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

Summary: The first mention of a Palestinian security structure was in the Oslo Accords, signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the State of Israel in September 1993. Article VIII of the Declaration of Principles (Oslo Accords) states that "In order to guarantee public order and internal security for the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the (joint Palestinian-Israeli) Council will establish a strong police force, while Israel will continue to carry the responsibility for defending against external threats, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order." (1)

According to the subsequent Cairo Agreement of 1994, the Palestinian "strong police force" would be comprised of 9,000 lightly armed personnel. With the ratification of the Oslo II Interim Agreement, both parties agreed to a 30,000 manned Palestinian security structure.

However, according to a report released in 2003 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the number of Palestinian security personnel on the official Palestinian National Authority (PNA) payroll stood at 56,128. (2)

The origins of the Palestinian Security Services (PPS) can be traced back to the early days of the PLO in 1964. Some members of today's PSS grew out of the military wing of the PLO and armed groups that served as Yasser Arafat’s bodyguards during his years in exile (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia); these various military wings were later unified and became known as the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA, which included a small airforce and navy, were trained by sympathetic Arab militaries (Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Egypt) in the early 60's and 70's.

The 1993 Palestinian-Israeli peace deal known as the Oslo Accords and subsequent pacts, including the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement, known as the Cairo Agreement, officially established the General Security Services (GSS), the umbrella organization encompassing the various units. According to the Cairo Agreement, the PNA would establish a temporary "strong police force" that would exist for five years, by which time a permanent settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be agreed upon by both parties.

The number of members in the police force was set at 9,000, of which 7,000 would be recruited from the PLA and the remaining 2,000 from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (the West Bank and Gaza Strip). All recruitments required Israeli authorization. The PNA police force was allowed a maximum of 7,000 personal firearms, 120 medium and heavy machine guns and 45 armored vehicles. (3)

Structure and Function

The Palestinian Security Services according to the Palestinian Basic Law

According to the Palestinian Basic Law of 1997, Article (55) states that, "The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Palestinian Forces."

The Palestinian Basic Law was amended on March 18, 2003, whereby under Article (39), "The President of the Palestinian National Authority is Commander-in-Chief of the Palestinian Forces;" according to Clause (7) of Article (70) in the Amended Law, the responsibility to maintain public order and internal security lies within the jurisdiction of the Council of Ministers (i.e. the Cabinet).

Furthermore, according to Article (84):

  1. Security Forces and the Police are a regular force. It is the armed force in the country, its function is to defend the country, serve people, protect the community and maintain public order, security and morals. This force performs its duties within the limits prescribed by the law with complete respect to individual rights and freedom.
  2. Security Forces and the Police shall be regulated by law. (4)

Divisions and General Branches of Security Services

Under late President Yasser Arafat, the PSS was split into 12 loosely coordinated divisions, which were solely under his command. This was to become one of the main factors leading to an employee-inflated PSS, which later proved to be a heavy financial burden. Many believed President Arafat used these security services as a means of keeping a considerable portion of the Palestinian people "content," by providing jobs for underprivileged Palestinians.

Following Mahmoud Abbas' election as President of the PNA in 2005, one of the first reform measures pursued was the restructuring of the PSS. The reforms included the firing of top security chiefs, imposing an age limit on servicemen and forcing some 1,000 ineffective members of the security forces to retire. Furthermore, in April 2005, President Abbas and his then-interior minister, Nasser Yousef, demanded detailed personnel lists of all the security forces - both active and inactive - and streamlined communications and the chain of command. One of the most difficult reforms was, and still is, the consolidation of the previously existing 12 security divisions into three general branches: National Security, Interior, and Intelligence.

National Security:

  • National Security Forces (NSF): This is the closest entity the PNA has to an army. Its duties include patrolling the borders of areas under Palestinian control "Area A," guarding checkpoints, providing manpower for joint patrols with Israeli security forces and dealing with both crimes and national security. It is made up of both remnant forces from the PLA and local recruits from the Palestinian territories an is comprised of about 15,000 members.
  • Coast Guard: Based in Gaza, the only seacoast under PNA control, the Coast Guard has about 1,000 officers and whose purpose is to prevent arms and drug smuggling to and from Egypt. Its entire fleet consists of five motorboats equipped with machine guns. Most Coast Guard officers received their training in Yemen and some also received special commando training.
  • Air Guard or Aerial Police: This is a small group that operates the PNA’s five helicopters, which transport dignitaries between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Aerial Police grew out of Force 14, the aerial unit of FATEH.


  • Civil Police: Also known as the Blue Police for its uniform color, this lightly armed force of about 10,000 officers conducts day-to-day policing including arresting criminals, controlling traffic and maintaining law and order. It includes a special 700-man rapid deployment unit trained in dealing with intense situations such as riots or military operations.
  • Civil Defense: This group includes emergency rescue and fire department services. In times of calm, it teaches first aid and rescue training to Palestinian civilians.
  • County Guard or Governorate Security: A small force that provides security for county governors and their offices and helps resolve local disputes.
  • Preventive Security Force (PSF): The PNA’s largest intelligence service, it has 5,000 plain-clothed members in separate units in the West Bank and Gaza. The PSF is responsible for countering military action and monitoring opposition groups. The PSF and its sister agency, the Mukhabarat, alternately compete and work together on intelligence cases.
  • Presidential Security: What was Yasser Arafat’s former personal-security force comprised of a highly trained group of some 3,000 officers, now guards Mahmoud Abbas. Most of these men were members of Force 17, an armed unit whose duties included guarding VIPs and securing important locations such the presidential compound in Ramallah. The force is split into two divisions: an intelligence unit that gathers information about domestic opposition and threats, and the Presidential Guard, which was part of President Arafat’s most trusted inner circle.


  • General Intelligence: Also known as the Mukhabarat, this is the official PNA intelligence agency, equivalent to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Its 3,000 officers gather intelligence from both inside and outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It also performs counterespionage and is the Palestinian liaison with other countries’ intelligence agencies. Many Mukhabarat agents work undercover in civilian plainclothes.
  • Military Intelligence: A smaller intelligence agency known as the Istikhbarat, this group deals mostly with the arrest and interrogation of opposition activists considered to be a threat to the PNA. The Istikhbarat also investigates illegal actions by other intelligence and security agencies.
  • Military Police: A division of the military intelligence, this body specializes in riot control, arrests, guarding VIPs, prison maintenance and keeping order among the security organs. According to legal experts, it is not entirely clear whether this division will ultimately fall under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior or the intelligence force. (5)

The National Security Council

After much internal disputes over security positions and security domination within the PNA, President Arafat issued a presidential decree on April 30, 2003 calling for the establishment of a Palestinian National Security Council to oversee all of the PNA's security services. On September 11, 2003, President Arafat announced the formation of a 14-member Council that would supervise all the security organs. The first Council was headed by the President of the PNA and comprised of the Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister, Interior Minister, a PLO Executive Committee member, a Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member, the Chief of Civil Police, the two Commanders of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip National Security Forces, the General Intelligence Service Chief, Military Intelligence Service Chief and the President’s Security Advisors.

On November 8, Prime Minister Qurei and President Arafat agreed to divide the PNA security authority between the government and the National Security Council, with the latter (headed by Arafat) being responsible for security affairs, while the Interior Minister would be in charge of administrative and civilian affairs.

The current Council was formed and restructured by President Mahmoud Abbas on September 25, 2005 and is organized as follows: The new Council is headed by the President of the PNA and the Prime Minister, with subsequent members from the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD), the Secretary General of the Presidency, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Civil Affairs, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Advisor. (6)

Performance and Record

One of the most pressing issues facing ordinary Palestinians, especially in the wake of Israel's Unilateral Disengagement Plan from the Gaza Strip, has been, and still is, the lack of the rule of law and the overall sense of insecurity within PNA-controlled areas.

According to several reports issued by various international and local organizations, and in light of the security situation in the PNA controlled areas, the performance of the PSS has been recurrently deemed poor. Several factors have led to this poor performance, most notably, Israel's systematic targeting and destruction of Palestinian security facilities, the lack of a widely accepted national security strategy, the poor coordination between the Israeli Military and the PSS, as well as poor training facilities and security equipment.

Nonetheless, during the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the PSS enabled a relatively smooth transition of power. Furthermore, during the Palestinian parliamentary elections, the PNA deployed up to 13,500 Palestinian security forces to ensure the safety of voters and Central Elections Committee (CEC) staff in addition to securing polling stations. (7)

Prospects and Challenges

Following the Palestinian Legislative Council elections on January 25, in which the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas won an overwhelming majority of 74 seats out of 132, there has been much debate over the fate of the PSS.

In its election program, Hamas pledged change and reform but has not yet outlined, even in broad terms, what structural or functional reforms may be pursued in the field of Palestinian security.

Problems have already begun to surface, with power struggles between the government and the presidency over the security services. Following a decision by the Hamas-led government (the Ministry of Interior) to form and deploy its own 3,000 manned security force in the Gaza Strip, in defiance of President Mahmoud Abbas’ veto, clashes erupted between members of the PA’s security forces and the newly-deployed force, resulting in the killing of at least 10 people only during the month of May 2006. Currently, the Hamas government is facing an economic boycott by the international community, orchestrated by the United States and the EU. To date, approximately 160,000 civil servants have yet to be paid their salaries for March, April, and May 2006, including at least 55,000 members of the PSS.

End Notes:

  1. Declaration of Principles Article (VIII) – Oslo Peace Accord 1993
  2. PASSIA, 2005, p. 321 &
  3. Ibid &
  4. Palestinian Basic Law of July, 2002 and amended Basic Law of March, 2003.
    (http://www.miftah.org/Display.cfm?DocId=790&CategoryId=10 and
  5. Esther Pan, Reorganizing the Palestinian Security Forces, Washington DC , Council on Foreign Relations
  6. PASSIA, 2005, p. 321 &
  7. MIFTAH’s Report on Electoral Day, January 26, 2006
  8. Esther Pan, Reorganizing the Palestinian Security Forces, Washington DC , Council on Foreign Relations

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