- - Monday, February 15, 2016

RAMALLAH, West Bank — It’s a revelation that has sent shock waves throughout the Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza Strip: The Palestinian Authority (PA) has acknowledged thwarting dozens of attacks on Israelis planned by local militants.

Last month, Palestinian General Intelligence Service chief Majid Faraj told Defense News that the PA has foiled 200 attacks on Israelis, confiscated weapons and arrested 100 Palestinians since October, when the so-called Third Intifada, an uprising against Israel’s dominance of the Palestinian lands, began.

Mr. Faraj framed the policy as crucial to preventing chaos in Palestine that the Islamic State, the violent jihadi group that controls large swaths of Syria and Iraq, might exploit.

Islamic State “is on our border; they are here with their ideology; and they are looking to find a suitable platform to establish their base,” Mr. Faraj told the newspaper. “Therefore, we must prevent a collapse here, because the alternative is anarchy, violence and terrorism. We, together with our counterparts in the Israeli security establishment, with the Americans and others, are all trying to prevent that collapse.”

Mr. Faraj, who claims to have never before given a face-to-face interview, denied repeated requests by The Washington Times to discuss his comments. Palestinian Authority security services spokesman Adnan al-Damiri said he would neither confirm nor deny the statements.

Rival Hamas, the group that dominates the Gaza Strip and whose political arm vies with the Palestinian Authority for dominance in Palestinian enclaves, pounced on the news, blasting Mr. Faraj for accommodating Israel when Palestinians were engaged in a bloody struggle for independence. Hamas is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries.

“What Faraj said confirms the role of the PA protecting Israel to stop the Third Intifada,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who has said the policy reflects the “national and moral decline of the Palestinian Authority’s security establishment.”

Following growing restiveness in Palestinian territories and clashes with Jewish settler groups, violence in the West Bank in the past five months has soared, killing 174 Palestinians and injuring 10,000 others, while 26 Israelis have been killed and 440 wounded, according to Israeli and Palestinian figures.

In his interview, Mr. Faraj said the latest uprising was self-defeating.

“We are sure that violence, radicalization, and terrorism will hurt us,” he said in the Defense News interview. “It won’t bring us closer to achieving our dream of a Palestinian state.”

The Palestinian Authority has long cooperated with Israel, which refuses to negotiate with Hamas. Israel, after all, provides financial and limited military support for the authority. Critics say the PA has used Israeli backing to curtail Hamas’ power, a charge that has eroded the popularity of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli response

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, refused to discuss security coordination with Palestinian security forces. But he blamed Hamas for inciting Palestinians to stage violent protests against Israel that would never bear fruit.

“The terrorists are intoxicated on the images and messages of violence against Israelis, leading the attackers, sometimes in their early teens, to attack civilians and security personnel,” said Lt. Col. Lerner.

Mr. Abbas has announced several times that he will stop coordinating with Israel to protest expanding Jewish settlements in the region and the Israeli Defense Forces’ incursions into Palestine to suppress violence related to the uprising. But so far Mr. Abbas has held off from making that move.

“The Palestinian Authority doesn’t implement its frequent threats of stopping the security coordination,” said Nasser Al-Laham, chief editor of the Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem.

But in the absence of a peace process with the hard-line government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that suggests the Palestinian Authority might deliver benefits to its constituents, Mr. Abbas might change his mind, said Mr. Al-Laham.

“Israel doesn’t respect the Palestinians’ dignity,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Palestinian Authority stopped the security coordination one day.”

Some saw Mr. Faraj’s comments as evidence of growing divisions within the Palestinian elites about how to proceed, given the lack of progress in recent years.

Adnan Abu Amer, a political scientist at Al Ummah University in Gaza City, suggested Mr. Faraj was jockeying for power within the PA with the help of Israeli interests.

“Majed Faraj’s confession reflects the role of the PA in suppressing the Palestinian resistance,” he said. “This is part of his plan to be the next Palestinian president by gaining the trust of Israel.”

Talal Okal, an independent political analyst who regularly writes opinion pieces in Palestinian media, said he was curious why Mr. Faraj decided to grant an American defense-oriented publication an interview at such a sensitive time. The savvy political operator must have known it would alienate many of his countrymen, he noted. The minister must have also known the interview would give Hamas fuel for its criticism of the Palestinian Authority as weak and too accommodating of Israel.

“This confession is strange at a time when most Palestinians sympathize with the Third Intifada,” said Mr. Okal.

Mr. Al-Laham said the Faraj interview was likely trying to telegraph to Israeli and American officials that the Palestinian Authority has nothing to do with the current uprising, which has been called the “Intifada of the Knives” because it’s been marked by young people stabbing Israeli settlers in West Bank cities like Hebron, where the two groups rub shoulders.

“Faraj’s confession is a response to Israel trying to accuse the authority of supporting the Third Intifada,” said Mr. Al-Laham. “This is a proof that this intifada is a spontaneous and a normal reaction toward the settlers’ invasion.”

Still, there are some who applaud Faraj’s stance. Hanadi Abu Khayran, a Palestinian graduate student studying human rights at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, said the Third Intifada is not working. Teens with knives would not stop the Israeli military, but they would likely get themselves killed. The Palestinian Authority has the responsibility for enforcing law and order and protecting foolish youngsters from themselves, he added.

“The current situation harms us more than benefits us,” he said. “We lose our youth and young children for doing nothing that really affects Israel negatively. What Faraj said is logical and rational.”

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