Israel and the Palestinians disagreed sharply on Tuesday over the effectiveness of security measures by the regional Palestinian administration in Yehuda and Shomron, deepening doubt about peace prospects in the U.S.-brokered talks.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon poured scorn on the commitment of the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the region under interim peace deals, to follow through in moves against Palestinian terrorists.
“We counted 1,040 cases that were handled by the Palestinian security services in 2013. How many of them went to trial? Zero,” Yaalon said at an international conference hosted by Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
In the same period, Yaalon said, Israel had arrested some 3,000 Palestinians, many of whom were later imprisoned.
After Yaalon’s speech, the conference aired a videotaped interview with Abbas, who said he would stand firm on his statehood demands and could hold Hamas to a peace accord.
He did not say how. Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist and has refused to renounce terrorism.
Asked what his administration was doing to maintain calm, Abbas said: “All the security forces are devoted to performing their duty to prevent arms smuggling and their use within the Palestinian Authority or Israel.”
“This is the utmost challenge that the security forces are dealing with. It is not a secret that this is done with the full cooperation of the Israeli and the American security apparatuses,” Abbas said.
A U.S. official briefed on the issue was hard-put to explain the disagreement between Abbas and Yaalon.
“It’s true that we haven’t seen trials” of Palestinian suspects held by Abbas’s administration, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. But, the official said, that did not mean there was no Palestinian security enforcement.
Asked if that meant Abbas’s forces might be dealing with suspects away from public view, the U.S. official said “yes.”
With the peace talks at a virtual standstill, two surveys, by the INSS and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), released on Tuesday found that 67 percent of Israelis and 70 percent of Palestinians do not believe a permanent peace accord can be reached.
The INSS poll surveyed 1,200 Israeli Jews, while 1,270 Palestinians were interviewed by the PSR in Yehuda and Shomron and the Gaza Strip. Both polls have a margin of error of 3 percent.
In other remarks at the conference, Yaalon alleged that the United States is withdrawing from the Middle East and leaving a power vacuum for other, hostile powers to move in.
Yaalon said that the U.S. pullout from Iraq has allowed Iran to gain a foothold there, and that Washington’s decision to stay out of the Syrian conflict opened the way for Russia to become a main player in the region for the first time in years.
Regarding hopes for the current peace talks, he wasn’t hopeful. He said that until the Palestinians recognize Israel’s claim to be a Jewish state and give up the “right of return,” there could be no peace agreement.