Israel is examining the possibility of expanding the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority's security forces to include Hebron, this following a request made by the PA – Ynet learned on Tuesday. The move would correspond with a measured decrease in IDF activity there.
The proposal stems from Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's concern that Hamas will seize control of the West Bank city by taking advantage of the unrest pervading the streets as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' term comes to an end in January 2009.
The Palestinian request was recently communicated through discreet channels to senior diplomatic figures in Jerusalem, who did not outright reject the idea.
However, they conditioned the implementation of the plan on the approval of the defense establishment. The proposal was discussed in Fayyad's meetings with Israeli officials and the US Special Envoy for Middle East Security, General James Jones.
Fayyad said he believes the expansion of the PA's authority would strengthen the resolve and motivation of the Palestinian street to maintain the calm. Allowing PA troops to operate in Hebron, Fayyad said, would weaken Hamas' influence there and prevent the deterioration of the security situation.
Fayyad pointed to Hebron as the city most likely to fall into Hamas' grip. The Islamic movement, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup last year, poses a threat to the Palestinian Authority's rule in the West Bank.
Increasing pressure on Hamas
The proposed plan would follow the Jenin model. Fayyad noted two successful operations carried out by PA forces in two villages in the Hebron area to this effect.
The Palestinian prime minister suggested that while Israel would limit its operations in Hebron, it would retain the right to act in the event of an emergency or crisis.
He also proposed the continued cooperation between Israeli intelligence and Palestinian forces on the ground in Hebron regarding terror threats and Hamas' activities in the region.
Jerusalem has yet to decide on the request, among other things due to its potential to spark an outcry amongst Hebron's Jewish settlers. However diplomatic officials have yet to outright reject the proposal, saying parts of it were essentially positive. The sources expressed their support of Fayyad's intention to
ratchet up the pressure on Hamas.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas met in Olmert's Jerusalem residence. The meeting was held ahead of Abbas' scheduled address before the United Nations General Assembly next week.
Israel will be represented at the New York event by President Shimon Peres.
Olmert's office characterized Tuesday's meeting as positive, declining to expand on what was discussed. The two leaders are set to meet again upon Abbas' return from the Assembly.