by Azzam Tamimi

For a change, all concerned parties seem eager to see Palestinian reconciliation succeed. Each player has its own reasons, of course. Yet, it would not have been possible to come this far so quickly had it not been for the deepening humanitarian crisis inside the Gaza Strip and the growing predicament that Hamas, which controls Gaza, finds itself in as a result. There is no doubt that the siege imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt has achieved its objectives. Life has become so unbearable in the Strip that public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of any deal that promises easing the pressure.

This has prompted Hamas to express readiness to make concessions that had until recently been inconceivable. The full extent of these concessions is, however, unclear, and the deal under discussion is shrouded in ambiguity. What is known thus far is that Hamas has agreed to disband its own administrative committee in charge of the Gaza Strip in a prelude to handing over control to the Ramallah-based Palestinian National Authority (PNA), whose prime minister, Rami al-Hamdallah, arrived in the Strip on Sunday for the handover by Hamas. As part of the new arrangement, Hamas is expected to relinquish control over the border crossings with Egypt and Israel.

While some Hamas leaders have maintained that the movement’s military force is not up for negotiation, Fatah spokespersons insist that reinstating the PNA in Gaza would have to result in an end to all military manifestations outside the control of the PNA. It is inconceivable that the Americans and the Israelis, who are said to be in favour of the current reconciliation effort, will settle for anything less than dismantling Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing. This is believed also to be the position of the government in Cairo.

A new leadership

Another important factor that brought about a shift in Hamas’s position was the election of a new leadership. Over the past decade, Hamas developed a complex organisational structure that consisted of three regional administrations – one for Gaza, a second for the West Bank, and a third for the diaspora – and an overarching leadership.

In February 2017, a new leadership for the Gaza region was elected, with Yahya al-Sinwar, a freed war prisoner, as its head. A few months later, Ismail Haniyyah was elected as the new head of the overarching leadership. Both men are based in Gaza.

In the past, decision-making within Hamas was a laborious process. The head of the political bureau had to consult with the leadership of every region as well as with his comrades in the overarching structure. When former Hamas leader Khaled Mesha'al once violated this norm by individually consenting to a proposed arrangement with PNA president Mahmoud Abbas without consultation, he was severely criticised, particularly by Hamas leaders inside Gaza. Now the exact opposite is happening. Hamas leaders in Gaza are accused of not being bothered to consult with anyone. It is no longer a secret that tension has been building within the movement since Sinwar decided, on his own, to meet and negotiate with his former schoolmate Mohammed Dahlan, a close associate of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed and an arch enemy of Hamas.

But to his credit, Sinwar seems to be consistent with the public mood within Gaza. People are not only exhausted because of the siege and want to see it end, but they are also tired of remaining the prisoners of old rivalries. Dahlan was Fatah’s main security person when war erupted between Fatah and Hamas in the Strip in June 2007, resulting in the death of dozens on both sides and with the eventual takeover by Hamas in Gaza and by Fatah in the West Bank.

Today, the new leaders of Hamas want to turn over this dark page in the history of the strip. Hamas’s Cairo meetings with Dahlan, who now commands the loyalty of nearly half of Fatah’s members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and is a serious rival of Abbas, paved the way for what is known as community reconciliation. With funding from the United Arab Emirates and cooperation from Egypt, Dahlan set up a fund to compensate families who are willing to be part of a programme aimed at healing old wounds. Each family stands to receive the sum of $50 000 in exchange for publicly renouncing demands to avenge the deaths of family members.

Finally, Hamas has been considerably weakened in recent years. Since 2008, it has been the target of three major Israeli military campaigns and numerous smaller attacks and incursions. Yet, the most devastating development has been the success of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in aborting the Middle East and North Africa uprisings. The 2013 military coup in Egypt was a particularly catastrophic blow to Hamas. Since then, the movement has been left deserted and besieged. Earlier, disagreement with Iran over Syria cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in Iranian sponsorship of its Gaza administration, not to speak of the lost military and logistical support both Iran and Syria used to provide.

End of an era

Palestinian reconciliation is likely to succeed this time around because all parties concerned desire to see it succeed. Egypt has a chronic security problem in Sinai and has concluded that Gaza can be part of the solution rather than the problem. The Arab counterrevolution states, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, believe that Palestinian reconciliation will pave the way for official diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. It is no secret that these Arabs are dying to go public with their Israeli ties, but are barred by the lack of progress in the peace process. They believe that once Fatah and Hamas are reconciled, the PNA and Israel can resume final-status talks, and once the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is fully resolved they will be able to justify ending their own public hostility toward Israel.

It is very likely, therefore, that the success of Palestinian reconciliation will mark the end of an era and the beginning of another in the history of Palestinian resistance. If so, and if ever allowed, Hamas may, under new terms, revert gradually to being a modified version of what it used to be before December 1987, a socio-religious movement. But will it ever be allowed to do so? With the military in control of Egypt, it is highly doubtful.

* Azzam Tamimi is a British Palestinian academic, political activist, and author of Hamas: Unwritten Chapters and Hamas: A History from Within

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The threat of the collapse of Gaza Strip as the siege on the territory and the consequent humanitarian crisis worsens resulted in the Hamas leadership seeking help from neighbouring Egypt. This especially after Israel drastically reduced electricity supply to Gaza because of Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, deciding to cut electricity payments for Gaza. Delegations from Hamas’s political leadership met on numerous times with representatives of the Abdel Fattah El-Sisi government in recent months.

Marking ten years of its control in the tiny besieged territory, Hamas seeks to end the blockade (imposed by Israel in 2007 and followed by Egypt) by Egypt, and to ease the deteriorating life conditions faced by the two million Palestinians in Gaza. Pushed to desperation by the alarming humanitarian situation, Hamas has even agreed to Egyptian requests that the Palestinian resistance movement meets with Mohammed Dahlan, the strongman that once ruled the PA security apparatus in Gaza with an iron fist.

The renewed relations with Egypt have also allowed Hamas to engage with the Israeli government on a prisoner-exchange deal through Egypt, negotiate with Egypt over the supply of fuel for Gaza’s electricity generating plant, and receive a commitment for the opening of the Rafah border crossing in September to allow for free crossing of Palestinians between the strip and Egypt.

During the one-year presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Hamas enjoyed good relations with Egypt, which eased the blockade and allowed for trade and movement of Palestinians through Rafah. With the overthrow of Morsi in a military coup, the Egyptian government cracked down on MB members and supporters, and put pressure on Hamas. The Palestinian group’s historical links with the MB, and the warm relationship between the Egyptian government and Israel had made Hamas’s relationship with the Sisi government hostile, and led to the closure of Rafah. Relations were further complicated by fighting in Sinai as claims were made of Gaza residents joining the fighting alongside Islamic State group (IS) fighters behind the Sinai insurgency. The impact of this was felt in Gaza by ordinary Palestinians who now face even worse living conditions due to electricity shortages. The Ramallah-based PA has been on a campaign to tighten the noose around Gaza after reducing the salaries of thousands of civil servants in Gaza, and retiring 6 000 of them.

Rafah is critical for Gazans since Israel has blocked access for them, and many have resorted to using underground tunnels to smuggle goods in and out of the enclave. Previous relations between Hamas and Egypt have been strained because of good relations between Egypt and Israel, which also resulted in an Egyptian blockade on Gaza. The Egyptian military has waged a war against Gaza’s tunnel economy since the blockade began. Egypt has razed thousands of homes in the Sinai and flooded tunnels to quell the smuggling of goods. Egypt contends that the tunnels allowed for the arming of IS insurgents in Sinai.

Hamas has been promised that an arrangement with Dahlan could see Gaza receiving the basic supplies it needs to survive. Such an arrangement will, however, also bolster Dahlan’s campaign take control of Fatah, the PA and the PLO. Dahlan has denied he has any designs on leadership in Gaza, but his supporters have already started making their way back as part of the Egypt agreements.

Discussions between Hamas and Egypt have also covered a possible prisoner exchange between the Palestinian movement and Israel. Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh said the group was in talks with the Israeli government through a ‘third party’ to release Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails. The ‘third party’, Egypt, has communicated to Israel that Hamas wants the release of fifty-four detainees who were part of the 2011 swop for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Gilad Shalit who was held by Hamas. The Palestinian prisoners were rearrested in 2014, and Israel has refused to release them unconditionally.

The Hamas visits to Cairo in February, June and July saw talks with Egyptian officials, including members of the intelligence sector. The Hamas officials also met with Dahlan, who is a trusted friend of the Egyptian government and an advisor to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed. Dahlan has been working to find a way back into the Fatah leadership after being expelled from the group in 2011. He was responsible for planning a coup against Hamas in Gaza after the Islamist movement won legislature elections in 2006. After the Hamas delegation, headed by Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, returned from the Cairo meeting in June, Egypt delivered fuel to resuscitate a power plant in Gaza. In return, Hamas began constructing a security buffer zone along the southern border with Egypt in response to Egyptian demands for increased security in the area.

Dahlan’s involvement comes with the promise of funds from the UAE, which will help him to re-launch his leadership bid. It is a plan masterminded by the UAE, implemented by Egypt and backed by Arab leaders (and Israel). For Hamas, turning to Dahlan is a means to an end; finding common cause with an enemy of an enemy has led to Egypt agreeing to open the Rafah crossing, if the security situation in Sinai is improved, and the UAE has pledged $100 million for the construction of a power plant on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza.

Certain Arab leaders hope to neutralise Hamas, while Israel prefers to eliminate it completely. Gaza’s dire humanitarian plight, which threatens Hamas’s rule in the strip, is an ideal opportunity to marginalise Hamas and bring into leadership a man who has proved to be a reliable proxy for the USA, Israel and the UAE. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is in a precarious position, and his delaying in forging a reconciliation with Hamas could result in him losing power to his rival, his long-time rival.

By Ramzy Baroud

Judging by its size, the Gaza Strip may look too small to matter in the ongoing regional intrigues involving Israel, the United States, Turkey, Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. However, the 365 square kilometre coastal strip, which has been under Israeli-Egyptian siege for over ten years, outweighs its size many times over in the ongoing political gamble involving the region’s most powerful players. The many players that are involved are all motivated by sheer self-interest and self-preservation.

Israel has maintained the upper hand thus far, watching alliances emerge and others fold, manipulating the various variables as it sees fit, and ensuring that the outcome is always in its favour. But what exactly does Israel want? Shortly after Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza. The siege has remained in place since, and has grown to define the status quo. Dov Weisglass, a senior Israeli adviser to the then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, aptly described Israel’s motives behind the siege ten years ago: ‘The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.’ That single quote came to define the standard of cruelty with which Israel treats Palestinians. Yet, there is more to it than an expression of Israeli malice.

First, Weisglass’s near-starvation diet has been in effect ever since, with little done to remedy the suffering of Gazans. Second, with time, the Israeli siege also became an Egyptian blockade, thus making the most populous Arab country an accomplice to the Israeli plan to control Palestinians. Third, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah learned not only to co-exist with the Israeli siege on Gaza, but also to benefit from it.

The West Bank-based authority is controlled by the Fatah Movement, credited with launching the Palestinian revolt decades ago. But times have changed. The movement, now dominated by an aging, quisling leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is experiencing a power struggle within its ranks, while fighting hard to keep its Hamas rivals weak, isolated and discredited.

Egypt’s share of and role in the siege cannot be underestimated. Since his ascent to power following a military coup against an elected government on 3 July 2013, General - now President - Abdel Fattah el-Sisi moved quickly to deepen the isolation of Gaza, and, by extension, Hamas. Sisi’s coup managed, decisively and violently, to overthrow a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government in Cairo, but not its Palestinian affiliates in Gaza.

Hamas, widely seen as the Palestinian extension of the Brotherhood, still reigned supreme in the besieged Strip despite determined Israeli attempts at destroying it, and any semblance of resistance there. Three major onslaughts launched by Israel (in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014) killed thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of Hamas fighters and leaders, but the political balance has remained firmly in Hamas’s hands.

With time, the Israeli siege became an Egyptian one, all with the tacit approval of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and with Arab approval. Some Arab Gulf governments, which wanted to ensure the complete demise of the Brotherhood, saw in Hamas’s survival a threat to their own existence. Now into its eleventh year, the siege has become a shared Israeli-Palestinian-Arab long-term investment. However, this is not a matter of politics or ideology only.

Following various popular uprisings in several Arab countries, Arab regimes with no democratic mandates moved quickly to suppress any dissent, no matter how seemingly harmless. Bloggers were dragged to jails; poets were imprisoned; peaceful activists were shot; and thousands disappeared in massive purges to ensure the failed uprisings do not resurface.

Meanwhile, Israel continued with its illegal land grab and Jewish colonial expansion, unhindered. With plans set in motion for ‘security coordination’ between Israel and the PA to crack down on dissenting Palestinians, the Israeli plan to annex most of the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem was developing without many obstacles. Except, of course, Gaza, which symbolised a kind of resistance that could not be eliminated – neither by starvation, incarceration nor firepower. Nearly, 5 000 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during Israel’s three major offensives in the past decade. Yet, although much of the Strip was destroyed as a result of Israel’s deadly wars, the spirit of the resistance there remained strong, and eventually, it rekindled the resistance of Palestinians in the West Bank as well. Further, despite every attempt at creating two different political entities in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians in both regions continued to be bonded by their resistance.

Israel, nonetheless, succeeded. While it could not defeat Gaza, it managed to turn the siege on Gaza into an Arab affair, too. The Arab region has been experiencing rapid changes in recent years, where three civil wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen and the spread of militancy and ‘terror’ has reached almost every Arab country. The political uncertainty in the USA wrought by the election of Donald Trump, however, has offered a rare opportunity to some embattled Arab regimes. Even prior to Trump’s unexpected election victory, the USA was in the process of redefining its rule in the Arab world, and a ‘pivot to Asia’ was already downgrading US leadership and influence in the region. Trump’s ascendency, however, has mixed the cards like never before. Washington, which had governed the Middle East through clearly defined doctrines, now seems to have no doctrine, only impulsive decisions made by a Twitter-obsessed president.

The American retreat offered the kind of political space that could be filled by those vying to control the region. With Israel remaining on top of the pyramid, an alliance involving Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia began moving into a clear formation to achieve dominance through destroying some foes, isolating others and out-manoeuvring the rest. According to this new ‘vision’, Hamas, which could not be defeated by sheer force, could be relegated into an ineffectual political entity through an alliance with Mohammed Dahlan.

Once upon a time, Dahlan was the strongman of Gaza, commandeering ten security branches, torturing resisters and controlling the Strip in a way that was both consistent with the interests of his Fatah party and also with Israeli diktat. A few months after it won the elections, Hamas reportedly pre-empted a coup by Dahlan, and, since then, controlled the Strip alone. That was when the Israeli siege became complete. Dahlan fled to the West Bank, and a later power struggle within Fatah led to his dismissal by Abbas, who also accused him of a coup attempt in 2011. In 2012, Dahlan settled permanently in the UAE. Following the Egyptian coup in 2013, Dahlan and Sisi found common ground: initially to defeat Hamas, and eventually to coopt Hamas.

As Arab countries began moving to fill the gap left by receding US foreign policy, the political machinations began intensifying in an unprecedented fashion. Abbas quickly lost favour with Cairo, and Dahlan became Fatah’s strongman, as far as Egypt was concerned. Abbas’s sin was his refusal to join forces with Dahlan, with the ultimate objective of defeating Hamas. Meanwhile, with Abbas and Hamas failing to achieve even a minimal form of unity, Abbas remains confined to the West Bank, desperately trying to find new channels to win political validation.

The ‘Dahlan plan’ then emerged. A leaked document, widely reported in Israeli and other media, purported to show that Dahlan and Hamas had been negotiating the return of the former strongman to Gaza, to head a government there in exchange for an Egyptian easing of the siege. According to the plan, Hamas would remain in control of Gaza’s interior ministry and would not disarm, but, in the words of Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el, Israel, at least, ‘would have a partner in Gaza who supports reconciliation’.

Overwhelmed by the unexpected move, Abbas is now trying to make life even more difficult for Palestinians in the Strip, hoping to exert more pressure on Hamas to end its possible partnership with Dahlan. A few months ago, Abbas slashed salaries for thousands of employees, many of whom were loyal to Fatah, and to Dahlan, in particular. More recently, the PA refused to pay for much of the electricity that Gaza is supplied by Israel, leading the Israeli government to order yet more electricity cuts to the Strip. The suffering of Palestinians in Gaza is now compounded.

Unemployment in the Strip is already among the highest in the world, presently estimated at forty-four per cent. Those who are employed still struggle to survive, with eighty per cent of all Gazans said to be dependent on humanitarian assistance. In 2015, the UN warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. A Red Cross report in May 2016 warned of another ‘looming crisis’ in the public health sector, due to the lack of electricity. The energy crisis has extended from electricity supplies to include even cooking gas. Following the most recent energy reduction which started on 11 June, Gazan households now receive two to three hours of electricity each day, and not even at fixed hours.

Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, sounded the alarm on 14 June when she warned that ‘the latest power cuts risk turning an already dire situation into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe’.

To think that Palestinian leaders are involved in tightening or manipulating the siege to exact political concessions from one another is dismaying. While Israel is invested in maintaining the Palestinian rift, Palestinians are blinded by pitiful personal interests and worthless ‘control’ over occupied land. Between Israel’s dismissal of international calls to end the siege and the Palestinians’ pathetic power game, Palestinians in Gaza are isolated, unable to move freely, or to live even according to the lowest acceptable living standards. The suicide rate in the Strip is at all-time high, and despair is believed to be the main factor behind the alarming phenomena.

Failing to subdue Gaza, Israel has succeeded in spreading the burden of tormented Palestinians there by enlisting the support of Palestinian as well as Arab hands, each playing a role in a dirty game of politics that has no regard for human rights, life or dignity.

*Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, media consultant, author of several books, and the founder of ‘PalestineChronicle.com’. His books include Searching Jenin, The Second Palestinian Intifada, and, his latest, My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

By Alaa Tartir

To speak of Israeli-Palestinian ‘cooperation’…is to use no less than a misnomer. This is not, however, simply because ‘the outcome of cooperation between an elephant and a fly is not hard to predict’, as Chomsky so pithily writes…but because in the context of the Oslo peace process, ‘cooperation’ is often only minimally different from the occupation and domination that went before it. ‘Cooperation’, in this context, is above all an internationally pleasing and acceptable signifier which obscures rather than elucidates the nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations. - Jan Selby, 2003

I…applaud the Palestinian Authority’s continued security coordination with Israel. They get along unbelievably well. I had meetings, and at these meetings I was actually very impressed and somewhat surprised at how well they get along. They work together beautifully.Donald Trump, 2017

Overview

From the outset, the Palestinian Authority (PA) security establishment has failed to protect Palestinians from the main source of their insecurity: the Israeli military occupation. Nor has it empowered Palestinians to resist that occupation. Instead, the PA has contributed to a situation in which the Palestinian struggle for freedom has itself been criminalised.

Rather than recognise resistance as a natural response to institutionalised oppression, the PA, in tandem with Israel and the international community, characterises resistance as ‘insurgency’ or ‘instability’. Such rhetoric, which favours Israeli security at the expense of Palestinians, echoes discourse surrounding the ‘war on terror’ and criminalises all forms of resistance.

This dynamic can be traced back to the 1993 Oslo Accords, but it has been galvanised over the last decade through the PA’s evolution as a donor-driven state that espouses neoliberal policies. The donor-driven reform of the security sector has been the linchpin of the PA’s post-2007 state building project. The enhanced effectiveness of the PA’s security forces as a result of massive donor investment has in turn created additional ways of protecting the Israeli occupier, thus creating spaces that are ‘securitised’, within which the occupier can move freely in the execution of its colonial project.

Such a development could only have two outcomes: ‘better’ collaboration with the occupying power in a way that shored up the destructive status quo; and greater violation of Palestinians’ security and national rights by their own government and national security forces.

This policy brief analyses the evolution and ‘reform’ of the Palestinian security forces since the establishment of the PA, and examines Palestinian-Israeli security coordination and its deleterious effects on the Palestinian ability to resist Israel’s occupying forces as well on basic liberties. It focuses on the PA forces in the West Bank and not the situation in Gaza, which requires separate research and analysis. It concludes with policy recommendations to reinvent the PA security forces’ operations and overhaul their structures so that they may truly serve to protect their own people.

The Rise of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces

The evolution of the PA security forces can be categorised in three phases: the Oslo Accords (1993-1999), the Second Intifada (2000-2006), and the post-2007 PA state-building project.

The Oslo Accords were characterised by two parallel, yet conflicting, projects: state building and national liberation. The former implied constructing state-like institutions and a bureaucracy under occupation, while the latter meant pursuing the revolutionary programme for self-determination that had been adopted by the PLO. The tension between these ventures already manifested themselves under the late president Yasser Arafat’s rule. Arafat’s personalised style of governance and its resultant complex network of corruption and patronage meant that the evolution of the PA security forces was from its advent neither inclusive nor transparent. Rather, it was fraught with nepotism, and was used as a tool to address the threats posed by Oslo’s opponents and to stabilise the population. In turn, it also solidified the nascent ‘peace’ agreements. The 9 000 recruits in the ‘strong police force’ envisaged in the 1994 Cairo Agreement became nearly 50 000 security personnel by 1999.

This proliferation of the security forces – all spying on each other, as Edward Said once said – has had severe consequences for Palestinians. Arafat’s establishment of security-driven political structures nourished authoritarianism and blocked accountability mechanisms in the Palestinian political system. This resulted in a dearth of legitimacy and further insecurity for Palestinians. As the security establishment grew in numbers and institutions, Palestinians remained ill-protected, and corruption and patronage within the forces became endemic. The divide-to-rule approach paved the way for future Palestinian fragmentation.

During the Second Intifada, Israel destroyed the PA’s security infrastructure because PA security forces participated in the uprising. This created a security vacuum into which non-PA actors inserted themselves, with mixed results for Palestinians. This exacerbated intra-Palestinian competition and led external donors, the PA, and Israel to be even more concerned with building a strong and dominant security sector. In June 2002, the PA announced its 100-Day Reform Plan; in 2003 the Quartet Road Map demanded that a ‘rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus’ must confront ‘all those engaged in terror’ and dismantle ‘terrorist capabilities and infrastructure’. PA security structures were forced to combat terrorism; apprehend suspects; outlaw incitement; collect illegal weapons; provide Israel with a list of Palestinian police recruits; and report progress to the United States.

Accordingly, Palestinian security reform ‘remained…an externally-controlled process, driven by the national security interests of Israel and the United States, and characterised by very limited ownership on the part of Palestinian society.’ The international donor community led this reform in 2005 through the establishment of the European Union Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPS) and the US Security Coordinator (USSC). This situation persists in the form of a ‘one gun, one law, one authority’ strategy through which the PA’s monopoly on force and violence is ensured.

The post-2007 state-building project under the PA has aimed, mainly through EUPOL COPPS and USSC, to reinvent the PA security forces through technical means, including training and weapons procurement. It has also aimed to reinvent the forces politically by constraining Hamas and its armed wing, curbing Fatah-allied militants through co-optation and amnesty, cracking down on criminals, and conducting security campaigns, particularly in Nablus and Jenin. These forces became known as Dayton’s forces in reference to Keith Dayton, the US lieutenant general who led the PA military establishment’s ‘professionalization and modernization’ process. Local and international human rights organisations have accused these reformed forces of human rights violations and of suppressing freedoms.

The current phase has further entrenched the predominance of Israeli security interests at the expense of the Palestinians. Disarmament and criminalisation have impaired popular resistance against the occupation, including peaceful demonstrations and marches, advocacy against Israel’s violations of human rights, and student activism. Today, PA security forces largely protect the security of the occupier and not that of the occupied. In short, the security of Palestinians has been jeopardised because their own leadership has been subcontractedto repress them. The post-2007 security reform agenda has thwarted Palestinians’ national struggle, their resistance movement and their everyday security, and has subverted the very functioning of Palestinian politics.

Security Coordination as Domination

To understand the magnitude of the security coordination enterprise, it is useful to note that the Palestinian security sector employs around half of all civil servants, accounts for nearly $1 billion of the PA budget, and receives around 30 per cent of total international aid disbursed to the Palestinians. The security sector consumes more of the PA’s budget than the education, health, and agriculture sectors combined. The sector is currently comprised of 83 276 individuals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including 312 brigadier generals, of whom 232 report to the PA and 80 to Hamas. In comparison, the entire US Army has 410 brigadier generals. The ratio of security personnel to the population is as high as one to forty-eight – one of the highest in the world.

Security collaboration between Israel and the PA has fulfilled the Oslo Accords’ objectives of institutionalising security arrangements and launching a peace process that is tightly controlled by the security sector in order to enable Israel to fulfil its colonial ambitions while claiming to be pursuing peace. This process of ‘securitised peace’ is manifested in a number of ways, including the PA security forces’ arrest of Palestinian suspects wanted by Israel (as in the recent case of Basil Al-‘Araj, who was arrested and released by the PA only to be hunted and eventually assassinated by the Israelis); the suppression of Palestinian protests against Israeli soldiers and/or settlers; intelligence sharing between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the PA security forces; a revolving door between Israeli and PA jails through which Palestinian activists cycle for the same offences; and regular joint Israeli-Palestinian meetings, workshops, and training.

Though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to suspend security coordination, he has at the same time declared it a ‘Palestinian national interest’ and a ‘sacred’ doctrine. PA security force activities and Abbas’s political manoeuvrings have created a deep gap in trust between the Palestinian people and the PA.

Indeed, multiple surveys over the years have shown that the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (between 60 and 80 per cent) oppose security coordination with Israel. In a March 2017 Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey poll, two-thirds of respondents demanded Abbas’s resignation, with 73 per cent expressing the belief that Abbas was not serious in his threat to suspend security coordination with Israel. In a 2010 Maan News Agency poll, 78 per cent of respondents said they believed that the PA security forces were engaged in surveillance, monitoring activities, and intervening in people’s privacy. Finally, according to Visualizing Palestine, 67 per cent of West Bank Palestinians said they felt they were living in an undemocratic system that cracked down on freedoms in large part as a result of the security realm.

Negative public perceptions about security coordination are fuelled by lived experiences – from which elites are often spared – as well as by official rhetoric and the contents of the leaked Palestine Papers. For instance, Keith Dayton remarked in 2009 that senior IDF commanders had asked him, in regard to the Palestinian security forces he was training, ‘How many more of these new Palestinians can you generate, and how quickly?’ He also said a senior Palestinian official addressed a graduating class of these ‘new Palestinian men’ in Jordan, saying, ‘You were not sent here to learn how to fight Israel…you were rather sent here to learn how to keep law and order, respect the right of all of our citizens, and implement the rule of law so that we can live in peace and security with Israel.’ And in 2013, in a speech before the European Parliament, Israeli president Shimon Peres stated: ‘A Palestinian security force was formed. You and the Americans trained it. And now we work together to prevent terror and crime.’

While security coordination between Israel and the PA has been cemented since the Oslo Accords, the status quo is not a foregone conclusion. However, change will be difficult to achieve, as the system has created a segment of Palestinian society that will seek to maintain it. This segment is composed not only of security personnel in the West Bank and Gaza, but also of those Palestinians benefiting from institutional arrangements and a network of collaboration and domination. The status quo is beneficial for them, and ‘stability’ is their mantra. They are committed to an approach that privileges the political, economic and security elite, and they have no incentive to reverse the rules of the game.

Any attempt to halt security coordination would thus have real consequences for the PA and its leadership. Yet the perpetuation of the status quo is destructive for the majority of Palestinians living under Israel occupation and for the Palestinian people at large. With the crushing of the ability to correct political wrongdoing and hold elites accountable, business as usual will likely continue. Security coordination will remain a defining feature of the skewed reality that favours the occupier if action is not taken – soon.

Reinventing the PA’s security doctrine

The entrenchment of the PA security establishment requires policy interventions at multiple levels, from correcting biased rhetoric to establishing accountability mechanisms. The following recommendations, addressed to different stakeholders, propose an overhaul of the PA security forces’ operations and structures.

The Palestinian Authority

The PA must listen to Palestinian people and respect their wishes and aspirations, including in the security domain, otherwise the legitimacy and trust gap will grow larger. There has never been an inclusive Palestinian political system, but a more responsive, representative, and responsible leadership would ensure that the security of Palestinians, rather than that of their occupier and coloniser, is a core concern. An authentic security sector, as Tariq Dana has argued, would mean an end to the ‘focus on internal policing known as the “Dayton Doctrine”’ and ‘a program that demands accountability and justice be put in place’.

As Hani Al-Masri has elaborated, this would require gradual but firm steps to eventually freeze or suspend security coordination, including: ending Palestinian security apparatus intervention in political issues; reducing security allocations in the annual budget; disbanding parts of the security apparatus and restructuring the remainder, with an emphasis on professionalism, patriotism, and freedom from political nepotism; and instructing the security apparatus to resist raids by Israel in the West Bank’s Area A.

Although the PA still argues that the current security arrangements and division of labour serve the two-state solution, the relentless Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land means that the PA and its leadership must reassess their function. The looming threat of annexation should push the PA to take action before its role solidifies as a subcontractor to the Israeli occupation.

Palestinian Civil Society

Palestinian civil society organisations, especially human rights organisations, must form more effective coalitions and intensify their efforts to hold the PA and its political and security leadership accountable for their human rights’ violations. In the absence of institutions that perform checks and balances, pressure that goes beyond writing and publishing reports (though this in itself is an important act) is urgently needed. In other words, Palestinian civil society organisations need to develop practical actions that confront the PA’s continuous rights’ violations.

These civil society actors, including academic institutions, public intellectuals and think tanks, must also address the PA’s discourse in which Palestinian resistance is reframed as criminal insurgency or instability. Israeli and international actors who use this discourse should also be confronted. Civil society must embrace and operationalise resistance rather than see it criminalised, and view it as an all-encompassing way of living under occupation and in exile. Resistance as a way of life can help to reverse how the political and security elite currently portray it. Resistance can then ensure the restoration of the core values and ideas that enable Palestinians to engage collectively to realise their rights.

External actors, particularly security bodies EUPOL COPPS and USSC, need stringent scrutiny from civil society, both within Palestine and in their home countries. They cannot continue to dominate the security realm without accountability or transparency. By promoting the rule of law in an authoritarian context, these bodies contribute to the ‘professionalization’ of authoritarian practices by (ab)using a good governance framework. Their claim that their mandate is ‘technical’ enables them to evade the political results of their operations and interventions. After a decade of operation, it is time to conduct an independent Palestinian-led evaluation of these bodies and use that as an accountability mechanism to reform these erstwhile ‘reformers’ and decide on the way forward.

Donors and the Donor Industry

In a context highly dependent on aid, the supremacy assigned to securitisation and militarisation extends to the realm of development. Policymakers in donor states and Palestinians who facilitate donor programmes should address how ‘securitised aid’ has transformed a liberation movement into a subcontractor to the coloniser, and has resulted in authoritarian tendencies that favour the security establishment at the expense of sectors such as health, education, and agriculture, as well as at the expense of democracy.

Moreover, in Palestine, securitised aid and development have not only failed to address poverty, unemployment and empowerment, but have also created new insecurity and illegitimacy. Development planners must acknowledge that these patterns will never be reversed unless people, and not the security establishment, drive actions and are the constant reference point.

All these actions are the duty of the Palestinian people, especially when policymakers do not represent them and their aspirations. Palestinian society needs to confront the tools used to repress its mobilisation and organise in order to ensure the realisation of its fundamental rights. The non-factional youth-led initiative End Security Coordination that emerged in the aftermath of Basil Al-‘Araj’s assassination in March 2017 represents an example of such mobilisation. In their call for action, the group stated

'Our people have struggled for too long for us to stand idle while repressive leaders barter our oppression and dispossession for their personal gain…We are approaching 30 years since the Oslo Accords that transformed what remained of our land into open air prisons administered by unrepresentative PA officials who have hired themselves out to be our colonizers’ first line of defense…The Oslo regime does not represent us. Now is the time for us to come together and rebuild our collective struggle for the liberation of all of Palestine.’

If such organised resistance can continue and increase, pressure from the people may be able to change the trajectory of PA-Israeli security coordination, rendering Palestinians better equipped to work toward self-determination and the attainment of human rights.

* Alaa Tartir is the Program Director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a Research Fellow at the Centre on Conflict, Development, and Peacebuilding (CCDP), The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland, and a post-doctoral fellow at The Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP).

** This article was first published by Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network

 

Rather than signalling any major, dramatic or radical change in direction, the new ‘charter’ (officially called ‘A Document of General Principles and Policies’) of the Palestinian group Hamas formalises what has existed in terms of the party’s policies and practices for more than a decade, superseding its old charter which has largely been outdated, irrelevant and an albatross around the organisation’s neck.
 
The new document, which took two years to debate and draft (but has been in the making since 2006), replaces the ‘Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement’, which was authored by a single individual in 1988, and adopted barely nine months after Hamas’s founding. Hamas has variously defended, been apologetic about and embarrassed by the 1988 charter, but, for mysterious reasons, has not been able to get rid of, or even amend, it. The group’s spokespersons have often said broad consultation was too difficult within its security constraints – even though it regularly holds leadership elections that encompass its members in various parts of the world. In 2006, in the run-up to elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the first Palestinian Authority (PA) election that Hamas contested, the party issued an election platform that articulated changes in its positions from that contained in the original charter. But the platform was not comprehensive enough to be regarded as superseding the charter, and Hamas leaders themselves never referred to it in this way.
 
The platform did highlight the irrelevance and embarrassment of the old charter, and sparked a debate within the organisation on a range of issues – from the role of religion in the Palestinian struggle to the nature of a future Palestinian state. That debate culminated on 1 May 2017 with the launch of the new document. The process leading up to the launch was vigorous, and produced some issues of sharp disagreement within the movement. The 1 May document attempts to balance those debates within the Hamas constituency, and still provide a vision and strategies in a manner that will keep the organisation united, and allow all its members to feel satisfied.
 
Since the launch, much attention has been paid to the clause that accepts a Palestinian state along the 4 June 1967 border – essentially confining a future Palestinian state to the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. The clause, however, does not actually go as far as ‘accepting’ the 1967 borders or a two-state solution, but notes that ‘Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967...to be a formula of national consensus.’ The clause was qualified with its ‘rejection of the Zionist entity’, support for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees – including to their homes in Israel, and rejection of ‘any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea’. It is debatable whether the 1967 border ‘formula’ ever was one of ‘national consensus’ among Palestinians. In the past few years, especially, after Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly rejected any notion of a two-state solution, former US secretary of state John Kerry lamented its end, and US president Donald Trump refused to endorse the well-worn US support for such a solution, Palestinians have increasingly been arguing that a two-state solution is not possible, and the current reality is that there is already a single state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea that is governed by Israel. Despite the language in the document, however, after the launch Hamas leader Khaled Mesha'al, interpreted it as supporting a two-state solution. This contradiction between the charter’s insistence on Hamas’s ultimate goal being the ‘liberation’ of all of British Mandate Palestine, and the seeming acceptance of a two-state solution could prove to become a difficulty for the movement in the future, even though the notion of a two-state solution has already been articulated by Hamas spokespersons, including by its founder Shaykh Ahmed Yassin and by Mesha'al. The document’s position might be viewed as support for a two-state solution as the first phase towards a single state.
 
This is not the most significant aspect of the document, however. Perhaps most significant (and the most radical change) is the language and tone that describes Hamas as a nationalist Palestinian movement rather than as part of a global Islamist one. This begins with the description of Palestine as ‘the land of the Arab Palestinian people’, while the old charter regarded Palestine as ‘an Islamic Waqf [endowment] consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day’ – somewhat mirroring the Zionist conception of Israel as the land of all Jews. No longer. While Palestine is still ‘a land whose status has been elevated by Islam’, it belongs, according to Hamas to Palestinians, not to Muslims. Even in its characterisation of itself, Hamas now views itself as a ‘Palestinian Islamic national liberation and resistance movement’. The positioning of the words ‘Palestinian’ and ‘Islamic’ are not accidental. ‘Its goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project. Its frame of reference is Islam,’ and there is no proclamation of ‘The universality of the Islamic Resistance Movement’ as in the old document. This new orientation is likely the reason that references to the Muslim Brotherhood (whose name and slogans peppered the earlier document) have been dropped. There is a glaring question that the document does not answer, however: if Palestine is ‘the land of Arab Palestinians’, what would be the place of Jews in a future Palestinian state.
 
Despite speculation that the document would attempt to placate Israel and western powers, it makes no serious attempt to do so. Even its strong emphasis that the ‘conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion’ and its accusation that it is Zionists who have co-opted Judaism and Jews in service of its ‘colonial project and illegal entity’ reflects a change in the way the movement views Jews and Zionism, and is guidance provided to its own constituency, rather than a placatory gesture to outsiders. Indeed, the three demands that the West (through the Middle East Quartet, comprising of the UN, USA, EU and Russia) have made of Hamas since 2007 have been emphatically rejected in the charter. The demands were that Hamas recognises Israel; renounces violence; and accepts all previous agreements made by the PLO and PA with Israel. Instead, the charter emphasises that ‘There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity’; insists that ‘At the heart of [means of resisting occupation] lies armed resistance’; and rejects the Oslo Accords ‘and all that flows from them’.
 
Of course, the rejection of the Oslo presents a contradiction. The charter affirms a role for the PA (a creature of Oslo) ‘to serve the Palestinian people and safeguard their security, their rights and their national project’. Further, the movement contested elections for the PLC (another Oslo creation), plays a role as part of the PA, and has expressed no intention to extract itself from the PA and refuse to contest future elections.
 
If we ignore the opportunity Hamas provides us to do interesting analyses of a new document, its release is a rather ‘ho hum’ moment. In itself, it says nothing new, and only documents what has already become a reality within the movement through decade-and-half shifts in thought and practice. At most, it will allow its spokespersons a sigh of relief that they no longer have to defend the old anti-Semitic and irrelevant document. The timing of its release does has some significance. While it will be seen as Mesha'al’s swan-song (he did not contest the recent leadership election, whose results will be announced later this month), it also happens when more militant leaders are rising, and they have expressed no criticism of the document. Yahya Sinwar, for example, a leader of Hamas’s armed wing, the 'Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, who spent twenty years in an Israeli prison, is now the group’s Gaza leader and the ‘prime minister’ in the territory. His embrace of the document indicates that the political and military wings of the movement are united in supporting it, and it is not an imposition by ‘moderates’ on the rest of the organisation.
 
If Hamas was unconcerned about how its critics in Israel and the West might view its new charter, it should be concerned about criticism from Palestinians, particularly the disappointment (and even anger) expressed by some at the seeming acceptance of the two-state solution. For many Palestinians who have become weary of the shenanigans of the PA, Fatah and the PLO, who oppose the PA’s ‘security coordination’ with Israel, and who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel had hoped that Hamas would not compromise its support for armed resistance, and would clearly express support for a one-state solution. For some in this group, the new document does not distinguish Hamas from Fatah in terms of its vision for the future (even though that’s not a correct reading of the relevant clauses).

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What is AMEC?

Established in 1998, the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) aims to foster, produce and disseminate the highest quality of research on the Middle East, to maintain public discussion and to help shape the public discourse on issues related to the Middle East. Amec's research includes relations between Africa and the Middle East.

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