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By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Palestinian administration in the West Bank has tried to help the latest U.S. peacemaking drive by quietly cutting off funds for grassroots campaigners against Israel's occupation of the territory, a senior Israeli general said on Tuesday.
The allegation, which the campaigners contested, underscored the sensitivity of the Palestinians' security coordination with Israel at a time of deadlocked diplomacy over their independence drive and censure from rival Hamas Islamists.
Major-General Nitzan Alon, Israel's top West Bank military officer, also said that violence could escalate if U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's peace mission failed, and voiced frustration with the "terror activity" of radical Jewish settlers against whom Israel this week authorized new measures.
Briefing diplomats and reporters at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative think-tank, Alon said Kerry's bids to revive negotiations had a "positive influence on the ground, mainly on the PA (Palestinian Authority).
"The PA, for example, almost stopped financing a group that dealt with some riots and protests against Israel, and they halted the funds of this group in the last couple of months."
Speaking later to Reuters, he named the group as the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, whose activism focuses on Palestinian land lost to Israel's West Bank barrier and Jewish settlements.
Alon said the PA had kept its bankrolling of the group, and the cut-off of cash, secret. "They weren't looking for diplomatic recognition for the move but rather for the territory to quiet down," he said.
Palestinian officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Mohammed al-Khatib, a veteran Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements member, dismissed Alon's disclosure.
"The Palestinian Authority has paid compensation to those whose houses or agriculture were destroyed by the occupation and they have helped with lawyer's fees for local activists," Khatib told Reuters. "Nobody gives us money. The activists here do what they do out of a sense of national duty, not to get money."
Alon said there were signs of Palestinian restraint in the West Bank wearing thin. He cited rising anti-Israeli violence such as stone- and Molotov cocktail-throwing and what he said was the involvement of some PA security men in attacks.
"If, in a few weeks, the attempt of the American involvement will go (away) with nothing, I'm afraid that we will see this trend of escalation even strengthening," he said.
Alon has also been outspoken against ultranationalist Jews who have torched and desecrated Palestinian property in so-called "Price Tag" attacks meant to avenge Palestinian violence or discourage bids by the government to curb settlements.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)