NABLUS, West Bank | A senior Israeli commander in the West Bank recalled that he used to carry a thick notebook full of names of wanted militants. Today, the list is so thin it “almost doesn’t exist,” he said.
And when Israel’s military chief recently visited a famous church in Palestinian territory, he had some unlikely escorts: Palestinian security forces.
Palestinians, however, are asking whether the successful security cooperation is sustainable and whether it truly will move them toward statehood. And can continued cooperation be justified if peace talks go nowhere?
The coordination, which has been going on for several years, still makes some within the forces uneasy.
“Israel wants to arrest someone, and you know about it or see it or are even a part of it,” said a 39-year-old Palestinian security officer in Nablus. “You participate in the crime.”
Like many of his comrades, the officer is a former militant who once spent his days battling Israel. In a deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel has granted amnesty to hundreds of ex-militants in return for laying down their arms.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear he would be fired, the officer said his colleagues have accepted their leaders’ decision to renounce violence, but he feels at times that Palestinian forces are doing Israeli’s bidding.
“Coordination is supposed to go both ways, but it never does,” he said. “The Palestinian side is weak, and Israel only wants us to do what it says.”
The United States and Europe have poured millions of dollars into the Palestinian security forces, considering their competence a prerequisite for statehood. Israeli army heads acknowledge the progress.
The officer who once tracked militants said he meets with Palestinian security officers once a month and visits the Palestinian city of Bethlehem every few months as their guest, carrying only light arms.
“I place my security in the hands of the Palestinian security forces,” said the officer, who was not allowed to be identified under military rules.
Last month, he said, he was joined by Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
The Palestinians seek an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a capital in East Jerusalem, territories Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast war. Interim peace agreements have given them limited autonomy in about 40 percent of the West Bank, but Israel retains ultimate control. Palestinian forces are largely confined to urban areas.
Their successes and limits were clear on a recent night when Associated Press reporters rode along on patrol in Nablus, a city of 335,000 famous for deadly battles during the second Palestinian uprising. Today, it has a new mall and movie theater.