Despite “unity” Israel army sees PA forces continuing collaboration against Hamas

One of the most puzzling aspects of the “reconciliation” deal signed yesterday between the Hamas resistance movement which runs the interior of besieged Gaza, and the US-supported, Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, is whether Palestinian security forces in the West Bank will continue to collaborate with the Israeli occupation army as they have been doing for years.

Anshel Pfeffer reports in the The Jewish Chronicle today that senior Israeli officers believe that collaboration will continue as usual:

“From my perspective, the Hamas-Fatah deal is fiction,” said the IDF officer, looking out from a hilltop over the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday morning. “None of the Palestinian local representatives or security officers I have spoken to over the past week have said that it changes anything for them.”

On the same day, Hamas leaders and President Mahmoud Abbas signed the agreement in Cairo, but the consensus among IDF officers serving in the West Bank and liaising daily with their Palestinian counterparts was that it was no more than window-dressing.

“Naturally, we are keeping our eyes open for any change in security co-ordination,” said one of the regional brigade commanders. “But as far as I can tell, it is business as usual for the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. Their priority up to now has been to prevent Hamas from gaining a toe-hold in the West Bank, and they have made it clear to us that nothing for them has changed.”

The Palestinian police’s reaction to the planned “Day of Rage” on May 15 will act as a crucial barometer for their real intentions but, so far, all indications in the field are that the agreement is no more than a PR exercise for Palestinian politicians.

The response to the unity agreement is out of proportion.

This has so far been a huge relief for the IDF and Shin Bet, since much of the war on Hamas terror in the West Bank over the past three years is based on co-operation with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian security forces.

(I should note here that while The Jewish Chronicle is not necessarily a reliable source, Anshel Pfeffer, the journalist who wrote this report, also writes for Haaretz and it is on that basis that I consider this report credible.)

While it was all smiles, hugs and handshakes between Hamas and Fatah leaders at the Cairo signing ceremony yesterday, they have not explained whether the Palestinian Authority will continue to collaborate with Israel to police the occupation of the West Bank once Hamas joins, or whether this collaboration will stop. How can Palestinian security forces be integrated and coordinated when the Abbas-controlled forces are on Israel’s side in the war against Hamas? Moreover, notice that the Israeli don’t just expect collaboration against Hamas, but also against the kind of popular, unarmed protests some Palestinians have called for on May 15, the day Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48.

The reality – as I wrote in earlier blog posts – is that there will be no real “reconciliation” on the ground, an assessment apparently shared by the head of Israel’s Shin Bet secret police. As Pfeffer reports:

Although he refused to specifically mention the government’s response, outgoing Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said this week that “the response to the unity agreement is out of proportion”.

Mr Diskin said that the agreement was only “tactical” - to improve Hamas’s relations with the new Egyptian government and to help Mr Abbas present a picture of Palestinian unity to the UN.

He added: “I don’t see real reconciliation happening on the ground in the next few years. For that you need joint security structures and representation for Hamas in the West Bank and for Fatah in Gaza.

“That looks very unlikely at the moment. Fatah will not let Hamas into the West Bank and Hamas will not allow Fatah into Gaza.”

Few people have focused on this crucial question, preferring instead to express cautious hope that the unity deal will work. But unless this question is addressed head on, there is no chance of “unity” being anything more than superficial.

All this goes to show that a more sensible slogan for Palestinians is not “End the Division,” but “End the Unity” – between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Israeli occupation. That must be the first step to rebuilding a true Palestinian national consensus.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.