Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz and the PA's Muhammad Dahlan - mastermind of the Kfar Darom bus bombing that killed two teachers and maimed several children in November 2000, and whose bodyguard killed two Israelis two days earlier - agreed on the transfer this past Friday. Kalkilye and Jericho will once again change hands this week, and Ramallah and Tul Karem are next, if certain conditions are fulfilled.
It is widely understood that transferring control of the cities will make it even harder to enforce the hudna. Overcoming these security considerations, however, were American pressure and the desire to ensure that Israel is not blamed for the collapse of the Road Map process.
Military officers of Israel and the PA will meet this evening to plan out and coordinate the transfer of Jericho and Kalkilye from IDF control to that of the Palestinian Authority. Heading the PA delegation will be Arafat's right-hand man, Haj Ismail. The Israeli withdrawal is scheduled to be completed in the coming 48 hours.
The Shabak (General Security Service) is against the transfer, saying that Abu Mazen and Dahlan are unable and/or unwilling to take concrete action against the terrorist infrastructures. Mofaz justified the move at the Cabinet meeting by saying that it will prevent the collapse of the diplomatic process. Likud Party Ministers Livnat, Landau, Katz and Naveh dismissed such claims. Ministers Eitam (NRP) and Lieberman (National Union) also sharply criticized the decision.
Israel will make additional concessions as well. It will remove more checkpoints in Yesha, and will allow the Polytechnikum College and Islamic College in Hevron to re-open. The two were closed in January when the IDF announced that they had become focal points and havens for radical religious and nationalist activity for all the terrorist organizations. Polytechnikum terrorists infiltrated Otniel and murdered four yeshiva students in December 2002; produced the Jerusalem bombings of 1996 (45 dead); took part in the ambush between Kiryat Arba and Hevron in November of last year (12 killed, 16 wounded); and murdered four Jews, including a 5-year-old girl, in Adura last year. The Islamic College also produced many terrorists, leading to at least five deaths, and the College's Department of Chemistry lab was used by the Hamas leadership to teach its operatives how to make explosives for use in terror attacks. The leaders of the colleges, in a meeting with IDF officers in Yesha, have now promised to take action against terrorist activity on campus.
The transfer of Ramallah and Tul Karem is contingent upon the preparation of a plan by Dahlan to supervise the 26 wanted terrorists who have found refuge in the Mukata with Arafat. Israel does not demand their arrest, but rather a plan to ensure that they do not prepare or perpetrate further attacks. Israel's transfer of Ramallah is almost certain to mean that Arafat will be free to leave the city for the first time since December 2001.