TEL AVIV, Israel—Midday Monday two uniformed Israeli soldiers mistakenly drove into downtown Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank. Several dozen locals blocked the military jeep’s path, taking stones and chairs to the windshield and windows. Amidst the terrified screaming and shattered glass, a uniformed Palestinian Authority (PA) policeman was seen in cellphone footage of the incident, gun unholstered, trying to press the mob back. The PA Security Forces were ordered to deploy in force to the scene, securing the Israelis’ rescue before transferring them back safely to the Israeli authorities. A major tragedy—if not an even larger political crisis—was averted.
The events in Jenin were not an isolated incident. Earlier this month, an Israeli civilian mistakenly took a wrong turn into a village outside Jerusalem, whereupon he was set on by a 200-person throng. His vehicle was torched, but here too, the PASF intervened and extricated him. According to official Palestinian figures, in 2017 alone over 500 Israelis strayed into Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank; they were all detained safely by the PASF and returned to Israel unharmed.
This type of action is only one facet of what is called Israeli-Palestinian “security coordination,” a nebulous catch-all term that, nevertheless, can be defined and measured. In addition to retrieving wayward Israelis, coordination includes several other operational components that have arguably never before been described publicly: dialogue and intelligence sharing; counterterrorism; deconfliction during Israeli military raids into PA-controlled areas of the West Bank; and riot control. Above it all stands the Palestinian strategic decision championed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: no to violence.
Thus, for instance, Israeli and Palestinian officers are in constant contact—“daily and weekly” according to one senior PA security official—to discuss common threats in the West Bank that could “impact the stable security situation on both sides.” This often takes the form of counterterror operations against their common foe, Hamas, with intelligence flowing both ways. During the haba (eruption) of “lone wolf” terror attacks in 2015-2016, the PASF worked to interdict attackers—predominantly young Palestinians—ahead of time; by the end of 2016, according to one count, the PASF were responsible for a third of all terror suspect arrests.
When Israel wants to take matters into its own hands, however, it does, launching near nightly arrest raids into Palestinian cities. This is handled via an official deconfliction mechanism between the two entities (“don’t go outside,” Israel tells the PASF) that on the whole works seamlessly. “Once we needed a division to enter [the Palestinian city of] Jenin,” Israel’s defense minister stated in late 2015. “Two days ago, we did it with a small force.” This was in fact the case the other week, too, when the IDF conducted several raids in the Jenin area targeting a Hamas cell responsible for the murder of an Israeli settler—including a fairly unprecedented fifteen-hour operation inside the Jenin refugee camp. According to several reports, Palestinian intelligence may have assisted Israel in locating the cell.
Finally, the PA works—whether by commission or omission—to stop large-scale demonstrations from coalescing and escalating, particularly in the sensitive seam zones (highways, checkpoints and settlements) between Israeli and Palestinian control. It’s not an accident that, in the two months since President Donald Trump’s December speech recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the level of unrest on the ground has been tepid. The PASF have reportedly worked to stop armed protesters from reaching the front lines of the demos, and the PA writ large has not mobilized its people to take to the streets.
As a senior IDF officer with responsibility in the West Bank told The Daily Beast, security coordination with the PASF has actually grown closer since Trump’s speech—this despite recent Palestinian threats to re-examine such ties, and unlike the Palestinian move taken last summer that temporarily suspended coordination at the higher echelons.