Avi Issacharoff
November 8, 2010 - 1:00am

There is not a single security suspect being sought by Israel in the northern West Bank for the first time since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000. In the southern West Bank, there are only a few names on the security establishment's wanted list. The situation is a reflection of both the improved security situation in the West Bank and the increasing cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces.

The northern West Bank, notably Nablus and Jenin, but also Tul Karm and Qalqilyah, was where the most lethal terrorist networks established a foothold during the second intifada. Members of the Hamas terror network, which had its center of operations in Nablus, led the Israeli list of wanted terrorists, but Islamic Jihad and local cells of the Fatah military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, also exacted a heavy toll in the lives of Israeli civilians and Israeli soldiers. In response, the security barrier was constructed, thousands of Palestinian terror suspects were arrested and interrogated and Israeli security forces made prolonged efforts to stop the wave of terror centered in the northern West Bank.

The last fatal suicide bombing emanating from the northern West Bank occurred in April 2006 when 11 Israelis were killed at an explosion at a restaurant near Tel Aviv's old central bus station, committed by Islamic Jihad in Jenin. At the time, however, most senior terrorist figures in the northern West Bank had already been arrested and dozens of others had been killed by the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security services.

A major reason for the shrinking list, however, is growing coordination with Palestinian security forces, which went into high gear against West Bank terrorist groups after Hamas completed its takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas in June of 2007 and expelled Fatah's leadership from the territory. The Palestinian Authority then began arresting hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the northern West Bank. At the same time, the PA, with Israel's assent, developed protective custody arrangements and later released hundreds of wanted Fatah figures who promised to lay down their weapons and refrain from terror activity against Israel. Israel, in turn, allowed the suspects who had not been involved in acts of murder to escape punishment as part of an effort to stabilize the situation on the ground and assist Palestinian security forces.

In the last year, several major terrorist attacks have been carried out in the West Bank, but Israel located the perpetrators, Fatah members from Nablus and Hamas members from the Hebron area, and killed them. Among the few wanted figures still at large are Hamas members operating in Hebron.

In 2004, when the number of wanted suspects still numbered in the hundreds and suicide attacks were still occurring within the borders of Israel proper, a controversy developed in the leadership of the Israeli security establishment. The head of the Shin Bet at the time, Avi Dichter, argued that the "terror barrel" had a bottom, and that a continued intensive fight against the terrorist organizations would reveal the bottom, meaning a complete halt to the wave of terrorism. Senior figures in the IDF contended, however, that despite the successes that were being chalked up at the time, it was not possible to entirely stop terrorism.

Dichter was correct to a great extent. Terrorism from the West Bank was stopped almost entirely and the wanted list for the northern West Bank dwindled to nothing. The improvement is also related to arrangement with the Palestinian Authority, which involved substantial compromise on Israel's part.


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