The current wave of Palestinian terrorism continues in the West Bank, despite the best efforts of the Israel Security Agency and the Israel Defense Forces. As part of “Operation Break the Wave,” launched in March, the IDF has conducted multiple major arrest operations and thwarted many attacks—but not all.
The terror wave is being led by various armed groups, some of which have begun to operate independently though they are currently supported by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, as well as by Iran.
During 2022, the Palestinian Authority lost security control over the Nablus and Jenin areas in the northern West Bank. The P.A. seeks to avoid a frontal military confrontation with the armed groups as long as they do not pose a direct threat to the P.A. leadership in Ramallah.
P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas tells his associates he fears such a conflict will lead to civil war in the West Bank. Before foreign parties, he claims that the reason for the growth of terrorist groups is the fact that the IDF enters Palestinian city centers and Area A of the West Bank on a daily basis, in violation of the Oslo Accords, and that these groups are protecting Palestinian citizens.
The P.A. security forces are trying to bring about the peaceful disbandment of these groups through the lure of money and jobs. Palestinian officials say the P.A. is ready to pay $25,000 for every weapon handed over to it in the Nablus area.
Six armed terrorist groups operate in the northern West Bank. In the Jenin area there are the Jenin Battalion, the Jabba groups, the Kabatya groups and the Birkin groups. In the Nablus area, there are the Lions’ Den and the Balata Battalion.
These groups comprise young people in their twenties, who did not experience the Second Intifada and lack military experience, but nevertheless managed to quickly and efficiently integrate into the terror wave. According to security officials in Israel, the current wave of Palestinian terrorism is much more dangerous than the last one, which occurred in 2015.
According to Palestinian sources, 230 Palestinians were killed during 2022, including 171 in the West Bank.
According to estimates in both the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, the wave of terror will continue in 2023, and may increase because of the P.A.’s reluctance to confront the terrorist activities of these groups and because of the change of government in Israel.
The new terrorist groups that have emerged in the West Bank will continue to challenge the IDF and weaken the P.A.
The Netanyahu government will have to deal more harshly with these terrorist groups that operate from Area A which are under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority does not fight terrorism in the northern West Bank, contrary to the Oslo Accords, and it presents itself as “weak” in order to avoid a direct confrontation with the terrorist groups.
Security officials in Israel say that the P.A. has enough military power to dismantle the terrorist groups, but is not doing so due to a political decision by the P.A. chairman.
The Bennett and Lapid governments did not put enough pressure on Abbas to act against the armed groups, and accepted his explanations. In the city of Nablus, the terrorist groups have become a force that endangers IDF forces and Israelis who want to visit Joseph’s Tomb, as well as those traveling on the main roads in the Nablus area.
The Netanyahu government must clarify to the P.A. that it is obligated, according to the Oslo agreements, to dismantle the terrorist groups in the northern West Bank by all means, including the use of force. The P.A. claims that during 2022 it arrested about 60 security personnel who helped the armed groups. Yet this activity is not enough and the message of the new government in Israel to the P.A. must be clear and decisive.
Failure to dismantle the armed terrorist groups will encourage the establishment of new terrorist groups that will also try to carry out terrorist attacks inside Israel itself.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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