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A Critical Analysis of Europe’s Role in Reform of the Palestinian Security Services

By Ms. Aisling Byrne, Projects Co-ordinator with Conflicts Forum and is based in Beirut.*

This paper was presented by Ms. Byrne at the Conference on “The Eurpean Foreign Policy towards the Palestinian Issue” that was held by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut, on 3-4/11/2010

 State-building is described as the route to a Palestinian state, we are told. The reality however has been very different – and has been the converse; what we have and are seeing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is the development of neo-occupational structures – including the structures of the security sector – under the guise of ‘state-building’. This so-called ‘state-building’ project is being led by the US, the EU and their Palestinian protégés — and the ‘peace process’ not only has and continues to be a clever, yet misleading, cover for what is a “profoundly political” project, but the focus now on state- and institution-building is essentially yet another cloak for what is essentially a continuation of the occupation, albeit an alleviated occupation project – that is, a less visible form of occupation with some of the frills of state-hood.

Most normal components of a state-building project and genuine security sector reform – democratic accountability, parliamentary oversight, popular legitimacy, institutional development, political reconciliation – are not only absent in this project, but many have been intentionally destroyed in one way or another. And what we have seen is the deconstruction of a state under the guise of counter-terrorism — fragmented and outsourced to external actors like the CIA and other private security companies and consultancy firms.

From the outset the concept of ‘state-building’ was framed in terms of what Israel would accept and what it wanted; in the security sector, therefore, this has meant “reforms” which aim to enhance Israel’s security; as a former senior Israeli defence official explained: “When the Palestinians take care of our security, this is the best kind of security arrangement we can achieve”.

[1] Thus the aim essentially is “to produce a system of Palestinian policing too weak to constitute a danger [yet] strong enough to confront the “infrastructure of terror””.[2]

And conveniently, the reduction of troops in the West Bank has enabled the IDF to tackle some of its long-standing structural problems and to lessen the daily tasks of occupation – guarding settlements and outposts which have strained the IDF’s human resources, and to send more troops to fight in Gaza during the Gaza war.[3] Conceptually the ‘state-building project’ was not set up to lead to Palestinian state-hood, but rather to develop a form of normalised occupation and to politically cleanse the West Bank of any opposition in order to stop this type of solution being challenged. As Yezid Sayyigh notes: “official US and EU discourse promoting democratic governance and human rights describes more a virtual reality than actual policy”.[4] The US and EU “rhetoric about promoting democratic development and the rule of law is pious at best, and at worst disingenuous”.[5] This can also be said about promoting efforts at intra-Palestinian reconciliation; their actions are quite contrary to their narrative.

So what we see is a “profoundly political” project[6] — essentially the US and the EU are involved in a domestic power struggle. The discourse of ‘state-building’ and within this, the US and European-led initiative to reform the Palestinian security sector, are being implemented in the context of this domestic power struggle. And the discourse (and funding) for this ‘state-building’ – as a component of the ‘peace process’ – is being used to put in place a political, security and economic architecture and elite – the oligarchs, known in Palestine as “the sons of the Abu’s”- who will implement and administer this ‘state’ of neo-occupation.
Not only is the occupation being made more congenial to the occupier, but also to the occupied — former US Ambassador Chas Freeman described recently how components of the Palestinian polity have developed a dependency relationship with the US: on the Palestinian side, “playing ‘peace process’ charades justifies the international patronage and Israeli backing these leaders need to retain their status… it ensures they have media access and high-level visiting rights in Washington”.[7] A dependency, he argues, which is one component of the US-led ‘peace process’ whose very concept “has become the handmaiden of Israeli expansionism rather than [being] a driver for peace”.[8]

The security architecture that is being created and facilitated by the US, the EU and Israel is completely contrary to internationally-accepted definitions of SSR.[9] SSR is a complex political and social process and not simply a technical undertaking.[10] In a context like Palestine which is now in its 63rd year of military occupation, non-statutory armed groups are, of course, an integral part of the Palestinian security sector – and indeed recent polls show that the Palestinian public trusts the resistance’s armed wings more than the more official civil police and preventative security.[11]

The Oslo Agreement gave a mandate for the monopoly of violence that was designed to be the prerogative of one faction only. It was a pre-requisite for the PA from its inception after Oslo (and in subsequent agreements, for example, the Road Map) that it must work with the IDF, and from the Oslo Agreement until today, the Palestinian partner to the so-called ‘peace process’ has been required to defeat and dismantle any groups that were opposed to it. And political conditions set by the West on Hamas’ political participation effectively ensures that it cannot participate. And as this relates to the security sector, experts from the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) Friedrich and Luethold have argued that “the political blockage that [results] from this international attitude constitutes the most important obstacle to reform”.[12]
The concept of ‘state-building’ set in place after Oslo therefore set one faction against another. And the inevitable consequence of this is the ‘Lebanonisation’ of Palestine – the dissolution of the nation-state and its institutions, the erosion of the social fabric, the undermining of the judiciary and the rule of law, and everything else that such a process entails.

The amounts of money going to support this political project are enormous: not only are vast amounts of money being poured in by the international community as a substitute for real diplomatic engagement, but the amount of money actually increased in the wake of the Hamas election victory in January 2006. When Hamas won the elections in 2006, international financial support for the state-building project – direct support, that is – abruptly stopped leaving the newly-elected Hamas government struggling to pay the salaries of 170,000 public sector employees which provided income for some 1.2 million Palestinians. Indirect funding not only continued, but actually increased: funds for the Presidential Guard, for example, were channelled through President Abbas, and as various reports including the ICG, DCAF and Yezid Sayyigh at Carnegie note, more covert aid which is and has been given directly to the intelligence services – particularly by the US and UK – on an uninterrupted basis since 1994 (despite their poor human rights record and the lack of parliamentary oversight).[13] Likewise US intelligence funding and technical assistance to Fatah and the Fatah-controlled security organisations in Gaza not only continued, but was increased.[14]

Anne Le More has shown in her detailed analysis of foreign aid to Palestine: “While officially no money went to the budget of the [Palestinian] Authority, more funds were actually dispersed in 2006 than ever before. The money simply came in through different channels; out of the unprecedented $1.2bn dispersed that year, some $700 m transited directly through the offices of President Abbas and the rest through international agencies”.[15]

I outline below five key points, and in terms of the security sector, I will focus on the security services and not the civil police force which receives support from the UK-led European Co-ordination Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUCOPPS) – which has been a rather less contentious institution-building initiative. I also refer to the European role as part of the wider US-Israeli project as their role has essentially been one of supporting the US-led project, albeit with a narrative that at times implies – wrongly – the objective of political reconciliation.

First, state-building that has been taking place is state-building of Israel. As I have outlined above, genuine SSR for Palestinians would be different; and so too, a genuine state-building project for Palestine would be conceptually different to what we see. For a society that has experienced decades of occupation and conflict, state-building would need to include a process that brings society, and particularly political movements, together, and not a policy of divide-and-rule — the usual policy of colonial and occupying powers.

Even the success of the security reform project itself is determined by Israel: as one Western diplomat interviewed by ICG explained: “With the failures on all political fronts, Western donors here desperately needed a success story, and security sector reform became exactly that… we don’t have any objective way”, he explained, “to measure the success of reform. What this has meant for many of us is that the main criterion of success is Israeli satisfaction. If the Israelis tell us that this is working well, we consider it a success”.[16] So “Israel largely decides the scope and content of the co-operation, and the PSF has to comply”.[17]

This has generated in Israel a sense that artificially alleviated occupation can be a solution – ‘alleviated occupation’ will be the Palestinian ‘state’. As Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, said recently: “… expanding what [US General] Dayton is doing in the security realm to other sectors of Palestinian governance and society is really the only viable model for progress”.[18]

And the so-called ‘peace process’ has and continues to be a clever, yet misleading, cover for this project: As Israel’s Vice-Premier and former Chief of Staff of the IDF, Moshe Ya’alon, when asked in an interview earlier this year “Why all these games of make-believe negotiations?” he answered:

Because in the political establishment there are pressures. Peace Now from within and other elements from without. So you have to manoeuvre… we have to… manoeuvre with the American administration and the European establishment, which are also nourished by Israeli elements, which create the illusion that an agreement can be reached… I say that time works for those who make use of it. The founders of Zionism knew how to make use of time, and we in the government know how to make use of time.[19]

The ‘peace process’ is held hostage by the Quartet and its allies – membership of the Quartet is restricted, with their regional allies included as observers to give a token of regional legitimacy to the process. An example of this is the US and Quartet response to the Arab Peace initiative of 2002; while noting the offer, they have ignored the precondition that Israel would have to recognise Palestinian rights, and have gone on to add further conditions to Hamas’ participation.

Secondly, just as the Oslo framework required a Palestinian elite to implement and facilitate the political and economic components (most especially the lucrative economic monopolies) of the Agreement,[20] so too the current concept of ‘state-building’ towards a Palestinian ‘state’ has its partners to this political project to implement and administer the ‘state’. Known in Palestine as the “sons of the Abu’s”, this new elite – many of whom are the sons of the earlier generation of PLO office-holders – dominate key positions, and in many instances own and direct, key companies which make up the security, economic, financial and political architecture of the neo-occupational ‘state’.

Donors are contributing to, and to a large extent funding construction of the physical infrastructure for this political project – including infrastructure relating to the security sector: where as currently the so-called “Dayton battalions” are being trained in the US-funded Jordan International Police Training Centre outside Amman, the USSC (United States security co-ordinator’s) office is co-ordinating the building and renovation of training colleges, security forces barracks, other facilities for the Interior Ministry and other security headquarters in Hebron, Jenin, Jerichio and Ramallah, as well as new camps in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tubas and Tulkarem.[21] And to help fund this, the US State Department has requested the largest amount to date for the USCC’s budget for 2011 from Congress. On a recent visit to the West Bank an independent analyst told me that UNDP is funding the construction of 52 prisons and detention facilities – “they are building more prisons than schools”, he told me.

Thirdly, what we have witnessed in fact has been the destruction and fragmentation of the institutions of a Palestinian state — modest achievements that were made with donor support and facilitation in attempts to loosen the late Yasser Arafat’s control of the security services were reversed in the wake of Hamas’ election victory in January 2006 when, as the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) notes, “in an ironic twist, the Office of the President and Western governments tried to restore the structure of the security sector that had existed under Arafat”.[22] Whereas during Arafat’s rule, the US and the EU worked to lessen his grip on power and particularly the plethora of security forces and for some semblance of effective control mechanisms and accountability, the US and Europe are now supporting the domination of the political, economic and security spheres by one political faction with no public accountability – institutions are paralysed and political polarisation is at its worst. Even PA security officials acknowledge that the fight against Hamas has been prioritised over a political solution.

The logic of the Oslo Agreement has been given new meaning: it had been assumed that the opposition to Oslo and its ruling elite would disappear. But, not only did they not disappear, they came back to win parliamentary elections. So this time the policy framework has been more systematic and absolute – what amounts to near full security control of most aspects of Palestinian life.

Although what is known as the ‘Dayton forces’ training project’ is perhaps the most famous aspect of the security-led state-building process, what is clear from recent reports is that “the reform agenda was built on the intra-Palestinian split” and that “the PA’s extra-judicial campaign against Hamas has been carried out with the tacit approval of its Western financial backers”.[23] Not a single US or EU programme has factored in political reintegration or reconciliation between the different factions; when the Palestinians did sign a unity agreement in Mecca, as the now famous article by David Rose in Vanity Fair showed, the US was complicit in, and co-ordinated, covert plans to overthrow the democratically-elected government.[24]

A fourth key issue is the near complete lack of legitimacy of this US, EU and Israeli led project. While minimal effort has been given to develop the Ministry of Interior – normally the main body to facilitate democratic and civilian control of the security sector – internal security and police forces have been increasingly militarised. Yezid Sayyigh notes what he describes as the “careful sidestepping of the intelligence agencies in which the [US – that is the CIA] and several EU member states are heavily, if covertly, invested”.[25] By definition, intelligence agencies are more accustomed to uphold political rather than constitutional order.

Accountable democratic bodies have been suspended — the dissolution of the PLC in 2007 means no parliamentary oversight – and as Nathan Brown has shown in his detailed analysis of institutional developments in the legal system, “the [PA] has brought into being an ad hoc and completely unaccountable legislative process”.[26] The has meant a dysfunctional justice system where the rule of law is administered by decrees issued by a President whose own legitimacy is contested (his official mandate ended in January 2009) and a PM and cabinet themselves appointed by a President whose mandate has ended, and now operating with no constitutional basis – in effect accountability and oversight of the security forces rests with Israel, the CIA and other non-Palestinian bodies including the US and Europe as founders for this project.

Yezid Sayyigh has argued that US and EU assistance “with the aim of “going after” militants” is actually undermining state-building. Flaws, he explains, “[that] are not technical, [or] the result of a procedural failure to apply ‘best practice’, but rather reflect the narrow concern with developing operational counter-terrorist capacity”.[27]

Increasingly reference is now being made to a “police state” that is being established under the watchful eyes of the US, Europe and of course Israel.[28] The recent ICG report on SSR documents in detail how campaigns ostensibly to re-establish public order have provided the cover to clamp down predominantly on Hamas, but also IJ and the PFLP. [29] Nathan Brown commented in a recent Carnegie paper: “The entire [institutional development] programme is based not simply on de-emphasizing or postponing democracy and human rights, but on actively denying them for the present… to the extent that Fayyadism is building institutions, it is unmistakably doing so in an authoritarian context”.[30]

The rooting out of Hamas in particular has indeed been comprehensive: not only has its military branch been targeted, but as the ICG note, this has “broadened into a far more controversial crackdown against [Hamas’] social and political manifestations and other forms of dissent”.[31] According to Al-Haq, since June 2007 between 8,000 to 10,000 individuals affiliated with Hamas have been arrested in the West Bank – the vast majority are arrested without a court order and are sentenced by military courts in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law (ICG). The ICG report quotes how in mid-2010 the PSF and the police targeted non-violent Palestinian activists – deemed by Israel to be a ‘security threat’[32]; anyone with supposed Islamist tendencies is denied work or sacked from the public sector (since employment – as well as holding a position on any civil society board requires a good conduct certificate issued by the security services[33]); and for the first time, student elections in Universities which until 2007 had not been targeted by either the Israeli’s nor the PA, the ICG report documents, now face interference by the PSF.[34]

This fifth aspect – the Lebanonisation of Palestinian polity and society where state institutions are not seen as public institutions, but have essentially become the prerogative of one faction or sect – will lead to further institutional, social and political fragmentation and destruction. This means a situation where factions would not use the institution of the state, but instead use the institutions of their own sect or political allegiance, not trusting others, to resolve problems and to pursue political action. The cultural traditions of society would then be erased in favour of a partisan approach to politics. With the very foundation of the security-led state building process seeking to divide the Palestinian people, this effectively destroys the possibility of developing a legitimate political mandate – thereby putting beyond anyone or any group’s reach the ability to find a political solution. The very Palestinian polity which could give legitimacy or acceptance to a political solution is being destroyed – effectively putting a peaceful settlement to the conflict further away.

The symbols of statehood are located and being held hostage in the Muqa’taa by those complicit in the political project being built, while those parties with popular legitimacy have been denied any access to the institutions and instruments of governance and authority. And the ‘peace process’ continues to be held hostage by the Quartet and its allies: membership of the Quartet is restricted, with regional allies included as observers to give a token of regional legitimacy to the process.



In terms of the political project being implemented in the West Bank, the end game might well be what we already see – senior Israeli officials have said that “we are close to the ceiling of security co-operation at least if there is no political process to accompany it”.[35] And the conditions the Israelis set for further shifts in security responsibility are essentially tautological — Israel is both occupier and judge. At present, the Israeli’s and Dayton “doubt” the PSF’s ability to control the West Bank in the event of an IDF withdrawal.

And what is likely to happen is yet further security collusion between the PA and the IDF: while figures for 2009 indicate a 72% increase in co-ordinated activities between Palestinian and Israeli forces – many against opposition groups[36] – at a meeting in July this year between PM Fayyad and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, it was reported by a leading Israeli journalist, Alex Fishman, that Fayyad made two proposals to Barak – he requested that the number of police stations in the West Bank be doubled “to enable the PA to tighten its control over the territory”; and secondly, what Fishman called an “unprecedented innovation” – the request by Fayyad that Israel continue to reduce the number of roadblocks in the West Bank with a commitment by him that any roadblock evacuated by the IDF would be turned over to Palestinian responsibility.[37] Fayyad had already requested that the number of Palestinian battalions – those being trained by the US under Dayton – be doubled from 12 to 25, and for additional weapons and ammunition for the security forces.[38]


The opposition to this US-European-Israeli led political project – led by Hamas and its Change and Reform platform and mandate from the January 2006 elections – have a different vision of state-building: theirs is one of nation-building and building a nation-state, as opposed to a state-state.[39] Nation-building would require political reconciliation and political inclusiveness so as to bring the various components together for them to then develop their own program of nation building, and within this, the necessary components of institution-building, including security sector reform.

The current policy/security-to-population ratio in Palestine – 1:80 – is not only one of the highest in the world (a figure that does not include the 25,000-35,000 security employees (out of a total of approx. 85,000) who do not turn up for work), but it is also financially unsustainable.[40] The security share of the public wage bill increased 80% between 1999 and 2004 – a figure which does not include the pension costs which the Palestinian Authority is obliged to pay.

In terms of SSR in the Palestinian context, forced disarmament has not, and will not, work; voluntary demilitarisation is not likely nor feasible; therefore the only long-term policy option is integration of all security forces – including the resistance movements’ – into the Palestinian Authority’s security infrastructure – a step that would of course need to be preceded by political reconciliation. When it was in government, in April 2008, Hamas set up the Executive Force under the PNA Ministry of Interior – this was done not only to ward off pressure from Fatah but also to fund employment for members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassem given the tahdi’a that Hamas has been committed to since March 2005 (aside from Gaza war). This was one of the first steps by Hamas – and one we should note – to reorient its military capacities from resistance activity towards protecting Palestinian people and their security needs.[41]

Writing at the start of the war in Gaza in January 2008, the commentator, Nir Rosen wrote: “Counterinsurgency, now popular again in the Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds… Those with power determine what is legal and illegal. They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had produced them, instead of the oppressors… It becomes apparent that the powerful, those who make the rules, insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism”.[42]

* Ms. Aisling Byrne is Projects Co-ordinator with Conflicts Forum and is based in Beirut.

[1] Squaring the Circle: Palestinian Security Reform Under Occupation, International Crisis Group, Middle East Report No. 98, September 2010, p.17.
[2] Roland Friedrich and Arnold Luethold, Introduction, Entry-Points to Palestinian Security Sector Reform, Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2007, p.9.
[3] See transcript: Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, Michael Stein Address on US Middle East Policy, Program of the SOREF Symposium, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 7 May 2009.
[4] Yezid Sayyigh, Fixing Broken Windows: Security Sector Reform in Palestine, Lebanon and Yemen, Carnegie Papers No. 17., Carnegie Middle East Centre, October 2009, p.25.
[5] Ibid., p.26.
[6] ICG, ibid., p.3.
[7] Ambassador Chas Freeman, America’s Faltering Search for Peace in the Middle East: Openings for Others? (Speech given at Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1 September 2010).
[8] Ibid.
[9] The OECD Development Assistance Committee, as one example, defines SSR as “the transformation of this sector so that it is managed and operates in a manner that is more consistent with democratic norms, the role of law, including well-functioning and just judicial and prison systems, and sound principles of governance” (see R. Friedrich and A. Luethold, Introduction, Entry-Points to Palestinian Security Sector Reform, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), 2007.
[10] See R. Friedrich and A. Luethold, Introduction, Entry-Points to Palestinian Security Sector Reform, ibid., pp.10-11.
[11] R. Friedrich, A Luethold & L. de Martino, Government Change and Security Sector Governance: Palestinian Public Perceptions, Summary Report, August 2007 (DACF-IUED, Geneva).
[12] Friedrich and A. Luethold, Entry-Points to Palestinian Security Sector Reform, in Friedrich & Luethold (eds.), ibid., p,122.
[13] See ICG report, footnote 20, p.3, Yezid Sayyigh, ibid., p.20 and Ahmad Hussein, Reconstructing the PNA Security Organisations in R. Friedrich & A. Luethold (eds.), ibid., p.46.
[14] R. Friedrich & A. Luethold, ibid., p.18.
[15] Anne Le More, International Assistance to the Palestinians After Oslo: Political Guilt, Wasted Money, Routledge 2008, Preface, p.xii.
[16] ICG, ibid., p.16.
[17] ICG, ibid., p.23.
[18] Nathan Thrall, Our Man in Palestine, New York Review of Books, 14 October 2010, p.5.
[19] Yedioth Ahronoth, 28 March 2010.
[20] As documented in various articles – particularly ‘The Man Who Swallowed Gaza’, Ronen Bergman and David Ratner, Ha’aretz Weekend Supplement, 4 April 1997.
[21] See Nathan Thrall, ibid., p.4.
[22] R. Friedrich & A. Luethold, ibid., p.17. See also: Yezid Sayyigh, ibid., p.3.
[23] ICG, ibid., p.33.
[24] David Rose, The Gaza Bombshell, Vanity Fair, April 2008.
[25] Yezid Sayygh, Ibid., p.19.
[26] Nathan Brown, Are Palestinians Building a State? Carnegie Commentary, June 2010, p.6. See also Maen Id’ais, Security Sector Reform and Judicial Reform: The Missing Link, in R. Friedrich & A Luethold (eds.)
[27] Yezid Sayyigh, ibid., p.19.
[28] After only a year of PM Fayyad’s first term, the then head of the PA’s human rights organisation, Mamdouh al-Aker, spoke of the PA’s ‘militarization’ and a “state of lawlessness that had shifted to a sort of security [or] police state”; see Nathan Thrall, ibid., p.8.
[29] ICG., ibid., p.27.
[30] Nathan Brown, ibid., p.2 & p.10.
[31] ICG., ibid., p.ii.
[32] See ICG report, p.25.
[33] ICG, ibid., p.29.
[34] Ibid., p.31.
[35] ICG, p.19.
[36] Cited in Measures taken by Israel in Support of Developing the Palestinian Economy, the Socio-Economic Structure, and the Security Reforms, Report of the Government of Israel to the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee, 13 April 2010.
[37] Alex Fishman, Yedioth Ahronoth, 9 July 2010.
[38] Alex Fishman, Yedioth Ahronoth, Jan 2010
[39] See for example, Ghazi Ahmad Hamad, The Challenge for Hamas: Establishing Transparency and Accountability, in R. Friedrich and A. Luethold, ibid., pp.109-119.
[40] R. Friedrich & A. Luethold, ibid., pp.127-128.
[41] R. Friedrich & A. Luethold, ibid., p.103.
[42] Nir Rosen, Gaza: the logic of colonial power, The Guardian, 29 December 2008


Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 6/12/2010