Criticism of the PA’s security coordination with Israel is not new. But recent events demonstrate the egregiousness of the PA double standard: warm ties with Israeli security against an iron hand with its own people. As a result, a range of voices – men and women, political dissidents and reformers, former political prisoners and militants, activists and journalists, among others – have raised unprecedented criticisms and condemnations of the PA and its security forces. Indeed, for a large segment of Palestinians, the PA security sector is viewed as an extension of the occupation. In reaction to PA actions, critics now regularly level charges of treason and betrayal.
The recent Israeli military operation – the largest since the second intifada – was part of a search for three settlers who went missing near Hebron, and an intensified PA crackdown on Palestinian protesters occurred in parallel. In one shocking incident in Hebron, a march in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners amid the Israeli military incursion ended with Palestinian security forces violently dispersing protesters and arresting journalists. There were also outrageous scenes in Ramallah where angry stone throwers were first attacked by Israeli soldiers, and subsequently confronted by Palestinian police who shot at them. These are not coincidences; along with numerous similar instances, they show highly sophisticated security coordination between Israelis and Palestinians.
In response, social media has been filled with angry Palestinian comments. One that captured my attention said: ‘Palestinian and Israeli securities are changing the working shift.’ Such irony is painful, and telling. It highlights the need to place the Palestinian security sector under systematic scrutiny, and to reveal its actual function and role.
The roots of Palestinian security reform
In 2003, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon spoke at the Herzliya Conference – the most important annual strategic gathering in Israel – in which he demanded that the PA adopt a set of reforms to be implemented in three main phases as a precondition for future negotiations. Most observers viewed the speech as Sharon’s electoral programme. While the demands included financial, institutional, media, and educational reforms, the priority was a fundamental restructuring of the Palestinian security sector. According to Sharon, the ‘reform’ would have three main planks: (1) Dismantling all existing security bodies loyal to former PLO chairperson Yasser Arafat, which Sharon described as ‘terrorists’ due to their engaging in armed struggle against Israel during the second intifada; (2) appointing a new minister of interior to oversee the dissolution and outlawing of Palestinian military groups; (3) immediate renewal of Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation. Sharon asserted that ‘security reform must accompany a sincere and real effort to stop terrorism, while applying the “chain of preventive measures” outl
ined by the Americans: intelligence gathering, arrest, interrogation, prosecution and punishment.’
By the end of the second intifada in 2005, Sharon’s vision for Palestinian reform began to emerge, but his illness, long coma, and, later, his death, prevented him from celebrating the materialisation of his vision.
Abbas and security reform
Security reform was a top priority in Abbas’s electoral platform; and since he assumed office in 2005, security has been a pillar of his presidency. He wished to transform the Arafatist mode of security – which had sometimes forcefully resisted the Israeli military – into strictly inward-oriented security capable of enforcing stability and providing protection to the PA elite. These two objectives were only attainable through effective coordination with Israeli forces.
The reform of the security sector was deep-seated and complex. It covered areas ranging from security doctrine, discipline, training, and equipment to enhanced cooperation with Israel and other regional and international security and intelligence services. For Abbas, the first step was to exclude security personnel deemed to be problematic and unreliable to his project. He thus offered them lucrative retirement packages with a variety of fin
ancial advantages and other privileges. Under the banner of ‘security and order’, he moved to disarm the fragmented resistance movement, and some local gangs that had appeared in the last phase of the intifada, and which were mostly composed of former militants who had exploited the idea of resistance to further their criminal activities. They were eventually invited to formally join the new PA security force. The PA’s overall objective was to maintain a total monopoly over violence and to prevent any potential threat to the new post-Arafat order.
With advice from American and European security consultants, Abbas introduced new regulations to improve the internal structure of security and to reduce rivalries between the various security branches. In order to ensure loyalty and improve performance, he initiated a performance-based promotion scheme. Furthermore, in contrast to Arafat’s policies, which had deliberately fostered a substantial level of ambiguity in the roles and functions of the multiple security branches that often resulted in tension between them, Abbas sought to merge security forces into three major categories in accordance with the Quartet Roadmap. The first category was the internal, under control of the interior ministry (civil police, preventive security and civil defence); the second was the national (national security forces, military intelligence, naval police, military liaison and presidential security); and the third was the general intelligence.
When Abbas initiated his security reform agenda in 2005, the Americans and Europeans quickly backed his efforts. The Bush administration initially appointed Lieutenant General William Ward to oversee Palestinian security reform, and to train and prepare security forces to deal with the vacuum left by the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The EU focused on supervising and training Palestinian police and justice sector. For this purpose, the EU established a coordination office in the West Bank initially called EUCOPPS, and later renamed EUPOL COPPS.
Doctrinal shift towards Israel's security priorities
Hamas’s striking victory in the 2006 legislative elections led to the halt of international aid to the PA and its security sector. But the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 set alarm bells ringing in Tel Aviv, Washington, and other western capitals, which quickly moved to support the Ramallah-based PA. Security was the most significant destination for western financial and technical support. This time, however, security reform underwent massive restructuring, especially aimed at reworking the doctrinal foundation of Palestinian security.
Two major factors have played key roles in advancing this shift. The first is linked to the advent of ‘Fayyadism’ – a reference to the former Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in 2007, whose state-building and neoliberal agendas implied dynamic authoritarianism, and so had a crucial security dimension. Fayyad’s security concern was evident in every report published by subsequent governments, which repeatedly asserted a strong role for security as well as the enforcement of the ‘rule of law’ to create a suitable level of stability to allow private business and investment to flourish. Fayyad’s contribution to security reform produced a highly-privileged sector which consumed over thirty-one percent of the PA’s annual budget, exceeding that of vital sectors such as health, education and agriculture combined.
In 2007 and 2008, Fayyad was behind two campaigns that targeted armed groups and Hamas members in Nablus and Jenin in the northern West Bank. Similar campaigns were carried out in 2011 and 2012 in Jenin. They were jointly coordinated between the Jenin Governorate and other foreign security agencies in order to ‘make Jenin a model city for the West Bank’.
Such campaigns would have been impossible without the Israeli security establishment’s consent and coordination, both of which have quantitatively and qualitatively surpassed the levels of the 1990s. According to an Israeli report, there are multiple mechanisms for enhanced coordination between the two sides, including a sharp increase in the number of meetings, and regular meetings between senior participants. In 2009, there were 1 297 coordinated operations, a seventy-two percent increase from 2008, while 2011 witnessed an additional five percent increase from 2010.
The second factor is linked to US investment in the PA security establishment, particularly through the ‘Dayton Doctrine’, named after Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, the US Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the PA, who replaced Ward in late 2005. He played a defining role in reshaping the structure and mindset of PA security forces. His efforts have resulted in the formation of what he called the ‘new Palestinian man’, a professionally trained and disciplined security officer whose function is to blindly follow security orders regardless of the consequences for Palestinians, and to be fully in service to the new US and Israeli security paradigm.
For this purpose, according to the US Government Accountability Office, the US State Department allocated ninety-nine million dollars to invest in the reconstruction of the PA security infrastructure and capacity building in the West Bank between 2007 and 2010, and a further 392 million dollars to train and equip security forces. Dayton’s mission included recruiting, training, financing and equipping PA security forces, including forming the so-called ‘special battalions’ of the National Security Forces (NSF). According to the US State Department, the US security mission had trained and equipped nine NSF Special Battalions and two Presidential Guard battalions by 2012, totalling over 5 500 personnel. These forces were trained locally and abroad, particularly in Jordan’s International Police Training Center. The training was meant to prepare the new forces to carry out internal policing and counter-terrorism operations. They offered no defensive skills against external threats and invasions. Security equipment was solely designed for internal suppression and the protection of VIPs, and strategic planning is intended to be in harmony with Israeli military and security objectives.
Israel and the USA regard the PA security reform programme as a success. Israeli president, Shimon Peres, in a speech before the European Parliament in 2013, expressed Israel’s satisfaction with the state of Palestinian security: ‘A Palestinian security force was formed. You and the Americans trained it. And now we work together to prevent terror and crime.’
Protecting the PA elite
When Abbas defended security coordination by calling it a ‘Palestinian national interest’, he was not mistaken – if properly understood from perspective of the PA elite. In this context, the Palestinian national interest should not be understood as the collective interest of the Palestinian people. Indeed, the PA has become a lucrative industry and a comfortable hub for the political-economic elite and the capitalist class and their cronies, increasingly detached from the circumstances of the population which lives under a brutal military-settler regime. The rising class division within Palestinian society has meant that security has had to become a means for the protection of the wealthy and their possessions. Abbas’s insistence on preventing any kind of uprising suggests his readiness to use force to suppress protesters, something which has occurred regularly. Perhaps his major fear stems from the likelihood that any political unrest would ultimately imperil his position. Indeed, on every occasion that popular demonstrations attempted to approach al-Muqata – his compound in Ramallah – his security forces violently suppressed the demonstrators.
That compound exemplifies the sophistication of PA protection arrangements. Al-Muqata is protected by a professional Presidential Guard, an elite force of over 6 000 men – expanded from 2 500 by the Americans in 2005. Recently, women fighters have joined the force. The Presidential Guard is structured according to a military model, and tasked with safeguarding Abbas and other VIPs, responding to crises, and protecting PA facilities. The Presidential Guard was particularly favoured by the US security assistance to strengthen and protect Abbas. It is noteworthy that when the USA halted all aid for Palestinian security after Hamas’s victory in the 2006 elections, the Presidential Guard remained the only security structure to continue receiving direct financial support from the USA. Dayton explained: ‘Because the Presidential Guard reported directly to President Abbas and was not influenced by Hamas, they were considered to be in the game.’ In fact, the Presidential Guard received substantial American aid in the form of equipment, training, and infrastructure, worth approximately twenty-six million dollars in 2006.
Following the ongoing Palestinian protests and clashes with Israeli occupation forces and settlers, sparked by the burning and killing of a Palestinian teenager by a settler racist gang in Jerusalem, many observers have asked whether the Occupied Palestinian Territory is witnessing the beginning of a third Intifada that could involve Palestinian citizens of Israel. Despite the fact that all objective conditions necessary for the eruption of a new uprising in Palestine are present on the ground, Palestinians still face a major obstacle that will likely abort any meaningful popular uprising: the PA-Israeli security partnership.
In its present form, the Palestinian security sector is far from being part of a national project to serve the Palestinian cause. Palestinian security forces do not represent the people they are supposed to protect, and their operations and blatant coordination with the Israeli occupation have proven to be destructive to Palestinian national interests. This sector is structured according to predefined Israeli and American plans and conditions. Its functionality and continuity depend on meeting Israeli security concerns and Israeli expectations. Security coordination, in particular, aims to crush any form of resistance, armed or peaceful. The PA elite is highly dependent on the security apparatuses to ensure their safety, protect their wealth, and suppress political opposition, even if such opposition did not pose any direct threat to their rule and privileges.
If there is to be an authentic national security sector, its forces must be fully restructured in a manner that relates to the real needs, expectations and aspirations of the Palestinian people. Above all, the Dayton Doctrine must be completely replaced with values of dignity, self-determination and anti-colonial struggle. This, however, cannot happen under the umbrella of Oslo. Thus, as part of their anti-colonial liberation course, the Palestinians must now take action against the repressive structures superimposed by the Oslo framework.
* Tariq Dana is a Palestinian academic and researcher, and is a policy advisor to Al-Shabaka (The Palestinian Policy Network).
** This article was first published by Jadaliyya, and is published by AMEC in terms of an agreement with Jadaliyya.