By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The killing of ‘Abdul Qader Zaqdah in Tulkarm refugee camp (RC) on Wednesday, 30/8/2023, sparked widespread public anger and resentment against the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF). The Palestinian factions accused these forces of killing Zaqdah, when the PASF wanted to remove barricades and barriers set up by the resistance forces at the RC entrances to block Israeli forces from conducting raids.
Regardless of the PASF not acknowledging their responsibility, their role and position in the PA structure and their security coordination with Israel, have been a major topic in the Palestinian internal debate, among the justifications for the PA’s existence, and a major topic when discussing Palestinian reconciliation and rebuilding official Palestinian institutions.
Reading the History of the Experience:
Since the PA establishment in 1994, it has been clear that its security control over the Palestinians in the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS), and the prevention of resistance action, were bound by the PA’s obligations to the Oslo Accords. It seems that the PA leadership, at that time, believed that its good security performance would pave the way for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within five years, in accordance with the final status negotiations. Therefore, its “ferocity” was no less than the “ferocity” of the PASF these days.
On 18/11/1994, and only a few months after its establishment, the PASF wanted to crush any opposition; they committed the “Black Friday massacre” against worshipers in GS, who were intending to go out in a peaceful demonstration from the Palestine Mosque to the house of Hisham Hamad, thus killing 13 and wounding 200. During the May 1994–August 1995 period, the PASF carried out 12 arrest campaigns in GS and established 24 arrest and detention centers; while, for example, in one month (19/4–19/5/1995), they raided 57 mosques 138 times in GS. The Israel Security Agency—ISA (Shabak) praised the PASF performance, which, according to its report, prevented 80 resistance operations against Israeli targets in 1995.
In February 1995, the PA leadership established the “State Security Court,” where the judges and prosecutors were military officers. The courts were usually held in secret and were known as the “midnight courts” because of the timing of the trials. In one month and a half (9/4 – 27/5/1995), 33 detainees were sentenced, most of whom were members of Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and some of the trials lasted only minutes.
After launching vengeance operations in response to the assasination of Yahya Ayyash, the PASF launched a ferocious campaign to dismantle the organizational, advocacy and institutional structures of Hamas and PIJ; arresting 1,200 members and supporters, and closing their schools, charities, Zakat committees and orphanages. Thus, causing severe decline in resistance action, especially from 1997 until al-Aqsa Intifadah in September 2000.
During that period, nine security apparatuses were formed, having 40 thousand members; the highest ratio of police per population in the world, that is around 1 for every 84 individuals (compared, for example, to 1 for every 3,200 individual in London).
The PA security policy did not change until after al-Aqsa Intifadah, and after Israel, on 12/10/2000, destroyed the PA security headquarters (whose performance didn’t satisfy it). Afterwards, the PA released the detained resistance members under the pretext of being unable to protect them, and Yasir ‘Arafat acted differently after giving up on the peace process and the failure of the second Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000; he secretly supported the Intifadah. However, the Israelis were watching him, so they besieged him in the presidential compound “Al-Muqata‘a” and tried to oust him from power in 2003, until the events that led to his death on 11/11/2004. The Israeli/ US message was blatantly clear that the survival of the PA and its leadership is primarily dependent on fulfilling its security role.
Under the Presidency of ‘Abbas:
Although the PASF core functional role remained the same under the presidency of Mahmud ‘Abbas, this role began over time to lose the “national justification” and “political and popular cover” that the forces claim when pursuing and striking the resistance action. For ‘Arafat linked the performance of PASF to his aspirations to reach a final solution that would lead to an independent Palestinian state in WB and GS, and there were situations where the members of security forces would have major resistance roles, such as in the confrontations with Israel during the “Tunnel” Intifadah, on 25-27/9/1996, and during al-Aqsa Intifadah; where ‘Arafat supported the resistance line. As for ‘Abbas, he has made up his mind to adhere to the “peaceful means” and the peace process, has criticized al-Aqsa Intifadah and he has considered the efforts of the resistance and its missiles futile, while considering security coordination with Israel “sacred.” Under his rule, the PA functional role of the PA and its security forces has expanded, and there was no limit for adjusting conditions under occupation.
After ‘Abbas won the presidency (9/1/2005), he carried out “reforms” in the security forces, based on US-Israeli requests, so as to become more “faithful” in implementing the requirements of Oslo Accords, and more “efficient” and fiercer in pursuing resistance action. He merged the PASF into three apparatuses, and referred to retirement a number of senior officers “suspected” of sympathizing with resistance action or being former freedom fighters, and replaced them with junior officers who are more open to what is called “reform”!! When the London Meeting to Support the Palestinian Authority was held on 1/3/2005, ‘Abbas was committed to plans of strengthening of PA effectiveness and capacity, including the plans “to create the conditions conducive to the peace process with the immediate objective of restoring internal law and order and preventing violence.”
When Hamas won the 2006 elections and formed the tenth and eleventh governments, it refused the security coordination with the occupation. However, the PASF remained effectively under the control of ‘Abbas and Fatah, and this was a major reason for internal clashes and attempts to overthrow the Hamas government. At the same time, Israel was providing support and facilities to the PASF, who are loyal to the presidency.
After Hamas took control of GS, the US role in rebuilding and rehabilitating the PASF in WB increased, resulting in the formation of several “Dayton’s babies” battalions; rebuilt and trained under Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton’s supervision. The Fatah leadership dissolved Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades; and security coordination regained its vitality to the extent that, at the end of 2008, Israeli reports indicated that security coordination was unprecedented!! An Israeli report revealed that in 2012 there were 843 security meetings between officers and leaders from the PA and Israel.
For many years under ‘Abbas’s rule (especially the first ten years), the percentage of security forces members to civilians remained seven times more than the world average of police to citizen rates. Security spending took up to 27–32% of the PA budget, while the salaries of the PASF employees constituted about 40% of the PA’s total expenditure on salaries. Although there has been limited gradual reduction in recent years, the PASF still receive the “lion’s share” of the PA budget. The PA 2022 expenditures indicate that security constituted 22.7% of expenditures, and PASF employees received 35.5% of the total salaries of PA employees.
– The PA security role has expanded to the point that it has practically become its vital function that justifies its existence to the US and Israel; and the PA is aware that its survival depends on that role.
– According to opinion polls, the Palestinian vast majority demands ending security coordination and supports the resistance, which lifts the “national” and “legitimate” cover on the PASF cooperation with the occupation.
– The PA leadership did not take seriously the decisions of the Palestinian National Council (held in 2018) and the repeated decisions of the Palestinian Central Council (since 2015) to stop security coordination with the occupation, for they were considered for “public consumption.”
– The misery of the PA situation and popular dissatisfaction with its security coordination manifested in the large number of PA “announcements” of suspending security coordination (or threats to stop it), estimated by a specialized researcher to have exceeded sixty times!! Their aim was to absorb the Palestinian public anger and discontent, until coordination is publicly restored.
– The PASF performance and coordination with Israel have been serious obstacles to Palestinian reconciliation. For there is a conflict between internal Palestinian reform and institution-building process, on one hand, and the core of the PASF security function, on the other hand. Moreover, there is a network of interests linked to the PASF, which would lose its role and justification for its existence when the Palestinian political house is put in order.
– In the past two years, the PASF in WB have become more daring and ferocious, after the disruption of the Legislative Council elections, the Sword of Jerusalem battle (dubbed by Israel Operation Guardian of the Walls), and the escalation of opposition repression; as in the killing of the Nizar Banat and the continuous arrest campaigns.
– There is a PASF affiliated current (in the Fatah leadership) that wants to take over the PA leadership after the death of ‘Abbas. Thus, trying to prepare the internal and external conditions for this purpose, although its popular chances are weak.
Finally, reforming the PASF within a national framework is fundamentally linked to the PA’s redefinition of itself, which could, implicitly, mean for the US and Israel the PA’s overthrow or collapse.
Now that the illusion has been exposed, after the collapse of the two-state solution, the peace process reaching a dead end and the escalation of Zionist extremism and Judaization programs, there is no longer any justification for the PA leadership (Fatah leadership) to market its strategic mission or security forces. It faces now a historic challenge that has repeatedly occurred over the past years. It has to stop this “futile experience” (which makes the PA an Israeli interest more than a Palestinian one), and return to reconciliation and building institutions in accordance with the will of the Palestinian people and based on their fundamentals, and despite the high prices it may pay. For Resistance is the correct and only options to end the occupation.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 8/9/2023