After 33 Months of Clashes, Joint Security Patrols Resume in Gaza

For the first time in three years, Israeli and Palestinian troops once again will share responsibility for security in the Gaza Strip.

The revival of the joint security arrangements can already be seen on the scene. Since Monday morning, Palestinian drivers were driving without interference from the Israel Defense Force on Road No. 4, the main traffic route running through the Gaza Strip, following security arrangements between IDF and Palestinian Authority officers.

Come evening, thousands of Palestinian vehicles were using the road, which until last weekend was off limits for Palestinians.

At times, it seemed as if the clock had been turned back to the days when joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols seemed the first step toward peaceful relations along a joint border. As Palestinian policemen took over responsibility at strategic points like the settlements of Kfar Darom and Netzarim, armed Palestinian and Israeli officers stood side by side — talking for a change, rather than shooting.

Israel will have security control over the entire region, with special emphasis on the security of Jewish settlements. There will be a separation of several hundred meters between Israeli positions and Palestinian positions, and Palestinian policemen will be expected not to leave their positions at night, so that they aren’t mistaken for terrorists and fired on.

The entire operation will be supervised through intensive daily contacts between the Palestinian and Israeli officers.

But the atmosphere has changed drastically since the earlier times: Joint security apparatuses have not always worked, but until September 2000 there was a basic air of understanding that such patrols were the optimal channel for security arrangements between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Now neither party dares to think about the future, hoping to maintain quiet for a few days, or possibly for the entire three month cease-fire declared this week by the main Palestinian terrorist groups.

The coordination in the field reflects higher-echelon coordination within the two sides’ defense establishments.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, agreed Tuesday to set up four joint committees, including a joint security committee.

The Palestinians claim they already have prevented a number of terrorist attacks, and Israeli security sources confirm that for the first time in years, a Palestinian security presence is felt on the street.

Ideally, the parties would return to the patterns of the Oslo accords, which went into detail regarding the sharing of security arrangements in the region. The provisions first applied to the Gaza and Jericho regions, but later to all of “Area B” — parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that were under Palestinian civilian control but Israeli security control.

Overall security was coordinated by District Coordination Offices, or DCO’s, where Palestinian and Israeli barracks were adjacent to each other, allowing officers to consult in real time.

Palestinian authorities had the power to take necessary measures related to Israeli vehicles or personal belongings if they suspected that they were unlawfully obtained — provided they immediately notified Israeli authorities through the DCO.

That applied only to Israeli assets; the Palestinians were unauthorized to arrest Israeli citizens in their territory. In such cases, they were expected to ask the Israeli military forces to take punitive action against the suspects.

Similarly, when a Palestinian committed an offense inside a Jewish settlement, the Israeli military forces would notify the Palestinian police immediately. They were supposed to hand over the offender and any evidence collected to the Palestinian police, unless the offense was security-related.

Joint security committees supervised the implementation of the accords, with each committee comprising between five and seven members from each side.

The DCOs’ most effective tools were the joint patrols and joint mobile units. Each DCO was to notify the relevant Israeli and Palestinian headquarters, as well as the joint patrols and joint mobile units operating in the relevant district, if public order was disrupted.

The mission of the joint patrols was to ensure free, unimpeded and secure movement along the roads. The joint patrols usually included two 4-wheel drive vehicles, one Palestinian and one Israeli, with four persons in each: an officer, a signal operator, a driver and a guard.

The joint patrols operated 24 hours a day, in vehicles and on foot. In roads under Israeli security responsibility, the Israeli vehicle was the leading vehicle. In roads under Palestinian security responsibility, the Palestinian vehicle was the leading vehicle.

The Israelis reserved special security privileges for themselves regarding the settlements, the three lateral roads connecting the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip to Israel and the main road running along the Gaza Strip, which was reopened this week to Palestinian traffic.

As in the past, under the new arrangements Israel will continue to conduct independent security activity along those roads, including Israeli patrols.

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