Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat – As Israel announced that suspects being sought in the West Bank by its security services “has dwindled almost to nil” Shin Bet officers have begun to carry out exploratory visits to homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials in the West Bank in order to open dialogue with these officials “over a cup of coffee.” The aim of these visits seems to be focused on Shin Bet officers obtaining information from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials on different issues, or – at other times – for the Shin Bet officers to deliver an implicit message to the Palestinian officers. A Palestinian official confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that such visits had taken place, but they considered these visits to be taking place within the framework of an [Israeli] raid on the house in question.
Informed Palestinian sources confirmed that over the past two months Shin Bet officers had visited the homes of a number of Hamas and Islamic Jihad senior members attempting to elicit their opinions about the Palestinian – Israeli negotiations, inter-Palestinian reconciliation, as well as information about the resistance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the future of Palestinian – Israeli relations.
A source within the Islamic Jihad movement revealed that at least 5 of the movement’s senior members were surprised by Shin Bet officers knocking on their doors during the night and asking their opinions about a number of issues. On 15 October, Shin Bet officers visited the home of Khalid Kaadan in Jenin, who is one of the senior members of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank.
Kaadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that a Shin Bet officer informed him that they had come to visit him and share a cup of coffee, he described what happened on the day in question saying “they asked me to sit, and they introduced themselves, one was nicknamed Mike and the other Ghazal.” He added “Mike said: we have come to celebrate the birthday of your second son Khalid.”
The Shin Bet officers asked him about his work and his relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the other Palestinian factions, as well as his opinion of the Palestinian Authority’s arrest of a number of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, and the affect that this has had on the capability of the two factions. They also asked him about his opinion on the [Palestinian – Israeli] negotiations, security coordination [between the Palestinian Authority and Israel], the possibility of the Palestinian Authority collapsing, and the possibility of peace being achieved with the Palestinians accepting a state within the 1967 borders. Khalid Kaadan added that “they talked about issues that involve Islamic Jihad and its operation in order to deliver the message that they know everything about us, and that any new actions will be monitored is prohibited.” He also revealed that the Shin Bet officers went beyond this, calling upon his siblings – some of who are former detainees – and asking them the same questions before leaving the house, ,and wishing his son Khalid a long-life in peace.
Kaadan believes that “these exploratory meetings aim to identify the extent of the psychological and operational preparedness of Islamic Jihad and Hamas on various subjects.” He rejected the idea that the objective of this is to open dialogue with the Islamist Palestinian factions, saying “we are not the appropriate channel for this.” Shin Bet officers repeated these visits with others, including another senior member of Islamic Jihad Adnan Khadr, as well as senior members of Hamas like former minister Wasfi Qabaha, as well as Khalid al-Hajj, and Ghassan Az-Zughaibi.
Qabaha described his meeting with Shin Bet last month as nothing more than a raid and interrogation. In a statement made by Qabaha which Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of, Qabaha said that “members of the intelligence service questioned us, asking questions about Hamas and its position in the West Bank and Jenin and its tense and complex relationship with the Palestinian Authority.” He added “they sent a message threatening the [Hamas] movement, informing it that it is not permitted to resume its activities and that it will remain banned and that anybody who tries to carry out such activities will be prosecuted…and [also] that the Gaza model and what is happening in Hebron will never happen again.”
The Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported on Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority had complained to Israel that Shin Bet officers were contacting members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements in Jenin. According to Haaretz, low ranking Shin Bet officers visited the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials during the night and told them that they had not come to arrest them but rather merely to talk. Palestinian sources informed the Haaretz newspaper that the questions asked by the Shin Bet officers to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad officers were not security related, but rather that this appeared to be an attempt at “having an exchange” with the Islamist groups.
The Palestinian sources also revealed that the Palestinian Authority had complained about these visits to the Israeli GOC Central Command Avi Mirzahi, as these meetings embarrassed senior Fatah officials in Ramallah “who could not understand their meaning or purpose.”
These meetings take place at a time that the Israeli security services have boasted that “the West Bank most-wanted terrorist list has dwindled almost to nil” since the Second Intifada almost 10 years ago, according to the Israeli Haaretz newspaper.
The Haaretz report claimed that this “is a reflection of both the improved security situation in the West Bank and the increasing cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces.”