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From intifada hub to model Palestinian city: How Jenin turned around

Once the heart of the intifada, Jenin is today lauded as a model of cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces. Israeli Jews may soon be allowed to shop here again, bringing $3 million per weekend.

By Correspondent / August 5, 2010

A Palestinian boy looks at an Israeli soldier next to the Al-Jalameh checkpoint near the West Bank city of Jenin, July 21.

Mohammed Ballas/AP

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Jenin, West Bank

In a dramatic turnaround, the Palestinian city that served as the heart of the second intifada now boasts a new shopping mall. A return of Israeli Jewish shoppers after nearly a decade appears imminent and – as of today – the city boasts its first cinema.

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Jenin served as the launching ground for more bombing attacks than any other Palestinian city during the intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000. And it became synonymous for many with Israel's disproportionate use of force after the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) razed its hardscrabble refugee neighborhood during a controversial counteroffensive eight years ago.

But today, both Israelis and Palestinians see Jenin as a model of cooperation between their respective security forces, which is paving the way for progress in the stalled peace talks and is building up the kind of self-government that Palestinian leaders see as a prerequisite to an eventual state of their own.

"There's real cooperation on a daily basis, from the command level to the field level. And there's cooperation in the field of counter terrorism intelligence’’ says Gershon Baskin, codirector of the Israel Palestinian Center for Research and Information. "The logic is that Palestinians need to provide security for Palestinians" rather than for Israelis.

Israel’s top general for the West Bank and the head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service last month toured shops in Jenin's new mall. And now Israeli security officials are mulling lifting a security ban on Jews entering West Bank cities, a move that could boost business through an influx of Israeli shoppers.

US-supervised training to combat terrorism

Amid the upheaval early in the last decade, the town was ruled by militant gangs who stepped into a vacuum of rule left by a weak Palestinian Authority. But now Palestinian security services throughout the West Bank are winning praise from Israel after US-supervised training in Jordan helped improve antiterrorism and anticrime activities.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said that reestablishing the authority of the Palestinian government on the ground is a prerequisite for a political agreement.

Not since Israel and Palestinians carried out joint patrols in the 1990s has there been such joint collaboration.

"Coordination is better … there is an improvement," says Palestinian Gen. Radi Assidi, who refers to Israeli army officers responsible for the Jenin region as "my counterparts."

Cooperation proceeding gradually

That said, the cooperation is proceeding gradually and both sides realize the renewed relationship is fraught with potential pitfalls.

The joint patrols have not been reinstated. And old disputes persist: the Palestinian security chiefs want the Israeli military to stay out of their cities altogether so as not to embarrass them in front of their public. Israel says they’re not ready to take full control.

But Israeli commanders have sought to lower troops’ profile when they enter Palestinian towns to pursue militants. The number of incursions into the city has declined by 90 percent.

A senior Israeli military officer responsible for the region of Jenin acknowledged that the relationship is delicate, and said Israel’s security establishment is proceeding "with eyes wide open."

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