While the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians is at a standstill, the security ties between the IDF and the armed forces of the Palestinian Authority have never been closer.
The steep decline in organised terror attacks originating in the West Bank over the past four years has been attributed mainly to more forceful operations by the IDF and successful penetration into the Palestinian organisations by the General Security Service. The IDF now admits it has another partner.
“The level of co-ordination we have today with the Palestinian security organisations is astonishing,” said one IDF brigade commander.
“They keep order in the areas we have handed over to them, inform us of arms caches and when we go into the towns and villages to make arrests, we inform them in advance so they can keep their men on base and prevent any friction.
“They haven’t become Zionists all of a sudden. It is clear that they have reached a decision that this is the only way they can prevent a Hamas takeover of the West Bank like the one in Gaza.”
Another milestone was reached last week when, on two separate occasions, Palestinian forces entered Hamas strongholds in Kalkilya to carry out arrests. Shooting broke out both times and seven Palestinians, including two Hamas leaders, were killed.
Three weeks ago, a Palestinian soldier shot at an Israeli force which was operating in Arab disguises in Kalkilya. The incident was swiftly cleared up when it transpired that the Palestinian thought he was shooting at Hamas fighters.
The Kalkilya events impressed the IDF to such a degree that one very senior officer said: “We probably shouldn’t say in public how pleased we are so as not to draw too much attention.”
Another major factor motivating the Palestinians is US Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, the security co-ordinator between Israel and the Palestinians, who, for the past two years, has been running a training programme for the Palestinian security forces in Jordan.
So far, three battalions have graduated from the programme. Each has taken responsibility for a different town in the West Bank and a fourth is soon to be deployed. The discipline of these units has impressed Israeli officers.
The improved co-operation has led to the removal of dozens of IDF roadblocks in the West Bank around Palestinian towns, including five major ones just last week.
This move has angered the leaders of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. They blame Defence Minister Ehud Barak of “playing roulette with security” and claim that he is trying to pander to the US. Mr Barak visited Washington last week. “This is part of a process which has been going on for a year in which we have been trying to improve conditions for the Palestinian population,” said a source in Mr Barak’s office.
Senior IDF officers — who have seen previous arrangements with the Palestinian forces transform into bloody confrontation in a matter of minutes — describe current policy as “risk management” and are aware that the situation may not be stable. What has encouraged them, though, is the fact that even during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, five months ago, the two sides carried on working side by side in the West Bank.