The PA's Hidden Interest in Security Cooperation with Israel

The Israeli army shot and killed a Palestinian political activist, Basel al-Araj, 28, in a raid on al-Bireh city, a few hundred meters from the centre of Ramallah in the heart of the West Bank, early Monday morning.

The killing of al-Araj, described by Palestinian news outlets as a "beacon for Palestinian youth" and by the Times of Israel as a "hipster terrorist", is a blunt reminder of Israel’s policy towards wanted Palestinian activists. However, the killing of al-Araj, a former leftist political prisoner well-known for organising protests against the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, also brings the PA’s vested interests in maintaining security cooperation with Israel back to the fore.

A report in the Jerusalem Post stated that al-Araj "was known for his participation in nonviolent civil disobedience" and that al-Araj attempted "to ride an Egged [National Israeli] bus into Jerusalem, in an event styled after the African American freedom riders of the 1960s". Yet al-Araj was no friend of the PA either and had previously been detained by the Palestinian security services for allegedly planning an attack against Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas publicly confirmed this in a newspaper interview, making no attempt to hide the PA’s involvement in al-Araj’s arrest. Al-Araj was reportedly beaten and tortured by the PA security services during his imprisonment. He was eventually released last September following a hunger strike organised by al-Araj and a number of fellow prisoners in protest at their ill-treatment.

The PA’s cooperation with Israel on matters of security is not a new phenomenon and was originally conceived in the early drafts of the principles that would eventually lead to the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, between 1993 and 1995. These texts assured that Israel could carry the "responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order." Israel has since used this as a justification to conduct military operations in area A – around 20% of the occupied West Bank – despite these towns and cities theoretically falling under Palestinian civil and security control. However, this is only possible due to the current security arrangements in place. For instance, when Israel enters Area A, the PA security forces simply stand back. Moreover, security cooperation relies on the PA sharing vital intelligence with the Israelis. In this particular case, questions have been asked about the Israeli army’s ability to track down al-Araj when even his own landlord thought he was a non-Arabic speaking Swedish expat.

The killing of al-Araj adds to a growing number of Israeli operations in the centre of Palestinian towns and cities seeking individuals designated as "fugitives". This has led to prominent Palestinian voices demanding the end of security cooperation with Israel, among them Mustafa Barghouthi, head of the Palestinian National Initiative (al-Mubadara). Aware that such feelings are widespread, leading members of the PA, including Abbas, at times claim that security cooperation is an essential comprise to ensure the PA’s continued existence. However, this explanation fits uncomfortably with the Palestinian leadership’s less popular reasons for maintaining the status quo. With the PA becoming more unpopular and increasingly harsh in its treatment of dissidents, critics argue that security cooperation with Israel cements the PA’s own control over the territories it administers. There can be no excuse for such Israeli excursions, but the Palestinian public increasingly feels that the PA is hardly the innocent bystander it would like the world to believe.


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