Intrastate Security Dilemma - Palestine

  • Posted on: 31 August 2016

Assessment of Recent Security Developments in Palestine

After the latest wave of violence witnessed in Nablus, on August 18th, between PA security forces and unknown gunmen resulted in the death of two PA security members and two Palestinian gunmen, it has become essential to evaluate the issue of lawlessness and its effects on the Palestinian community, and the overall security situation.
This analytical report attempts to explain and analyze the root causes of the recent security chaos in Palestine’s West Bank by applying dysfunctionality and weak-state theory to the issue. Key security concerns: unstable socio-political environment; inadequacy of policies and mechanisms of deterrence.

Theoretical background

Dysfunctional or weak states are characterized by the mounting ineffectiveness of the institutions that form their core and that can be described as the ‘pillars of justice’. Some vital elements found in dysfunctional/weak states include: the prevalence of corruption; the collapse of regular networks of communication between government and regime officials, society and state officials, and among state officials themselves; and the political fragmentation of the community. Where these features exist, they are highly likely to lead to intra-state conflict and, ultimately, to a political security dilemma. In a dysfunctional state, the security dilemma presents a constant risk of violent domestic conflict. However, basic state capability is fundamental to any government’s ability to assure and deter.

There is a vital connection between the existence of inequities, the weakness of the state, and the evolution of a political security dilemma. Indeed, in the absence of a social bond, states are far more likely to favor deterrence over assurance.

Within the Palestinian context, there have been many indicators of dysfunctionality, the inconsistent and slow modifications in socioeconomic policies, volatility in the distribution of power among rival political factions, particularly Hamas and Fatah, and the absence of a stable and effective governing system which could mediate political struggles and the inability to create effective judicial and law enforcement institutions. Yet, the most significant development has been the growing ineffectiveness of the coercive structures of the state in enforcing the rule of law or in restoring order. There have been many reasons for this failure, many of which have been enshrined within the very foundations of the PA, and result from the historical and cultural experiences of Palestinian society.

Intra-state Security Dilemma in the West Bank

In the Palestinian context, the re-emergence of security chaos in major cities is yet another indicator of a regression in the Palestinian political and security establishment’s ability to enforce law and restore order. This is particularly apparent in refugee camps such as Balata in Nablus, Qalandia in Jerusalem, and the Jenin refugee camp, in addition to other areas with limited PA security capabilities, such as
Al-Ram, Kafr Aqab (area C, where PA provides health and education services for the residents, but security and military matters are under Israeli control, allowing for drug dealing and lawlessness to take place without many capabilities for the PA to enforce Palestinian laws), north of Jerusalem, and the Old City of Nablus. These are clear pointers to a serious failure of the security establishment’s deterrence policy.

Moreover, recent occurrences explicitly revealed the escalating tensions, not only between rival powers inside Fatah itself, dating back to the Arafat’s legacy of consolidating power, and in Hamas, but also between others residing in refugee camps and cities near them.

The Refugee Camps

Writer and political analyst, Ala’ Al Rimawi, noted that the PA security forces launch rigorous searches and confiscation operations aimed at Palestinians suspected of possessing weapons and using them against Israeli targets, while other Palestinians who are known to possess firearms are left untouched. This turns refugee camps into areas of continual turmoil. Consequently, PA security forces avoid entering them because of the open hostility displayed towards the Palestinian authority.
Refugee camps are also considered to be a “safe haven” for guerrilla-type groups that have long been outlawed by the Palestinian security establishment. Thousands of Palestinians live in the three major refugee camps in the West Bank. Although some of the refugee camps located there are within PA jurisdiction zones, as areas A and B, law enforcement and armed forces have demonstrably failed to utilize their power or execute the rule of law. Attempts by Palestinian security forces to arrest camp residents wanted for various crimes have often resulted in armed confrontations that have been left unresolved by the authorities.

Security problems inside the refugee camps have been intensified, as the local authorities do not provide the people with fundamental services, financial support or health care normally provided in the major cities. This increased tension in the camps means that the Residents tend to support the camp’s domestic community and political leadership against the PA’s security forces. Camp leaders, in the past, especially during the Intifada, were the mediators between the residents and the PA. As the gap has increased between political movements, including Fatah, and the PA, this political intermediate leadership, has stopped playing an effective role as they used to.

Ramallah City

Nablus City

Contradictions within Fatah

Writer and political analyst, Ala’ Al Rimawi, views the issue of lawlessness as a conflict of power between Fatah’s leaders, where weapons are used to threaten and to make a stand. Insurgent members affiliated with the Fatah party are predominantly blamed for the security issues within the camps in the West Bank. Many of the Fatah members once belonged to Fatah's armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which was formally disarmed a number of years ago under pressure from the international community.

However, many reports and commentators connected the recurrent instability in these cities to the unilateral policies of President Muhammad Abbas. His narrow approach towards internal politics to maintain the power and security of his regime is seen as alienating these Fatah’s insurgents and consolidating the sense of exclusion felt by them. These men regularly blame the PA leadership for turning its back on them and neglecting their demands for a better life. The fear of losing power, taking into account the historic political and social positions that 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.

According to political analyst, Yaseen Izz Addin, there are armed groups which belong to the Fatah Party in the Old City of Nablus and in the refugee camps of Balata, Askar, and Al-Ein, who were active during the Second Intifada. Although Yasser Arafat clashed with them at first, detaining a large number, he eventually managed to contain these groups and took them under his wing. The camps and the Old Cities remained outside of the PA’s control and the groups within them consisted mainly of insurgents and resistance fighters. Arafat ignited the Second Intifada through, and with, them, but after Arafat’s death, Mahmoud Abbas ended the financial aid they were receiving and condoned their activities and presence.

On the walls of Al Jaradat neighborhood, in Jenin it reads “This lane is not subjected to the PA’s control”. Al Jaradat neighborhood witnesses clashes between armed individuals on a daily basis, although, indeed, it is not, under the PA control. This conflict started when a young Palestinian from Al Jaradat neighborhood shot and killed a Palestinian informant. Israeli forces then arrested him. Upon his release, one of the informants’ family members killed him, dragging the area into a cycle of tit for tat reprisals. Residents started collecting weapons and the PA failed to confiscate them and even withdrew after heavy clashes erupted between the two sides. Neither the PA nor ISF enter the neighborhood.
One of the elements that are highly affecting the Palestinian public opinion against the PA, is that in many cases if the attackers are affiliated with the authority, the authority holds responsibility, instead of the individuals; In an attack by the son of Abdul Salam Al Kiswani, a Palestinian Intelligence Officer, on a resort in Jericho on July 30th, 14 Palestinians were injured. According to Palestinian sources, the man was denied entrance to a resort in Jericho as the resort restricted entrance to families only, so he broke into the resort with a number of others and attacked local Palestinians using pepper spray, knives, and a personally owned gun. The case was not debated and the case file was closed after the incident

Recent Alerts

A statement by a Palestinian official was issued in December 2013 declaring: “Lawlessness will not be allowed to return to Palestinian areas”. Nimr Hammad, a political adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, added, “that such illegal practices, carried out by individuals attempting to form gangs in which Palestinians have suffered from during the lawlessness period, will not be allowed”. He continued, “Fostering stability and security in Palestine and enforcing the president’s policy of one legitimate weapon in the hand of a legitimate authority is what gave us the trust of the international community and testified to our credibility”.

On August 18th 2016, armed clashes occurred between PA security forces and unknown gunmen after PA security forces raided the Old City on a search operation for illegal firearms. Armed clashes were described as severe and spread outside of the immediate area; two PA police officers were killed in the violence. On August 19th, PA security forces conducted search and arrest operations in the Old City that led to armed clashes for the second day in a row, and two gunmen were killed in the resulting confrontations. The armed clashes continued throughout the week due to the arrest operations, killings and the funerals.
The situation escalated after one detainee was killed during interrogation, engaging citizens and creating an extremely volatile situation in Nablus City.

During these three years, and especially in the last few months of 2016, lawlessness and security chaos have increased dramatically in the West Bank, as is evident by the PA’s weakening grip and the ad hoc pattern apparent in dealing with these incidents.
The West Bank witnessed a particularly bloody month in June, 2016. Shootings and armed clashes between Palestinians were reported in many areas in the region including; Ya'bad 12.31 km W of Jenin, Al-Dahriya 17.67 km SW of Hebron, Idna 11.76 km W of Hebron, Al Dahiya neighborhood in Nablus, Ras Al-Ein SW Nablus, Tammun 4.37 km S of Tubas, Qaffin 14.65 km N of Tulkarm, Sa'ir 7.57 km NE of Hebron, and Al-Yamun 7.04 km W of Jenin.

  • On June 10th, unknown gunmen opened fire on the Police station in Al-Yamoun, in Jenin. The incident took place at dawn, the gunmen opened fire and then fled. No injuries were reported.
  • On June 15th, an incident was reported in Qalandiya RC 5.53 km SE of Ramallah, involved four armed Palestinians who hijacked a vehicle in Kafr Aqab that belonged to the Minister of Social Affairs. Passengers were forced to abandon the vehicle which attackers took and fled. According to Palestinian security sources, this incident was an act of retaliation after PA security forces arrested a group of Palestinians suspected of participating in a police vehicle hijack in Al-Bireh weeks before, and others were arrested by PA forces accused of drug dealing.
  • On June 17th, PA security forces attempted to raid Qalandiya RC in a search and arrest operation. Heavy clashes broke out in Kafr Aqab between armed Palestinians and PA security forces and resulted in a head injury to a 15-year-old boy, caused by the use of live ammunition.
  • Also on June 17th, clashes erupted between PA security forces and armed Palestinians in Jenin RC. During a celebration of the release of a Palestinian, Yehya Al Sa’di from an Israeli prison, PA security forces headed for the camp and clashes ensued between locals and PA forces. Local residents targeted PA security forces with stones, slightly injuring four members, and armed clashes broke out soon after between Palestinian gunmen and PA security. The incident ended shortly after commencing and no injuries were reported on either side. PA security forces retreated after arresting the released Yehya.
  • On June 30th, an armed Palestinian broke into the house of a PA police officer and opened fire on the residents, resulting in the injury of the officer’s wife and two others in Al Dahiya, in Nablus City. PA security forces rushed to the area and people gathered around the house. Unknown gunmen opened fire again on the crowd, leading to the death of two police officers.
  • On June 30th, in Tammun W of Tubas, a quarrel between two families turned to clashes where stones, sticks, and knives were used, resulting in a number of injuries. PA security forces intervened and arrested seven Palestinians suspected of starting and fueling the problem.
  • On June 30th, a quarrel in Sa’ir NE of Hebron escalated to armed clashes between two Palestinian families. PA security forces broke up the fight and the situation calmed down. Fighting resulted in the injury of a PA police member.
  • On July 27th, armed conflict erupted between two Palestinian families in Ya’bad, W Jenin, resulting in the death of three Palestinians and the injury of 14 others, seven of which were severe. Clashes lasted hours during which individuals burnt houses and commercial stores. PA security forces were not able to gain control over the situation until the end of the day.

While shooting incidents have increased as a method of dealing with disputes and quarrels, many of them are not reported unless injuries occur. There are incidents, however, that are even more violent where clashes occur between PA security forces and armed Palestinians, resulting in the death of individuals on each side. According to a Palestinian security source, in these cases Investigation Committees are incapable of condemning an individual PA security member, because such a condemnation would, in itself, lead to yet further problems. Instead, the PA security forces feel they must take responsibility collectively and resolve the case consensually.

The current Palestinian situation is extremely volatile and unpredictable, with security chaos and political instability almost now endemic. There are no explicit indicators that give any indication that the deteriorating security situation will be mitigated or ended in the short term. In fact, the situation is likely to worsen if President Abbas leaves the political arena without having established an appropriate and effective political and security consensus amongst the Fatah leadership.

If fragility and dysfunctionality lead to the eruption of lengthy intra-state conflict, the deterrent capability of the state is inevitably significantly weakened, possibly even becoming so damaging as to lead to the demise of the whole political system. Self-evidently, the lengthier the conflict, the more problematic it will be to contain and repair the damage.

The governor of Nablus, Maj. Gen. Akram Rajoub, stated that, “arms proliferation” is increasing due to the PA’s failure to address the issue properly. Many Palestinian community-based parties blame the PA for the spreading of this phenomenon by its policy of turning a blind eye to some incidents and leaving some individuals that are known to own firearms alone, while going after others who may only be suspected of possessing weapons.