January 23, 2005


Palestinian Police Face the Enemy Within (Laura King, January 23, 2005, LA Times)

The 35,000-strong Palestinian security forces are supposed to be the centerpiece of a bold attempt by the new Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to quell attacks by groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which for more than four years have waged a relentless war on Israel.

Although violence ebbed after Abbas sent his officers into the streets last week, enormous obstacles stand in the way of his plan to harness a security force that has little real sense of its priorities, let alone its loyalties.

Made up of no fewer than 13 branches, the Palestinian security services are riddled with internal rivalries and beset by disorganization. They are short on weapons and equipment, with ranks thinned, bases destroyed and morale sapped by a conflict in which many find themselves unwitting combatants.

Like Abu Salim, who did not want his full name used, many members of the security services feel a kinship with the militants, regardless of whether they are literally family. The Palestinian security forces, created under the Oslo interim peace accords of the early 1990s, were conceived as a means of providing respectable employment to young street fighters who had cut their teeth in the first Palestinian uprising, from 1987 to 1993.

From the earliest months of the current conflict, Israeli troops regarded any armed Palestinian as a threat, even uniformed police officers.

"We were a target, and an easy one," said Capt. Mohammed, an 11-year veteran of the Palestinian preventive intelligence service. Like other low- to mid-ranking officers interviewed, he did not want his name used because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

The captain said two fellow officers were killed and more than a dozen injured in 2002 when his post in downtown Gaza was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. Later, he lost three fingers when he and his men were caught in an exchange of fire between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

"There is this idea that we are supposed to work with the Israelis," he said, toying with the black glove he wears to cover his mangled right hand. "How can we trust them not to just shoot us on sight? They've done it before. We think they'll do it again."

The Palestinian security forces, however, may be their own worst enemy.

Feuds among rival security chiefs, who often command loyalty based on patronage or clan ties, regularly spill over into shootouts and abductions, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

Some branches of the service so loathe one another that straying into the wrong patch of territory without a full complement of armed escorts would be deadly. Particularly at odds are the preventive security and militant intelligence branches, which have attacked one another with grenades and gunfire.

In many ways, the fragmented security forces are a legacy of Yasser Arafat. The veteran Palestinian leader, who died Nov. 11, was a master at playing one commander against another, keeping each one guessing as to whether he was in favor or on the outs.

The late Palestinian Authority president played a tireless game of embracing and repudiating powerful figures such as the West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub, and Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who are still waiting to find their places in the new order under Abbas.

Because chaos served his purposes, Arafat resisted no reform as adamantly as he did any streamlining of the security forces.

Arafat's refusal to allow the appointment of any commander who did not report directly to him was a major reason for Abbas' angry departure from his post as prime minister.

Today, Abbas and other Palestinian officials say there is no way to stem growing lawlessness, particularly in Gaza, without a strong and well-armed security force.

The main example of how Israeli insistence on maintaining Arafat in power did enormous damage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2005 10:13 AM

It's going to be a bloody year in the Palestinian territories if Abbas actually is sincere about changing the ethos of the West Bank and Gaza. They're going to have to fight and win among their own people before they can start negotiating with Israel in earnest (though on the other hand, if they fight and lose to the militants who favor continued armed struggle, the IDF can just rocket lanuch the winning leaders out of existance and we can start the whole process over again with a new set of leaders).

Posted by: John at January 23, 2005 11:06 AM

Israel would have been perfectly happy to off Arafat decades ago.

The only reason Arafat remained around so long to gum up the works was that he was supported by the Saudis and by the pro-Islam Fifth Column in our State Department.

Posted by: Bart at January 23, 2005 12:49 PM


That's quite wrong. The problem was that Israel thought a strong-man could control the terrorists.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 12:54 PM

There is no evidence for your position whereas starting with the attempt to liberate the Christians of Lebanon, the US Administration made it abundantly clear that Arafat could not be killed by the Israelis.

The Israelis knew that Arafat was just a thug, whose sole basis for legitimacy was the struggle. He was a two-bit crook far more concerned with his boyfriends and his Swiss bank account than with the fate of his 'people.'

It took until 9/11 for that message to get through to the US loud and clear.

Posted by: Bart at January 23, 2005 1:13 PM

When was Arafat assassinated?

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 1:23 PM

The EU and the US still kept the pressure on Israel to keep him alive. The America-haters and the Saudi stooges that make up our foreign service just couldn't let anything else happen.

Posted by: Bart at January 23, 2005 1:29 PM

So the Israelis did keep him in power.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 1:35 PM

At the insistence of the US and the EU.

Posted by: Bart at January 23, 2005 1:56 PM

Insistence? This is Israel we're talking about, right?

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 2:00 PM

Israel kowtows to almost every desire of American leadership, even if it results in Israelis getting killed or losing significant chunks of change.

Posted by: Bart at January 23, 2005 2:22 PM

If they did this all would have been over decades ago.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2005 3:08 PM

OJ: Bart is right. The Eunics and the US kept Arafat alive. The Israelis would have killed him long ago, happily. OTOH, it was not until the last year that the palestinians knew that they had been beaten beyond all hope of redemption.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 23, 2005 5:11 PM
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