Tuesday, 6 June. 2023
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

Hamas' military takeover of the Gaza Strip in mid-June 2007 was a significant turning point in the job, role, views and priorities of the Palestinian Authority's security apparatuses in the West Bank. For the first time since their creation in 1994, they found themselves fighting to defend the Palestinian regime from an internal threat.

The highly motivated security apparatuses, with American and European financial and logistic assistance and some Israeli facilitation, have worked hard to boost their control over the West Bank and prevent any attempt by Hamas to repeat the Gaza experience there.

The PA decided to create a better security model for Palestinians in the chaotic West Bank than the Hamas security model in Gaza. But it soon became reactionary: Every time Hamas - considered a militia by the PA - arrested Fatah activists in Gaza, the PA reciprocated in the West Bank.

The division between Fatah and Hamas has in fact presented an obstacle in the way of the development of Palestinian security apparatuses whose efforts are now concentrated on the internal conflict and cracking down on Hamas activists rather than on transforming themselves into truly professional apparatuses.

The security apparatuses have in fact already undergone one transformation, from revolutionary forces to semi-autonomous security forces, when they were established in 1994 and until the election of Mahmoud Abbas as president in 2005. The second challenge is to transform them from semi-autonomous to state security apparatuses, something that can only happen once a political settlement is reached.

It is very difficult, in the meantime, to convince Palestinians of the need for powerful and professional security apparatuses that operate under the Israeli occupation. For example, in the latest, highly publicized campaigns to restore law and order in West Bank cities, the PA security forces were allowed to operate only from 6:00 a.m. until midnight when Israeli forces came to operate in the same areas until the morning. This harmed the image and the role of the PA security apparatuses and portrayed them as part of the Israeli security system. Palestinian commentators lamented that Palestinian and Israeli forces were now operating a "shift system."

Meanwhile, the continued Israeli occupation of all West Bank cities, the Israeli army's regular invasions and the deployment of hundreds of checkpoints throughout the West Bank are also preventing the proper functioning of the PA's security forces, which need prior permission to move into Area C from Area A or to arrest someone in Area C.

Israel is also restricting the kind of arms the security forces can bear to light arms such as AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, helmets and armored vests. In April 2005, for example, Russia presented Abbas with two VIP Transport helicopters and 50 BTR armored personnel carriers (APCs) but Israel did not allow their delivery for four years despite the intervention at the highest level of Russian officials. In early 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed Abbas that he would transfer the issue to the Israeli Army, which insisted that Russia remove the heavy machine guns mounted on the APCs. After the Palestinians agreed, the army transferred the issue to the Israeli Security Agency, the Shin Bet, which insisted that the APCs should be under Abbas' control only, not the Interior Ministry's.

After their creation in 1994, furthermore, the PA security apparatuses were always perceived as being Fatah security apparatuses even though they included elements from other PLO factions. Since Hamas' takeover of Gaza, however, and the infiltration of the security apparatuses there by Hamas, membership is now strictly confined to Fatah activists.

The latest Israeli mini-war against Gaza in late December 2008 and January 2009 posed a serious challenge to these developing security apparatuses in keeping control over an angry West Bank population that wanted to show its sympathy with Gazans suffering from the excessive Israeli assault. Despite being used as an opportunity by Hamas to show that PA security control over the West Bank was fragile, the security forces managed to keep the West Bank largely quiet.

Indeed, the intensive restructuring and training process of the PA security apparatuses under the supervision of Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator who has managed to train thousands of PA security personnel at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC), and the EU-POL COPP mission have had a positive impact on their professional performance on the ground. Nevertheless, in spite of an improved budget and better logistical capabilities, the development toward professionalism by the security forces is moving very slowly.

The election of the right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, furthermore, will make it harder for the PA security apparatuses to continue their development. This will remain the case for as long as the political process stagnates, indeed is thrown into question.

By the Same Author
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