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Can P.A.’s security services do the job?

Armed  Palestinian police stand guard near the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem´s Manger Square last year. (Brian Hendler)

Armed Palestinian police stand guard near the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem´s Manger Square last year. (Brian Hendler)

JERUSALEM, June 17 (JTA) — Ever since Ariel Sharon took office as Israel’s prime minister, it has been Israeli policy that unless the Palestinian Authority fights terrorism, Israel will do the job instead. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz reiterated this policy last weekend in the midst of renewed international efforts to reach a cease-fire. The P.A. is pushing for a cease-fire for two reasons. It is attempting to avert a civil war, and it is concerned that it lacks the military power to dismantle Palestinian terrorist organizations — predominantly Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield in spring 2002 virtually destroyed the Palestinian security services in the West Bank. A small presidential security force still operates in Ramallah, guarding P.A. President Yasser Arafat in his headquarters. A small police contingent also exists in the Jordan Valley town of Jericho, which has remained relatively quiet throughout the intifada. In the Gaza Strip, Israel has arrested some 1,800 members of the P.A.’s security forces for involvement in terrorism. Many Palestinian policemen moonlight in terrorist cells, especially those associated with the Fatah movement. Additionally, the shelling and bombing of the forces’ offices and camps have caused disarray in those organizations. So has damage to military assets. About 40 armored cars have been destroyed and several boats belonging to the small Palestinian marine force have been sunk. And all this has happened just as the opposition groups in the Palestinian street — Hamas and company — have grown stronger. The Palestinians do not have a single army or police force. Not only are the West Bank and Gaza forces separated geographically and administratively, with two sets of commanding officers, but there also is considerable division within the regions themselves. This method of organizational division has been Arafat’s standard operating procedure for decades. It has caused duplicity and rivalries within the authority, weakening the organizations and making them lose touch with the people. At the same time, it has helped keep the forces loyal to Arafat and prevented any one figure from gaining enough power to challenge the P.A. president. Palestinians mockingly call the Palestinian Authority “dawlat al-ajhizeh,” the state of security apparatuses. Palestinian military power comprises 10 different organizations operating in three spheres — army or national security, intelligence and police. While the division of functions may make sense in theory, it’s not always so clear on the ground. In practice, the various organizations often duplicate each other’s work and step on each other’s toes, weakening them even further. The structure of the Palestinian security services was determined in the Cairo Agreement signed with Israel on May 4, 1994. However, there is little resemblance between the agreement and its implementation. The agreement referred to a “strong police” force that would consist of not more than 9,000 policemen. In the nine years since the agreement was signed, the force has grown to some 40,000 to 45,000 people — a veritable Palestinian army, which was not called for in the accords. Israel was aware of the Palestinian violation, but did not see fit to break off the peace process over it. According to the agreement, the Palestinian police were to be armed with 7,000 rifles, 120 machine guns, 45 armored vehicles, communication systems and uniforms. In practice, Palestinian-populated areas have become huge arsenals of weapons, in the hands both of official Palestinian security agencies and the various militias that roam those areas. However, the security forces lack such sophisticated weapons as airplanes, boats and armored vehicles. Hamas, not the P.A., has acquired and used Kassam rockets, which they fire at Israeli towns. This, roughly, is the structure of the Palestinian security services, which are to be consolidated into fewer groups under the “road map” peace plan: • The National Security Force: The largest security service, this is the Palestinian “army,” with approximately 14,000 members. They are in charge of overall security, both at border crossings with Israel and inside the Palestinian territories. • Presidential Security: Highly trained officers, many of whom had served on Force 17, Arafat’s security guard. Their number is estimated at 3,000, and they served as Arafat’s personal army, responsible for his security and for the security of other top P.A. officials. • Preventive Security Force: The largest intelligence force of some 5,000 plainclothes agents, who operate as a secret service designed to fight off subversive elements within Palestinian-controlled territory. • General Intelligence: With a force of about 3,000, this service is responsible for gathering intelligence both within the Palestinian territories and outside. • Military Intelligence: A smaller intelligence body responsible mainly for counter-subversive operations within apparatuses of the Palestinian Authority. • Special Security Force: The smallest intelligence body, but quite important. It works directly under Arafat’s supervision. Its official objective was to gather information about opposition groups in other countries, mostly in Arab states, but it also has been involved in gathering intelligence about other security branches and has informed Arafat about illegal and corrupt action among P.A. officials. • Civil Police: The main law enforcement body in the Palestinian Authority, with some 10,000 officers, responsible for routine police work. • Military Police: A smaller riot-control force, responsible, inter alia, for the prisons, protection of important installations and guarding of VIPs. • Coast Guard: An elite force of some 1,000 officers. It was responsible for the coastal region in the Gaza Strip, but its five motorboats were destroyed. • Civil Defense: Fire brigade and other rescue services. Can this conglomerate of forces restore law and order and curb terrorism? That remains to be seen.