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US law leaves Israeli-Palestinian security ties up in air

January 31, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli and Palestinian officials on Thursday signaled that security coordination between them will continue, despite a looming midnight deadline that will cut off all U.S. assistance to the Palestinians.

Security cooperation in the West Bank is one of the few remaining areas of contact between Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority after years of otherwise rocky ties, with both sides joined in a common struggle against the Islamic militant group Hamas.

This coordination has been thrown into doubt by a law that requires the U.S. to cut off its financial assistance to the Palestinians, including millions of dollars in security aid, as of midnight Friday. While all sides agree the coordination is beneficial, it was doubtful the issue would be resolved before the deadline. Still, there were no signs that the behind-the-scenes cooperation would end.

“Security cooperation is important for Israel and for the Palestinians,” Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Under the law, known as the Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Act, the Palestinian Authority would be disqualified from receiving any U.S. aid unless it agrees to pay court judgments of up to hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of American victims of Palestinian attacks. The deadline for accepting that condition is Jan. 31.

The Palestinians oppose the law, and in any case, court settlements far exceed the aid itself, which totaled $61 million last year. The U.S. has provided more than $850 million to support the Palestinian security forces since 2007, when it ramped up assistance after Hamas seized Gaza.

The White House and some pro-Israel members of Congress have been looking for ways to preserve the security aid. But the recent monthlong U.S. government shutdown delayed these efforts, meaning any solution will likely be only in the coming weeks or months.

In Washington, a U.S. official said the administration is resigned to the deadline passing, but expressed hopes that the assistance could be restored in the coming weeks. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.

President Donald Trump and senior administration officials all support a restoration of the funding, though Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, an influential member of the Senate Finance Committee who sponsored the anti-terrorism legislation, opposes it.

“Why is State Dept now putting PLO wishes over justice for US victims,” Grassley recently tweeted.

In the meantime, it remains unclear what will happen in the field. For now, it appears the coordination will continue, even if both sides have complaints.

For Palestinians, coordination is deeply unpopular with the general public, which after half a century of occupation frowns upon ties with Israel.

Palestinian officials also say that frequent Israeli military raids in Palestinian areas, coupled with a decade-long freeze in peace efforts, have undermined trust.

Their misgivings have been deepened by U.S. policies seen as unfairly favoring Israel, such as American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid for economic and development programs.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians have told the U.S. they don’t want any U.S. assistance as long as the anti-terrorism law remains in effect. “We don’t want any aid that can take us to court,” he said.

Yet he stopped short of threatening to halt the coordination.

Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, said so far there have been no instructions from political leaders to change the cooperation.

He said the Palestinians have already weathered “much bigger” American funding cuts. “We will live with this one too,” he said. “This cut will have no impact on our decisions.”

A second senior security official said cooperation will continue, calling it a “mutual Palestinian-Israeli interest.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a classified issue.

The Israeli military did not respond to requests for comment.

Danon, the Israeli ambassador, said that while the system is imperfect and subject to mistrust, it is still valuable to all sides.

“We think it is valuable to have cooperation, to have a dialogue, to share information,” he said, saying that Israel has also shared information about Hamas threats against Abbas’ government.

“But with the Palestinians it’s tricky, because you never know if they are fully committed to fight those radicals who are threatening the Palestinian leaders, not only us,” he said.

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Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank. AP correspondent Matthew Lee contributed reporting from Washington.

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