History and Autonomy of The Palestinian Security Apparatus

  • Posted on: 30 November 2016
  • By: laila Akel

In light of the latest development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories regarding the increased hostility between PA security forces and residents; especially residents of Refugee camps in the West Bank, it is important to review the history and the anatomy of this security apparatus. The results of the 7th conference of Fateh’s party members (Nov. 29th - Dec 3rd , 2016) will also greatly affect all members of the Palestinian authority including those heading the security body.


A Brief History Following the Oslo Agreement, particularly the Gaza-Jericho agreement (a follow-up treaty to the Oslo I Accord 1993), a Palestinian Police Force was formed of 9000 members (7,000 from abroad and 2,000 from the occupied territories). The number of personnel was increased in the Oslo II Accord (1995) to reach 30,000. In 1998, the number of security personnel ranged between 30,000 and 40,000, and increased to 50,000 by the year 2000, and 53,000 by the year 2003 (Tartir 2015). The Palestinian Security Forces currently include almost 65,000 members comprising 43% of public sector employees. Article II of Annex I in the Oslo II Accord allowed the Palestinian National Authority a security force integrating no more than six branches: Civil Police, Public Security, Preventive Security, Presidential Security, Intelligence, Emergency Services and Rescue (Civil Defence). In The Evolution and Reform of Palestinian Security Forces 1993-2013 (2015), Alaa’ Tartir discussed three phases in which the Palestinian Security Forces went through starting with the The Oslo Accords Phase (1993–1999); The Second Intifada Phase (2000–2006); and -as he described it- The Fayyadism Phase (2007–2013).

The Oslo Accord Phase

In the first phase, Tartir argued the paradox of National liberation versus State-building following the Oslo Agreement. He first discussed the abundance of the Palestinian security forces as the number increased drastically after 1993, in addition to creating a centralized chain of command, as the heads of security bodies were required to report directly and only to Arafat.

This created a competition that repeatedly led to clashes between different forces. Arafat’s centralized method of governance gave the security forces much freedom that led to corruption; in one manifestation, security forces were prevalent to walk the streets in civilian clothes and carry their weapons with them ready to intervene in any and every problem.

Another facet of corruption was manifested in the exclusive recruitment methods; the vast majority of recruits were from the political party Fateh, as recruitment was based on patronage and favouritism, as opposed to military background, skills, or potential. In addition to the lack of transparency and liability. According to Dr. Azmi Al Shuaibi, advisor of the board of directors of the anti-corruption commission, Palestinian political parties and factions demanded a democratic state of Palestine in which security forces must be separated from the ruling party. They argued that the security forces allegiance should be to the country not to the ruling party, and that the Palestinian security apparatus is being used to reinforce Fateh’s control and rule instead of protecting the Palestinian people.

Moreover, as there was no clear set of laws or code of conduct to ensure the effectiveness of each security body, multiple security bodies’ activities were similar and jurisdictions of each was also unclear. lack of accountability for the security forces also contributed to its corruption and the absence of legitimacy of the security establishment in the eyes of the Palestinian public. The Oslo Accords and its aftermath in addition to Israeli politics played a vital role in the plunge of the security forces’ influence.

The Second Intifada Phase

The second intifada posed another challenge, as Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was formed, they along with the security forces engaged in military resistance operations. Soon-after in 2002, Israeli forces targeted with airstrikes PA security forces’ locations in Ramallah and during Israeli operation “Defensive Shield”, facilities were wrecked and the infrastructure of the Palestinian security was wiped. With little to no facilities or capabilities the PA security forces struggled, and its method of conduct became more chaotic; as burglars were detained in the city governor’s house for lack of prison cells or containment facilities, and traffic police were on duty in civilian clothing. These factors allowed for other armed groups to appear on the front like Hamas (Tartir 2015). According to a national survey by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IUED) in 2005, 34% of the Palestinians interviewed trusted Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas), 29% trusted Saraya Al-Quds (Islamic Jihad), while only 21% trusted the Civil Police and 18% the Preventive Security (cited in Tartir 2015).

After Mahmoud Abbas was elected as president and Hamas’ parliamentary elections, PA security forces’ leadership did not recognise Hamas’ government and therefore the Palestinian government and leadership began to collapse. Hamas took over Gaza and built a solid military body, which served as a security force in Gaza and a military resistance wing. These developments led eventually to the clash between Fateh and Hamas in 2007, this division further deepened insecurities in the Palestinian situation, not to mention frustration among the Palestinian public.

The Third Phase (2007-2013)

During this phase, Palestinian authority called for a formation of an emergency government headed by Salam Fayyad. Under his command corruption was reduced in the security field. on the other hand, international donors had control over the reformation procedures, and the security forces were seen to be exaggeratedly violent, repressed freedom of expression (Tartir 2015); PA security forces have repeatedly assaulted journalists and detained them for beliefs of being supportive of Hamas, or for statements against PA policies, according to Human Rights Watch. In addition to detaining and harassing Hamas-affiliated individuals.

Palestinian Security Developments during 2015 - 2016 Commander of the PA’s

General Intelligence Force in the West Bank Majid Faraj stated that since October 2015 the PA security forces have thwarted almost 200 attack attempts of Israeli targets by Palestinians and arrested 100 on the same background. The statement was largely condemned by the Palestinian public and political parties. Hamas spokesperson, Sami Al Zuhri denounced the admission and said it confirmed the PA’s security forces aim at protecting Israeli security.

The Palestinian security forces are repeatedly encountering defiance from Palestinians due to the security coordination with Israelis and the re-occurrence of arrest and raid operations to dismantle any Palestinian armed base. Security forces’ operations intensified since October 2015 as attacks against Israelis took a rapid turn, shooting attacks became more common, and firearms manufacturing was widely spreading. There were also many reported incidents of armed clashes erupting due to disputes between residents

. The PA security forces was determined to overpower this phenomenon. Raid, inspection and arrest operations were carried out in the West Bank, particularly in Refugee camps where the security forces believed the majority of unlawful weapons resided. In regards to firearms manufacturing, lathes in the West Bank were regularly inspected and closed by PA security forces and ISF, as many shooting attacks were conducted using weapons manufactured locally in Palestinian lathes. It has been reported that 36 lathes were closed since the beginning of 2016. Another reason for these operations is the PA’s intent to take out supporters of the current leadership’s opposition; i.e. Mohammad Dahlan.

Tension increased after the PA security forces broke into a meeting on the 22nd of October in Al-Am'ari RC 2.69 km SE of Ramallah, believed to be for the supporters of Dahlan. Jihad Tomaliyeh, Legislative council member who headed the meeting, was suspended from Fateh later on the same day. Camp residents protested the suspension order throughout the week, leading to clashes with PA security forces every time.

While in Balata RC SE Nablus, the situation escalated after the death of Ahmad Halawa; PA security forces raided the camp and arrested Ahmad, who later was beaten to death in prison on August 23rd. The incident provoked a rage wave among residents, which intensified with the suspension of Tomaliyeh. Hostility against PA security forces spread to Askar RC , Ein El Ma’ RC in Nablus and Jenin RC W Jenin as well.

It is also important to highlight a few other reasons for the hostility between PA security forces and Refugee camps that dates back to the second Intifada:

  • The local authorities do not provide the people with fundamental services, financial support or health care normally provided in the major cities.
  • Many of the camp’s residents once belonged to Fateh's armed wing, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, when the resistant wing was disarmed a number of years ago under pressure from the international community, these individuals were eventually marginalized.
  • These individuals’ fear of losing power; taking into account the historic political and social positions these groups enjoyed, particularly in the aftermath of the second Intifada in 2000, is a vital component that led to the revitalization of this unprecedented wave of unrest within Fatah itself.

Fateh’s Seventh Conference The much anticipated conference for Fateh’s leaders started on the 29th of November. The importance of this conference lies mainly in the fact that over the years it has been vastly influential. during the conference, participants review and evaluate past decisions and set strategic plans for Fateh’s party, a complete framework for future policies is formed, and resolve internal issues within the party itself; Fateh’s sixth conference (2009), Mahmoud Abbas was consensually elected as President of the movement.

1,400 members (from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and abroad) are expected to participate in the conference while in the previous conference held in 2009 in Bethlehem, 2300 members participated. Representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad also attended the opening ceremony of the conference, while Mohammad Dahlan, previous head of Preventive Security Force in Gaza, was exempt from participating in the conference after the Egyptians attempts for reconciliation between him and President Mahmoud Abbas have failed.

The conference lasted until the 4rd of December, and resulted in the election of Mahmoud Abbas a general leader for Fateh, election of the central committee members, and the revolutionary council members. In the closing statement, Fateh urged that the national council must be held within the next three months, and emphasized the necessity for reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas

. Palestinian professor Abd Al-Sattar Qasem, stated that the conference lacked any vision or strategic plans for the future. He also excluded the possibility of a reconciliation plan between Fateh and Hamas. Other political analysts argued that Abbas’ speech carried nothing new regarding internal and foreign affairs. They also criticized neglecting many important topics such as the Palestinian prisoners, women rights, lack of youthful participation in the decision-making process, and the refugees crisis.

Political Analyst, Hani Al Masri argued in regards to the outcome of the conference that Fateh clearly wants to move further towards an authoritarian leadership -as indicated by the President’s speech- and move away from being a national liberation movement as it started.