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David Bedein

On the Brink: Decline of US trained Palestinian Security Forces

By David Bedein, posted January 23, 2013


After nearly 20 years, the Palestinian Authority, the PA, has achieved the dubious reputation of being one of the largest recipients of foreign aid per capita in modern times. However, the PA has not achieved stability, democracy, transparency, or accountability. One the most corrupt regimes in the Middle East, the PA remains a fiefdom, at this point in time under the control of chairman Mahmoud Abbas, his sons, and his cronies.

The security forces established by the PA, unsurprisingly, share a similarly dubious reputation. Despite decades of money, training and equipment from western democracies, the PA armed forces-more than 30,000 PA security and intelligence person­nel-have in the main behaved little better than militias and are marked by considerable corruption. Rather than improving over the years, however, the forces have becoming increasingly problematic:


Throughout the course of 2012, a pattern was established in which senior commanders were increasingly allied with organized crime and renegade militias.

In many areas, PA security presence has dwindled as personnel and commanders- trained for the most part by the US-have been recruited by organized crime groups engaged in extortion, as well as in the smuggling of weapons and narcotics. In Jenin alone, this has been the case with scores of PA officers, as evidence mounts of similar phenomena in other cities under PA control, including Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, and Tulkarm.


This situation was exacerbated in the latter part of 2012 by a fiscal crisis.

As monthly salaries were withheld or only partially issued, many PA security personnel, with the consent of their commanders, clocked in and then went off to other jobs, often in the employ of private security agencies or for local criminals impressed by their Western training and equipment.

The presence of armed Hamas personnel has become a major factor in PA controlled areas in several different respects:

Having benefited from major donations from such nations as Iran and Qatar, Hamas has been in a position to exploit the financial crisis of the PA. Numerous PA security personnel have been quietly engaged to working for the Islamist group, particularly the military wing Izzadin al-Kassam.

 Hamas penetration into PA security has been strong in several areas under ostensible PA control, particularly in the Hebron region where senior PA intelligence officers are believed to provide intelligence to Hamas.

 The PA security services now allow Hamas to organize huge rallies in areas under PA control. This arrangement, a departure from earlier policy, enables Hamas to openly recruit members as well as to mobilize supporters, as efforts are made to restore the Islamist military infrastructure in areas under PA control. Most of these rallies have ended up as confrontations with the Israel Army.

 Senior members of the ruling Fatah movement have touted Hamas' war with Israel and called on the PA to prepare for another uprising in areas under PA control. Fatah, in statements reported in official PA-run media, has already announced the establishment of units assigned to fight the Israeli Army.

 As a function of Abbas’ unilateral push for a state, PA security cooperation with Israel sharply declined in November and December 2012. Palestinian officers facilitated and even aided Hamas-aligned attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. In some cases, PA personnel have attacked Israeli soldiers in broad daylight. PA security forces have also tried to stop the Israeli Army from capturing suspected Palestinian insurgents.

The Israeli army has privately acknowledged that Palestinians involved in attacks on Israelis have been allowed to join PA security forces and receive U.S. training.

Abbas uses the PA security forces for his own purposes.

Abbas has used PA security forces: to retaliate against critics who accuse him of corruption; to destroy or exile his rivals in Fatah; to pursue Palestinians who have sold land to Jews; and to stop Jews from reaching religious sites in the Nablus region.

None of the above issues has diluted solid Western support for Palestinian Security Forces.

Under President Barack Obama-who seeks to expand PA paramilitary units-the United States has pledged to continue to pour hundreds of millions of dollars a year into Abbas' coffers, with large sums dedicated to the security forces. This is despite objections from Congress and appeals by Palestinian human rights organizations. Obama has exercised waivers to continue to fund the PA security forces.

Legacy of the PA Security Forces

Numerous conflicting agencies, controlled by Arafat

The Palestinian Authority was founded in 1994 by Yasser Arafat, who appointed his top cronies as heads of various agencies of the Palestinian Security Forces. Arafat imported personnel from the Palestine Liberation Army from such countries as Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. The Palestinian security forces served as patronage for Arafat loyalists and within a year at least 17 agencies were formed, with authority overlapping and generating rivalries. [1]

The PA intelligence agencies, initially be limited to six, were quickly adopted by foreign sponsors, including the UK, Egypt, France and the United States. There was, however, little oversight of the forces, which engaged in extortion of Palestinians and received commissions on major deals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Clashes with Israel and decimation

Without oversight, PA units became involved in attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. In September 1996, PA security forces clashed with the Israel Army throughout the areas under PA control in the wake of Israel’s opening of a tunnel contiguous to the Temple Mount. Four years later, Arafat recruited security forces to organize ambushes and other attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in what was called the “second intifada”. The Israeli military responded with Operation Defensive Shield. By the end of 2002, the PA security forces were decimated, with facilities demolished and weapons seized.

US involvement: Security Coordinator

The United States recruited NATO and other partners to restore PA security forces. Yet despite pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars, the Palestinian security forces remained fiefdoms and ineffective. Amid White House assurances to the US Congress, PA security forces were overwhelmed by Hamas fighters, who took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

The PA defeat led to an overhaul of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank directed by the office of the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), established in 2005.

Since 2008, the focus of Washington has been to develop a PA security force with paramilitary capabilities, having the capacity to protect the regime of Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, from Hamas and the ab

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