offices are. They come to get permits for medical treatment or make business arrangements for the private sector.

The chaos has somehow affected everyone - private sector institutions and banks, as well as health, education and economic institutions - albeit to different degrees.

"Everyone wants permits from the Israeli military authority, from the PA to ordinary Palestinian citizens," a senior Palestinian businessman told al-Araby.

The mass turnout each and every day at Israeli Civil Administration offices is ignored by the security authorities, despite guidelines issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs that stipulate any contact with the Israeli Civil Administration should be limited and whenever possible done through the Palestinian ministry.

The long queues in front of Israeli liaison offices indicate that few take such a statement seriously.

Al-Araby tried several times to contact Ayman Qandil, the Ministry of Civil Affairs' director of coordination for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but he was unavailable for comment.

A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that nearly 170,000 Palestinians receive medical treatment and business permits every year from Israel.

According to the source, direct contact between Palestinian citizens and the Israeli Civil Administration carries many risks to the perceived authority of the PA.

"First, breaking the psychological barrier with the enemy and dealing with it as a service facilitator," the source said.

"Second, finding alternative channels to the PA, which destabilises its sovereignty and centrality. Third, offering information to Israel from various sources, voluntarily and often inadvertently.

"Halting direct civil coordination would be more harmful to Israel than halting security coordination, as Israel receives ten percent of its intelligence through security coordination and 90 percent through direct civil coordination."

PA leaders are reported to be continuing civil coordination because they want to keep their VIP status.

Israel has previously punished Palestinian officials by revoking their VIP identity cards in response to statements Israel considered incitement.

Jibril Rajoub and Nabil Shaath, both members of Fatah's Central Committee, and Palestinian security spokesperson Adnan al-Dumairi are all understood to have been "punished" in this way.

All Palestinian institutions have someone with a key number to contact the relevant Israeli administration officer for permits, be they to do with the economy, education, health, lands, municipal councils, or whatever else. And some Palestinian civil servants deliberately skip the procedures of the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs and make contact directly.

The Israelis abandoned the agreement in 2002 when their tanks trampled every inch of PA land and killed hundreds
- Palestinian security official

"There's a protocol at the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs, under which a business delegation goes to welcome the Israeli Civil Administration's officer when he assumes his position, and another delegation bids him farewell when he leaves," said a civil service source.

Different names, same game

One of the longest serving Palestinian security officers told al-Araby that the array of communications channels had affected Palestinian security institutions.

"In the past, it was forbidden to deal with Israel except through one specified Palestinian officer, but now there are communications on different levels between Israeli and Palestinian officers, each in his own area," he said.

"All the efforts of the [Palestinian] security forces to protect the occupying soldiers and settlers in the Palestinian territories and foil all the attempts to attack them in Israel are done according to the agreement between the two sides, which stipulates that the Israelis have to respect the areas under Palestinian control and not carry out arrests inside those areas.

"But the Israelis abandoned the agreement in 2002 when their tanks trampled every inch of land controlled by the PA and killed hundreds of people."

Khalid Jarrar, a leading member of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said the PLO would be wary about moving against the Oslo accords.

"We are in need of a binding political decision to stop all communication with the occupation, only then can we ostracise anyone who defies the decisions," he said.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.