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Security ties between Palestinians and Israel begin to fray

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Reprinted from Middle East Eye

Attack on Israeli soldiers by PA guard exposes split between Netanyahu and army over how to respond

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas must abandon his pact with Hamas if he wants peace, Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu said
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas must abandon his pact with Hamas if he wants peace, Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu said
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has described his security forces' cooperation with the Israeli military as "sacred." But an armed attack on an Israeli checkpoint last weekend by a Palestinian security official, which left three Israeli soldiers injured, suggests that Abbas' view may not be widely shared among Palestinians.

Amjad Sukari, aged 34, a driver and bodyguard in Ramallah for the Palestinian attorney general, was shot dead on Sunday after he opened fire at Israeli soldiers stationed at a "VIP crossing" near Ramallah.

It was the second time in recent months that a PA security officer has opened fire on Israeli soldiers.

In December Mazen Ariba, a member of the Palestinian intelligence services, injured two Israelis, including a soldier, at Hizme checkpoint, close to Jerusalem.

Israel responded to Sukari's attack by briefly locking down Ramallah, the Palestinians' effective economic and political capital, in what appeared to be a policy of collective punishment.

Ramallah is also the headquarters of the Preventive Security Service, the PA's elite intelligence wing that is supposed to maintain what is termed "internal stability" but has come to be known for repressing domestic dissent and cracking down on Abbas' opponents, in particular Hamas.

Israeli military officials are reported to be increasingly worried that a decade of so-called security "cooperation" between Israel and the PA could quickly break down.

Amos Harel, a military analyst for the Haaretz daily, reported this week that greater involvement in attacks by members of the Palestinian security services was a "nightmare scenario that has worried the Israeli defense establishment for months."

He added that Israeli intelligence was trying to find ways to use social media posts to identify early those security officials who might turn their weapons on Israel.

That danger had been exacerbated by the tough line being pushed by the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of high-profile attacks like Sukari's, said Shlomo Brom, a former Israeli general who is now a researcher with the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

"We are seeing a polarization between the political and military echelons," he told Middle East Eye. "The government wants to prove to its supporters that it is being hard on the Palestinians -- that was behind the decision to close access to Ramallah.

"But the military fear that collective punishment of this kind could backfire and simply motivate more Palestinians, including security officials, to get involved in attacks. That could create a vicious cycle."

Brom said the lifting of the closure on Ramallah one day after its introduction was a signal that the military's line was still prevailing, but the political pressure was intensifying.

Trade in weapons

The fragile nature of the security relationship was underscored last month when Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel was preparing for the possibility that the PA, to which the security services answer, may collapse.

The PA's credibility has been waning as the diplomatic process has reached impasse, and there are doubts about how much longer the 80-year-old Abbas can continue.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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