By Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh:
A Substantial Problem
The crisis about the formation and role of the Palestinian Security bodies in West Bank and its implications have surfaced back into focus after the Qalqilya events, when six fighters from Hamas and five members of the Palestinian police were killed in violent clashes between the two parties.
An essential reform of the Palestinian security bodies from the point of view of other Palestinian factions requires changing the functional role of those services and changing its agendas vis-à-vis the resistance and Israel; as well as it calls for structural changes against corruption, forgery, and infiltration; it also aims at achieving higher rates of discipline and transparent staffing procedures according to qualifications and patriotism. On the other hand, the Palestinian presidency is not by any means willing to give up its authority or its commitments to the peace process and Roadmap obligations. These two contradicting facts make the reform of security bodies an essential process, related to rearranging the Palestinian internal scene, setting priorities and deciding the direction of the national project. Thus this problem can’t be dealt with through some superficial arrangements and measures.
It seems that Hamas and other resistance factions will be overwhelmed with optimism and utopia if they think that it is possible to implement suchreforms under the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, and under the settlement process “obligations”.
Oslo and the Roadmap Obligations
Monopoly over use of force is a characteristic of an authority or state. Thus, it was not peculiar for the Palestinian Authority to seek, in its state formation efforts, monopoly over armed force in its territory, and credible proof on its ability to control and respects its obligations. Since the Palestinian Authority was formed upon the 1993 Oslo Agreements, it is obvious that these agreements and the ones that followed constitute the frame of the authority’s conduct. The authority has pledged to entail security, prohibit campaigns and claims against Israel, and take all necessary measures to prevent attacks on Israeli territory or individuals.
But Oslo agreements were not a collective Palestinian national project as much as being a Fatah project. Add to this, the agreements were opposed by several Islamist, leftist, national and patriotic factions (known then as the Ten Factions), that disregarded the agreements and continued (especially Hamas and the Islamic Jihad) to carry out armed resistance operations; the Palestinian Authority (PA) in turn viewed these operations as defiance to its power and scattering of the foreseen Palestinian state dream.
The Israeli occupation didn’t hesitate to employ this opportunity of Palestinian dispute to portrait the opposition as a hurdle to the settlement process, and to abuse the Palestinian authority pushing it to work against the opposition forces towards the latter’s elimination; the mission that the occupation itself failed to accomplish.
The Palestinian security bodies were set up with a ceiling of capabilities that allows it to protect Oslo agreements and prevent resistance actions more than allowing it to protect the Palestinian people. The security bodies had enough resources to persecute people and arrest them but not to protect them. The condition of being “security-wise clean” became a prerequisite for joining the security bodies, in other words, staffing in these bodies became limited to members and supporters of Fatah, ruling out the vast majority of Palestinian people who might be close to any opposition force.
The Palestinian security bodies had inflated to reach the highest ratio of police per population in the world, with around 40 thousand security members shortly prior to al-Aqsa Intifada
Under the claim of “avoiding the duality of power”, many security campaigns were carried out during the last fifteen years; not the first was the well known “black Friday massacre” on 18/11/1994 when 13 Palestinians were killed while praying and other 200 were injured, and neither also the so-called “state security court” that was a military court where judges, in fact security officers, would give verdicts secretly and after midnight. The memory is still alive of how security services sought, especially in 1996, to eliminate Hamas and the Islamic jihad movements, destroy their political, educational, charity, and jihadi infrastructure, and detained many of their leaders. Security measures continued to dictate the language used to deal with the Islamic factions, Hamas in particular, between 1996 and 2000, sorting Hamas as a “dissenter” but “under control”. The situation might have not changed if it weren’t for al-Aqsa Intifada that turned the table bringing Hamas back to power and undermining the Palestinian authority.
In 2003, the Roadmap adopted the PA reform project, which called foremost for boosting up the authorities of Yasser Arafat, rearranging the Palestinian security bodies into three organs, and conditioning the success of the first phase by the ability of these bodies in maintaining security, which implicity means stopping the Intifada, elminiating resistance and demilitarization of resistance factions.
Hamas Victory Claims
Hamas victory in the elections created a weird situation for the security bodies; now they have to view respect to the will of the people that brought Hamas to power, subsequently they ought to interact with a new reform project that contradicts with Oslo agreements and Roadmap obligations and Israeli-American conditions. Clear as it was, the security bodies had to respond to several claims that would determine its course:
– Shall they continue to abide to Oslo agreements and Roadmap obligations?
– Will the recruitment in security forces remain confined to Fatah members and supporters and other “security-wise clean” individuals – ruling out vast sections of the diversified Palestinian population?
– To what extent can the Israeli and American interventions be absorbed, contained, managed or disregarded, when considering the work of the security bodies?
– Is it possible to achieve a real reform in the security system, to a purely nationalistic system, where the Palestinians are recruited according to merit-based qualifications?
– Is any real reform operation possible under the occupation?
A Tool for Lawlessness and Failure
When Hamas government was formed, headed by Ismail Haniyya, some leaders in Fatah used the national security bodies as a tool to pressure and foil the government. It was evident in many cases that those parties responsible for maintaining order were themselves a tool for spreading lawlessness and disorder. Moreover, one of the main reasons of the collapse of the unity government that was formed as a result of Mecca agreement in February 2007 was the inability of the interior minister of performing his rightful duties and the obstruction of his work by security bodies; also some powerful members of the Palestinian security bodies were involved in an American-supported pan to fail the unity government.
The factor of increasing lawlessness and disorder was the resort of some figures whenever the negotiations between Fatah and Hamas got close to an agreement or to an arrangement of the internal Palestinian scene. This was revealed by several incidents prior to Cairo agreements in October 2008 and during the recent meetings held. The most awful of these security events was the refusal to confess the custody of political detainees despite the fact that hundreds have been arrested, abused, and insulted; some of whom died because of ill treatment like Sheikh Majd al-Barghouti.
Thus, what is happening now in the West Bank can’t be isolated from the functional role of the security bodies as dictated by the signed agreements. At the same time, one can not blame or accuse certain elements or soldiers or officers from the security system, many of the latter are ordinary patriotic Palestinians; the main question here is who directs these bodies and determines the philosophy of its work?
The Government in Ramallah
The security behavior of Fayyad’s government in the West Bank had dragged it to the venture of exterminating Hamas and destroying its infrastructure, while the movement represents the popular legitimacy and the parliament majority; had not Hamas’ MPs been detained by the occupation, Fayyad government would have been dismantled in the first ten minutes of a parliamentary session. Fayyad (whose political line has only 2 MPs of a total 132 MPs) is aware that his security behaviour is not only about destroying the resistance’s infrastructure that led the intifada for five years, but is also isolating and assigning to retirement many security officers and individuals, who are even sometimes candid Fatah supporters; all this to guarantee a security system loyal to him and to the Roadmap plan.
To further exacerbate the situation, some officials from the PA categorized in their speeches the resistance fighters side by side with drug dealers and thieves!! For instance, al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported on 28/10/2008 that Sameh al-Saifi, the head of security organs in Hebron, had stated, “we are clear, we work against the outlaws, drug dealers, burglars, and armed groups related to any party that has weapons.”
The Israelis were impressed by the performance of the PA security forces in theWest Bank. The head of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, colonel Yoav Merdkhay, complimented the direct security coordination between both sides. His statement was reported by al-Dostour newspaper on 13/9/2009, “We are fighting a real battle against the civil and social organization of Hamas, and currently we are putting all our efforts and power to fight against all the institutions of Hamas.”
Minutes of a meeting held between Israeli and Palestinian officers were made public by Nahum Barnia, a senior analyst in Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahranot, and its Arabic translation was published by al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper on 22/9/2008. The minutes (if that is a true document) should be considered very carefully, where it assert the role of the security bodies. Barnia quotes from Abu al-Fateh, the head of the Palestinian security, his words to the Israeli officers: “there is no disagreement among us, our enemy is common: Hamas.” The report also quotes Mohammad Faraj, the head of Palestinian military intelligence, saying, “we are in a very hard battle… we decided to fight till the end, Hamas is the enemy, we decided to raise war against Hamas… you have reached a truce [hudna] with them, but we hadn’t”!! Faraj added, “we shall take care of any Hamas institution you recommend, you have given us recently 64 names of Hamas institutions, we are done with 50 of them. Some of those were shut down, in others we replaced the administration and put our hands on their money.” Faraj further bragged in front of the Israelis about the readiness and ability of the PA security forces to break into mosques and universities unlike the Israelis! According to the report.
The Israeli interior ministry reported in the Jerusalem Post that “the security coordination is unprecedented”, and that it has reached superior levels, where 247 meetings have been held between Israeli and Palestinian officers from the beginning of 2008 till the date of publishing the report in early December 2008.
The Palestinian battalion, with 620 members, that has completed its training in a nearby Arab state, according to the proposal of General Keith Dayton, returned to the West Bank on 28/5/2008. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz stated that all the members and “concerned” with that battalion know that their stated objective is clear to everyone and it is to “combat Hamas”. The report mentioned that the PA names the battalion members as “Children of Dayton”!
The Security Files and the Palestinian Dialogue
When “children of Dayton” perform their authoritative, Israeli and American duties, Cairo talks between Fatah and Hamas sound like political nonsense and useless time-waste; especially when the talks are only focusing on the so-called security reform in the Gaza Strip. In fact, the major part of the national Palestinian project (the West Bank is 16 times larger than Gaza strip) is actually under the Israeli control and suffers systematic repression of opposition national and Islamic forces.
The security issue is more complicated than the issues of forming a unity government or holding presidential and legislative elections. The reason is that addressing the security issue is related to the systematic view of the functional role of the security bodies and its objective, framework and codes of conduct and recruitment. This issue is essentially related with a prior Palestinian consensus on the priorities of the national project, on a common stance vis-à-vis Oslo and Roadmap, and on the relationship with Israel; add to this that it requires a true will on behalf of the Palestinian senior leaders to make recruitment in these bodies merit-based and open to all eligible and qualified Palestinians regardless of their political opinion or their compliance to Israeli and American conditions. This is why the security file might be the last one to be solved in the Palestinian dialogue.