In a recent article for the Israeli newspaper Maariv, Ofer Shelah, an analyst with insider knowledge of Israel’s security apparatus, has addressed the issue of future Israeli-Palestinian relations analysing the status quo and outlining his expectations and predictions of future actions to be taken by Israel’s General Security Service (GSS), Shin Bet. His analysis appears in the light of announcements that Yuval Diskin will continue as president of the Shin Bet until May 2011 and focuses on the situation within the Palestinian territories occupied by Israeli since 1967.
According to Shelah, Shin Bet is one of the main supporters of strengthening the power of the Palestinian Security Services whose impact on the ground was felt more strongly since the ‘Agreement of the wanted’, which was itself an initiative of the security services. It is worth mentioning that this agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to hand in ‘the wanted’ stated that Palestinian resistance fighters from Fatah should surrender themselves to the Palestinian Security Services and sign a pledge not to return to the practice of violence, and in return Israel has vowed not to harm them.
Shelah stated that Shin Bet commends the design of the Palestinian Security Services and the way in which they comply with the commands of the Palestinian Authority’s chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Based on high-level sources within Shin Bet, Shelah warned that the fuel behind of the security services’ determination following the Hamas takeover in Gaza three years ago, has started to run out a great deal and would be especially low should the process of negotiations enter an impasse within a year, or if Abu Mazen’s decision to resign from office was confirmed, which would alter the current reality entirely.
Quoting the same sources, the Israeli analyst added that Shin Bet could not see or anticipate the future of the Authority should Abu Mazen cease to remain in office, pointing out that the man proposed by Abbas as his successor, Abu Maher Ghoneim, does not fit the profile of a leader. Neither does Salam Fayyad, whom the Shin Bet sees as not having succeeded in creating a political base of his own despite the progress of the steps he has taken toward building the State, that the reality on the ground is good for the Palestinians and that the Israelis respect and appreciate him. Nonetheless, the whole situation is irreversible, perhaps not over time, but within a rapid context.
The Israeli analyst anticipated the steps the GSS would take on various points and predicted that it would issue warnings about taking interim steps in the negotiating process citing that the process of thwarting Hamas’ operations would be particularly difficult if there were Israeli withdrawals or changes in security arrangements prior to the settlement. In return for an assessment that supports bold decisions in the final agreement, which is an unreasonable assumption, such an agreement would come before Diskin’s mandate comes to an the end.
Shelah also asserted that Shin Bet may be tempted to take a rigid approach to a possible deal regarding the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who has been held by the Palestinian resistance since June 2006. The West Bank, with all its possible potential changes, is of course a front being studied by the intelligence services and is no less important than developments in the Sinai but which is still not on the top priority list for Israeli intelligence agencies.
He concluded by saying that the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has started to use the Sinai Peninsula as a backyard for its activity and that members of their production, training and implementation units move between Gaza and the Sinai through underground tunnels and with the assistance of the Sinai Bedouin. He noted that the Egyptians are focused on domestic issues working topically and not structurally in the Sinai, pointing out that they can and must work more in the area of foiling operations emanating from the Sinai against Eilat for which the Jewish state and its intelligence service officially accuse the Hamas movement.