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Study: Will US, Canadian & EU Trained Palestinian Forces Turn on Israel?

By David Bedein, CEO, Center for Near East Policy Research

Publication Made Possible by Research Grant From “The Middle East Forum”

Executive Summary

On the surface, the Palestinian Authority has scored a major achievement over the last five years with the development of its own security force.

Crime in the West Bank is at their lowest point in years.

Feudal chiefs who led the Palestine Authority security agencies are quietly being replaced by those mentored by the United States, Canada and the European Union.

Yet beneath the surface, the Palestine Authority security forces represent a loaded weapon that could explode in the near future.

Former Palestine Authority security Chief Mohammed Dahlan himself has warned that Palestinian security forces could splinter into rival militias and attack Palestinian and Israeli civilians alike.

One reason for this concern is that there is little civilian guidance over the Palestine Authority security forces.

This has encouraged them to become a separate power base in the West Bank and could result in either the collapse of the Palestine Authority or the erosion of the legitimacy of Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose term of office formally expired in January 2010.

Factions have already been formed within Palestine Authority security services that have resulted in friction as well as the prospect of being taken over by Hamas.

With speculation that the Palestine Authority may be heading towards some kind of   confrontation with Israel over the next year, cooperation with the Jewish state has declined and became purely tactical – with neither party trusting the other.

Meanwhile, although the United States, Canada and the European Union have been financing and training Palestine Authority security forces, they  have failed to implement significant reforms that would ensure that troops would not join in a coup or break up into mercenary forces.                                                                              

Indeed, senior U.S. Congressional sources warn that the State Department has overseen the Palestine Authority training program without any firm goals of what they are to be.  The question remains: Will Palestinian security services evolve into some kind of paramilitary force, contrary to the 1993 Oslo agreement, or become a police department?

After five years of intensive training by the United States, Canada and the European Union, basic questions remain of the Palestine Authority security forces: What is their number; how are recruits chosen; what is the level of supervision; where are their loyalties? How far has Hamas and Iran infiltrated the security forces loyal to Abbas?  Washington has been of little help.

Both the Obama and Bush administrations have been glad to finance Palestine Authority security training, but have done little to provide basic transparency or even define goals of the Palestinian security forces.

The key question is what happens if an independent Palestinian state is not established over the next year as President Obama has repeatedly promised? Does the United States have enough influence to prevent the Palestine Authority from transforming its well-equipped and trained forces into a militia that will launch low intensity attacks against Israel or even against neighboring Jordan? The rapid breakdown in Egypt and Tunisia in January 2011 has shown the potential for insurrection in even the most advanced Arab states. Despite the best intentions of Brussels, Ottawa and Washington, Israel and Jordan will bear the brunt of any mistaken assessment of the intentions of the Palestine Authority and its security forces.

Three Long Years

On paper, the Palestine Authority security forces have undergone rapid growth and development over the last three years. The U.S. training program has saved the Palestine Authority’s National Security Forces from oblivion and made them into the strongest of the Palestinian paramilitary forces. The Palestinian police force has been revived and now operates with modern vehicles, communications and software for a range of missions. The Palestine Authority's intelligence services have been vastly improved from the bare rooms used for interrogation.

Until now, the Palestine Authority has not discarded the norms of a totalitarian regime and despite Western efforts the security forces and particularly the intelligence services act little differently from those in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

Palestine Authority security and intelligence forces continue to employ torture on a wide and systematic basis despite Western funding and training. [1] Torture techniques in Palestine Authority prisons have included beatings, hangings, suspending from the ceiling, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, sexual harassment, and the threat of rape. The result is that at least six Palestinians have died under torture in Palestine Authority prisons and many former detainees have been scarred with permanent physical disabilities. Arbitrary arrests have been common, with the Palestine Authority detention of almost 8,640 Palestinians from October 2007 to October 2010, or a rate of eight arrests per day. None of these detainees were released immediately, regardless of the circumstances. Instead, the minimum prison stay was more than 10 days, with 95 percent of the detainees – from workers to university professors, most of whom had been imprisoned by Israel, were charged with terrorism, sedition and conspiring against the Palestine Authority. Many were subjected to severe torture, often in front of close relatives to force a confession. [2]
Despite Western pressure, the Palestine Authority has done little against officers who consistently abuse detainees. As in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, Palestine Authority torture policies plant the seeds for violent unrest in the West Bank.

The Major Palestine Authority Forces

There are six major security and intelligence units in the Palestine Authority. Their missions frequently overlap and the rivalry between some of the units has reached the point where there is little to no cooperation. The Interior Ministry, even under Abbas's orders, has failed to oversee coordination between these agencies, many of which have also opposed reform and restructuring. The main reason for this rivalry is that the units reflect different parts of Palestinian society, with the most intransigent coming from Palestinian military forces in such countries as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.

Despite his formal powers, Abbas has spent little time overseeing the security forces, leaving that job to his military secretary, Brig. Gen. Jihad Al Jayousi, as well as to Palestine Authority Prime Minister Fayad and to Interior Minister Said Al Ali.

Civil Police

The Civil Police remain the largest and most modern of the Palestine Authority security forces. This police force numbers about 8,000 officers who have been assigned to anti-crime operations, including traffic, patrols as well as reinforcement for other security units.

The European Union has been responsible for police development and over the last three years has relayed nearly $100 million in aid for training and equipment. Much of the money has been poured into security infrastructure, such as the reconstruction of police headquarters in Hebron and Nablus.

The European Union has also supported Palestine Authori

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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