analysisIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

As PA forces enter Jenin, Israel watches cautiously

Hundreds of terrorist gunmen fled the city last week; still, major questions remain over its fate and that of the Palestinian Authority.

Terrorists attend the funeral in Jenin of comrades who were killed during an Israeli military operation, July 5, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Terrorists attend the funeral in Jenin of comrades who were killed during an Israeli military operation, July 5, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

Palestinian Authority security forces have begun entering Jenin in recent days, following the Israel Defense Forces’ intensive security operation to degrade the terrorist presence in Jenin camp on July 3 and July 4.

Israel is watching closely to see whether the P.A. is able to re-establish control in a city where a power vacuum saw Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, localized terror groups and Iranian financing create a terrorist hornet’s nest as well as a budding rocket launch base.

The Israeli security establishment appears to be monitoring recent statements by P.A. head Mahmoud Abbas, which focused on internal policy in what is seen as a noteworthy departure from his usual focus on slandering Israel at the United Nations and other international forums.

It is too soon to know whether the P.A.’s entrance to Jenin will be effective and whether it can lay the basis for stability. It does, however, appear as if the P.A. has finally internalized the steep price it pays for losing control in Samaria, and the fact that Israel will not accept such developments, which also directly threaten the P.A.’s ability to govern other parts of Area A in Judea and Samaria, where the Palestinian cities are located.

The coming days will prove decisive in determining the effectiveness of the P.A.’s latest move into Jenin.

Meanwhile, hundreds of armed terrorists escaped the city last week to avoid engaging the IDF’s brigade-sized force of special units. Their absence could mean that it will be easier for the P.A. to take control.

This serves Israel’s strategic interest since it would allow the security establishment to prioritize attention and resources on bigger adversaries—Hezbollah and Iran.

On Sunday, the Israeli Security Cabinet voted in favor of a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority while demanding that it end anti-Israel activity in the international legal-diplomatic arena, incitement in its media and education system, and payments to families of terrorists.

“The prime minister and the defense minister will submit to the Security Cabinet steps to stabilize the civil situation in the Palestinian sector,” the Cabinet announced.

The P.A.’s weakness

Professor Boaz Ganor, president of Reichman University in Herzliya, who is also the founder and executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman, told JNS that he believes the P.A. is certainly interested in returning to Jenin and its surroundings.

“The Israeli operation created conditions that are objectively more comfortable for such a maneuver, but at the same time, it increased difficulties for this as well due to recurring criticism by the P.A.’s enemies—Hamas, PIJ and other opponents, who say that the P.A. apparently ‘collaborates’ with Israel and that the Israeli military maneuver was planned and implemented in cooperation or at least with the knowledge of the P.A.,” said Ganor.

Furthermore, the success of the Israeli operation, which caused significant damage to the terrorist presence in Jenin and its surroundings, did not significantly degrade the number of terrorists and other opponents to the P.A.’s rule, the professor said.

Ganor attributed the P.A.’s general weakness and that of its leader to several factors, including frequent accusations of corruption—accusations leveled by Hamas and PIJ chiefs. 

Poor relations between “the elements of government in Israel and the Palestinians—relations that deteriorated over the years—contributed to the PA’s weakening and that of its security forces,” he added.

Abbas’s personal status is shaken within the P.A., due to his age and poor condition, and the lack of change in relations between the P.A. and Israel, Ganor assessed, creating a very real risk of a loss of further control in other parts of Area A.

Takeover plots

Meanwhile, radical Islamist forces are likely plotting future attempts to launch a takeover attempt in Judea and Samaria.

Both Hamas and PIJ maintain “close ties with Iran, which is directly, and through Hezbollah, trying to synchronize activities against Abbas, against the Fatah organization, and against P.A. security forces,” said Ganor.

“For a number of years, these elements have pursued a policy of building and strengthening an operational infrastructure in the West Bank, under the P.A. and Israeli intelligence radar to the extent possible, all in order to prepare for the day that Abbas leaves the Palestinian arena, and to enable these organizations to take over the West Bank, the P.A., and the PLO,” he added.

Still, he said, a repeat of Hamas’s violent coup in Gaza in 2007 in Judea and Samaria is unrealistic due to Israel’s military and intelligence presence on the ground.

“Abbas has, as head of the P.A., made many policy and security mistakes. He did not pick up on the opportunity given to him by the Olmert government at the time to advance the peace process, he did not act to create confidence by Israel in the P.A, and between Israelis and Palestinians. He did not act with determination against anti-Israel incitement, and himself contributed to it,” said Ganor.

“While unlike his predecessor Yasser Arafat Abbas did not support terrorism against Israel, and he understood that these actions endanger the Palestinian national interest, he did not translate this insight into stopping payments to families of terrorists and payments to incarcerated terrorists in Israeli prisons,” said Ganor.

“Such a step could have harmed the terror infrastructure in the West Bank, but would have certainly harmed Abbas’s popularity in the Palestinian arena. Abbas has, over the years, in this sense, tried to walk along a tightrope,” he added.

As uncertainty continues to envelop Judea and Samaria, the race to succeed Abbas within the P.A. and Fatah is underway. It remains to be seen whether this competition and other factors described above will see the P.A. fall apart and its territory fall to Islamist jihadist forces, or whether a successor might emerge who is strong enough to stabilize the area.

Hamas, for its part, is gambling heavily on the former scenario, and focusing many of its current efforts towards realizing it.

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