By Sawsan Ramahi
The Oslo Accord restricted the function of the Palestinian Authority (the PA), not only with regard to the control it could exert over the residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but also significantly in making its role to provide cover for Israel’s security needs. Moreover, the Road Map committed the leadership of the PA to fight resistance to Israel’s military occupation; to strike at the infrastructure of the resistance movements in return for the promise of “the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state”. It is within this context that the team of US security coordinators, whose tactics have led to the political and geographic division of the Palestinian people, should be viewed.
Since the beginning of the peace process, it has been apparent that Israel’s primary goal has been to rid itself of the burden of administrating the populations of Gaza and the West Bank while retaining control of the largest possible area of land and the protection of Israel’s security. The Oslo Accord was signed for this purpose and Israel allowed the PA to form a 3000-strong security force, which later increased to 30,000 in accordance with Oslo 2. The force was increased in size once again so that shortly before the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 it numbered around 40,000.
In July 2000 the failure of Camp David to resolve the final status issues, to establish the borders of a Palestinian state and set a date announcing its establishment, led to the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada; the popular uprising was encouraged secretly by the then PA President, Yasser Arafat. At that time, Arafat insisted on keeping the security forces under his direct control as he regarded them as a fundamental source of power and authority.
Accordingly, when the 2003 Road Map was released, it stipulated the necessity of a change in the Palestinian leadership along with the inauguration of a Prime Ministerial position. This new post would take on responsibility for the security force and be able to implement security commitments in accordance with the Road Map itself.
It was against this backdrop that in March 2005 an agreement was reached between PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the George W Bush administration and the Ariel Sharon government. This led to the formation of a US security coordination team whose mandate was to train and equip the Palestinian Security Force and to oversee security coordination between the PA and Israel.
The Israeli position
The Israeli government has dealt with the issue of security in accordance with its vision of the PA’s role within the peace process. As such, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s response to the Al-Aqsa Intifada was to launch a campaign of widespread destruction which targeted many PA buildings and institutions. At the end of March 2002, Israeli occupation forces launched “Operation Defensive Wall” which resulted in the re-occupation of all West Bank cities. It was an expression of Israel’s intention to overturn the Oslo Accord and undermine support for the PA as a punishment for the latter’s failure to maintain security in accordance with Israeli-set criteria.
By the time that the 2003 Road Map emerged, Israel had intervened in the drafting of its content before it was even announced, announcing fourteen distinct reservations about it and stipulating that the Bush administration take these reservations into account in return for Israeli approval of the plan! These reservations focused on the necessity of the PA striking at the resistance to Israel’s military occupation and on Israel’s security as a priority before any political steps could be taken.
Despite Abbas undertaking a number of steps to promote Israel’s security, the Israeli government was dissatisfied with his achievements, saying that they had failed to reach the requisite success levels. The Zionist state thus declared that there was “no Palestinian partner for peace”. Sharon crystallised the unilateral disengagement plan as an expression of Israel’s dissociation from the Road Map, a peace process which at least held out the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state.
At the same time, the Israeli government signed an agreement which led to the March 2005 establishment of the security coordination team. Not only did Israel outline the desired objectives of the team’s work, but it also stipulated the necessity of being given a step-by-step briefing on the team’s programme of action, as well as stipulating that all steps and proceedings must first receive its prior approval. In short, the Israeli government secured for itself the position of supervisor and evaluator of the Palestinian Security Force’s performance.
On this basis, certain media outlets reported the view that following Fatah’s expulsion as a force in Gaza by Hamas in mid-2007, the Israeli government had planted US General Keith Dayton and his team in order to cause the PA to fail in its commitments. At the end of 2008, a number of officials from Israel’s Ministry of Defence praised elements of the Palestinian Security Forces for their role in co-ordinating with Israeli occupation forces and the prosecution of the resistance. Zionist sources quoted the officials as saying that the new developments within the Palestinian Security Force were a real step towards combating both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, this did not deter them from issuing a warning to the security forces that if their night raids failed to arrest activists from the resistance groups there would be no real impact on the stability of the region.
The Palestinian Authority’s position
From the moment the new leadership of the PA assumed responsibility, Mahmoud Abbas set about implementing the security stipulations of the Road Map. In March 2005 he ratified the Cairo Agreement reached with resistance factions, which declared a unilateral Palestinian ceasefire in the optimistic hope that this would appease Israel. It didn’t; the Israelis failed to give any credit to the steps taken by Abbas. Nevertheless, the PA continued to cooperate with the security coordination team on the reform and integration of its security forces and the re-launching of security coordination operations with Israeli occupation forces.
Despite the results of the January 2006 Legislative Council elections (which saw Hamas elected as the Palestinian government), Abbas began to return responsibility for the security forces to the presidency instead of the Interior Minister and the Council of Ministers. This was a clear indication of his desire to grasp control of the Palestinian security apparatus as a means of ensuring continuity in the peace process with the Israelis.
When Hamas formed the tenth government and led the eleventh National Unity Government, elements within Fatah and the PA used the security forces to disrupt security and spread chaos in such a way as to discredit the Hamas government, leading, it was hoped, to its downfall. The situation escalated into near civil war in June 2007, with Hamas prompting an armed coup by a faction within Fatah, resulting in the split between the Palestinian Authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The PA president in Ramallah, continued to implement his security “commitments” under the Road Map, albeit only within the West Bank. A day after the showdown with Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas mandated Salam Fayyad – an ex-World bank official favoured by the US – with the formation of an “emergency government” and began to issue a series of presidential decrees, including one dated 26 June 2007 which proclaimed the dissolution of what was termed all “armed militias”. The Fayyad government began to pursue the resistance groups and sought to disarm them to the extent that the government in Ramallah considered the acquisition of weapons an offence for which one could be arrested and put on trial.
General Keith Dayton began by telling the Palestinians and Jordanians that if a Palestinian state was indispensable, then there was serious work ahead of them; at the borders and in the administration of the crossings, in particular. Then, he said, there was also Gaza and the armed Hamas groups which constituted a grave challenge to the future of a Palestinian state. In a nutshell and in his own words, this was the goal that the US General hoped to achieve and this was what was required of the two teams tasked with helping him if they wished to realise the Palestinian dream.
As an interpretation of the generally agreed upon policies, Dayton clarified that his team would be working in partnership with the Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis over the course of a year and a half in accordance with a document entitled “peace through security”. This signalled that his work represented a regional programme involving all of these parties.
In fact, the process of re-drafting the security doctrine to be followed by elements within the Palestinian security forces was not mobilised by the Interior Ministry. The thinking was that Dayton’s team had not come to learn how to fight Israel and this was the vein in which operations continued until Dayton himself said, “I have generated confidence in elements of the security services that they are building their own state”.
In light of these realities, manifestations of hostility and clashes between the Palestinian Security Forces and the Israeli occupation forces, as well as settlers, became fewer and the relationship became one of trust and cooperation. Reports and statements from a number of senior Israeli officers indicated that coordination between the Israeli army and the Palestinian Security Forces was taking place in dealing with protests, pursuing members of the resistance movement who were labelled “terrorists” and uncovering and destroying the resistance infrastructure.
At the same time, a policy was adopted to deal with wings of the Palestinian resistance, or what was referred to as “armed gangs”, which emphasised the dismantling of these groups. Dayton indicated that about 1,600 members of the newly created security force, who had attended training courses funded by the US in Jordan, led the security campaigns in the cities of the West Bank and arrested hundreds of members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other resistance factions. Dayton also stated that this had been carried out as a result of wide-ranging coordination between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
It is against this backdrop that security alerts are exploited whenever reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas look set to reach a common understanding, or when it looks likely that the Palestinians will put their house in order. One of the worst manifestations of this in the West Bank has been the arrest, abuse and torture of hundreds of individuals; some have been killed during the torture inflicted upon them, Sheikh Majid al-Barghouti in February 2008, for example.
The scope of the security coordination between the PA and the Israelis has expanded. While the Palestinian forces undertook to control demonstrators in the West Bank and were engaged in the prevention of the unrest resulting from demonstrations against the siege on Gaza and Israel’s invasion in 2008/2009, elements from the security forces cooperated with the Zionist troops during the attack by carrying out acts of sabotage and murder in addition to monitoring and reporting on the movements of the resistance groups and the security apparatus in Gaza. The Ministry of the Interior for the Palestinian government in Gaza revealed this on 28 February 2009 when it announced that such elements were answerable to the leadership of the PA in Ramallah.
After the formation of the Netanyahu government in Israel and despite the overwhelming belief that there was only the slimmest possibility of a resumption of peace negotiations between the PA and the Occupiers, security coordination between the two continued unabated. As part of the ongoing implementation of his security programme, US General Dayton announced that he had in place plans to prepare three new teams in Jordan – the equivalent of 15,000 security service personnel – and the establishment of two operational bases. He added that he had plans to train the leadership, including middle level officers. On 28 March 2009, officers from the Palestinian Security Force revealed that senior officials in the Preventive Security branch had arrived in London, apparently to participate in security sessions, meetings and related arrangements.i
According to the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, security coordination between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank has seen some remarkable developments. Recently, for example, joint security tours on the streets of the West Bank have been undertaken. It has been years since Palestinians have witnessed joint security processions like the one which took place in Bethlehem, when Avi Mizrahi, the commander of what is known by the Israeli army as the West Bank’s Central Region, visited the city and met with the heads of the PA security services. The tour, claimed Palestinian security sources, was routine; the new commander had wanted to visit Bethlehem to become acquainted with it first-hand. Ha’aretz newspaper has reported that senior PA officials have delivered speeches to Israeli soldiers and officials about the scope of changes that have occurred in the West Bank. It also drew attention to what it called improvements in security coordination between the two sides and the exchange of information. Ha’aretz added that this had begun several months previously when senior PA officials addressed an Israeli army unit active within the West Bank. According to security sources in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian officials had spoken on one occasion in front of Israeli soldiers alongside the head of the Yesha’ Settlement Council, Dani Dayan, a number of former members of Israeli intelligence and an Israeli journalist. The newspaper reported that a senior Palestinian officer had spoken before several Israeli army officers from infantry units who had arrived for operational service in Hebron. The event took place with the participation of some Jewish settlers in the area. It also mentioned that the goal of the army and the city’s administration, which coordinated these lectures, is to inform Israeli officers of the scope of changes that the West Bank has been through in recent years and to clarify the complexities of the task before them when operating within Palestinian inhabited areas.
The newspaper pointed out that the address was an unusual phenomenon and would not have been accepted by either the Palestinians or Israelis prior to September 2000. In addition to this, it was said that while this coordination was developing the PA undertook to surrender all weapons and combat equipment.
The Ha’aretz news came several days after the Yedioth Ahronoth version which claimed that a leader of the PA from the occupied West Bank visited Tel Aviv’s Yitzhak Rabin Legacy Centre in secret. Apparently, the same person accompanied an Israeli leader during a visit to the so-called Israeli Civil Administration, General Yuav Buly Mordechai, and the commander of the Israeli army’s task force in the West Bank, Nitzan Alon. It was also claimed that the 10 Palestinian guests undertook a tour of the Rabin Legacy Museum at the invitation of the Israeli Defence Forces as part of the closer cooperation programme. During the visit, the PA leader expressed a fear that news of it might be leaked to the media and asked to be kept out of the spotlight. At this stage, two Israeli security officials said that security coordination with the Palestinians had reached unprecedented levels. The officials added that the patrol coordination sessions were being convened on all levels between the Israelis and Palestinians. ii
In November 2010 Ha’aretz reported that the list of Palestinians wanted in the West Bank by Israeli Security Forces was now almost blank for the first time since the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000. This has been attributed to security coordination with Israel by the Palestinian Authority which has seen the arrest of hundreds of activists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank; 120 were arrested in October 2010 alone. In parallel, hundreds of Fatah activists were released from detention after they pledged to put down their weapons and stop all activities against Israel.
The head of Israeli government coordination in the West Bank, General Eitan Danghout, has announced the release of a report which outlines security coordination operations with the Palestinian Security Services during the first half of 2010. The report states that the Israeli occupational forces carried out 1,424 joint operations with the Palestinian Security Forces in the occupied West Bank. Just over three hundred joint meetings were held and the Palestinian Authority handed over to the Israelis 343 Jewish settlers who had entered West Bank territory under PA control.
An American report released recently revealed that last year, the PA’s security forces in Ramallah participated alongside the Israeli army in 1,297 joint operations against armed Palestinian resistance groups, targeting Hamas military forces as well as its civil and social institutions.
The political background to the coordination of Israeli governmental activities in the Palestinian areas
The Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 used to be subject to what was known as “military rule”. During the course of military rule, the foundations of what is now known as the “coordination” of Israeli government activities in the Palestinian areas were put in place as a response to Israel’s search for a more “lenient” formula for perpetuating the realities of the occupation. In reality, this means to pave the way for these territories to be annexed to Israel as well as to mitigate international criticism and pressure.
Israeli experts have indicated that a decision has been made in Tel Aviv to undertake steps toward “the normalisation of the occupation and the masking of the visage of military rule” behind a more elegant name whereby Israeli military rule would re-emerge as “agreed security measures”.
The Israeli office for coordination, or what is known among Palestinians as the “Civil Administration”, has played a significant role in recruitment by which officers of the Civil Administration have created a link between services rendered to the Palestinian public and work done in support of Palestinian intelligence. For example, the obtaining of work permits, or family reunification, is often used as a bargaining tool. Similarly, the Department of Arab Affairs in the Israeli Office for Coordination contributes to the preparation of research for Israeli intelligence which monitors closely Palestinian public opinion. Its findings help to formulate policies to deal with ordinary Palestinians.
Since 1967, a number of officers and senior generals have presided over the Israeli Office for Coordination in the Palestinian Territories:
Shlomo Gazit: 1967-1974
Rafael Rodi: 1974-1976
Abraham Orly: 1976-1979
Danny Mat: 1979-1982
Rehavia Verdi: 1982-1983
Binyamin Ben Eliezer: 1983-1984
Shmuel Goren: 1984-1995
Danny Rothschild: 1995-1997
Yacov Orr: 1997-2001
Amos Gilad: 2001-2003
Yossi Mishlav: 2003-2008
Eitan Danghout: 2009 – presentiii
Security coordination hinders Palestinian reconciliation
It is clear to that security coordination between the PA and Israel has been on-going since Oslo and continued even when “peace process” negotiations between the two sides had broken down; quite simply, this was the purpose for which the PA was established. As such, Palestinian reconciliation will not succeed given that Fatah and Hamas cannot reach an agreement on security issues. There are a number of such issues in this troublesome portfolio:
- The role of the security services, and their influence and hegemony over the political decision-making process in third world countries.
- The security doctrine upon which the Palestinian Security Forces are built is based on the Oslo agreement and differs from that demanded by Hamas and other resistance groups. As such, it is not possible for the security doctrine which resistance factions call for to converge with that of General Michael Muller.
- The reality of the West Bank makes Israel a key player in the formation of the security services and their operational mechanisms. Hamas does not approve of this.
- The particular support of the US and the more general support of the international community are dependent on the extent to which these forces can provide security to Israeli and US interest in the Middle East.
- As Mahmoud Abbas announced, the PA does not and will not agree to the sharing of the security forces between Fatah and Hamas.
- The Palestinian Authority is bound to political and security agreements and commitments which make it impossible for it to accept whatever Hamas proposes.
Thus, Hamas demands the formation of a Supreme Security Committee based on national consensus and consisting of Hamas, Fatah and all other Palestinian factions without granting Fatah a preferential position. The committee’s role would be the establishment and supervision of security policies governing the operation of forces in the West Bank and Gaza and following up on their implementation.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.