Palestinian writer Saed Abu Farha has published a report on the Palestinian security services in Ramallah. This report includes figures that simply cannot be believed due to their disastrous implications and miserable details. For example, the ratio of Palestinian citizens to security officers is 52:1; the equivalent ratio of citizens to teachers is 72:1. As soon as the Palestinian Authority was established, it established 10 security agencies: civil police, civil defence, preventive security, national security forces, naval police, air police, the Palestine Maritime League, military intelligence, presidential guard (Force 17) and general intelligence services.
The late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat then established two additional agencies: internal security and Special Forces, bringing the total number of security personnel to around 70,000 individuals; together they consume 37 per cent of the PA’s general budget. Palestinian human rights organisations have received 3,409 complaints regarding torture and threats during arrest operations, with 82 in December 2014 alone. The agencies’ main role appears to be security coordination with Israel, which consists of joint patrols on the streets (which stopped after the second Intifada broke out), joint security committees and civil security cooperation.
What I am saying (and the statistics back this up) is that the duties of the security agencies are limited to monitoring, spying on, arresting and torturing Palestinians living in the territories occupied in 1967; since the 2007 political split these have been concentrated mainly in the occupied West Bank. The PA (which is also occupied by Israel) is supposed to provide assistance to the Palestinians suffering under the Israeli occupation of their land, the restriction of their freedom and the oppression of their will. What is actually happening is the exact opposite, and this drives me to say that the PA has become a burden on the Palestinian people. Is this what America and Israel want? It is unbelievable that there is one security officer for every 50 Palestinians. The ominous Oslo agreement has a clause which stipulates PA security coordination with Israel and this is used by the authority as justification for not stopping this shameful security coordination which only benefits one party; in effect, the PA acts as a loyal foot-soldier against anything that interferes with Israel’s security. There is no way that Israel will allow any interference in the activities of its own security agencies, which spy on its main ally, the United States and have done for decades, as the life sentence being served by Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard illustrates. Hence, Israel’s need of the PA.
Another issue I would like to bring attention to is that nearly half of the PA’s budget is spent on these security agencies, which are like a parasite on the national Palestinian body; is this logical? Where are the village and city development projects; the health and educational services; and the advanced allowances, such as elderly allowances and those given to the families of the deceased, in addition to the other services provided to citizens, especially those under occupation? According to the report, employment in security agencies is used to get ahead and buy people’s loyalty, and only members of Fatah are employed. The monopoly of positions for members of the pro-government party occurs in every ministry and department. There are rarely any individuals in such posts from other parties. The PA took over the role of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and it has made every effort to make sure that the PLO has had no role since the authority’s formation.
On another level, there is currently talk of a desire to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, as it is “an authority with no authority”. Mahmoud Abbas always says this in his meetings in official and popular sectors. According to veteran PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, and confirmed by Israel’s Maarev and Haaretz newspapers, the Palestinian Authority has informed several countries, including Israel and the US, of its intention to dissolve itself in the context of what it calls the “transfer of authority to the occupation” as part of a gradual plan to make a shift. It will begin with transferring civil authorities, such as health and education, and will postpone security issues to a later time. Despite these threats, the PA still hasn’t been dissolved.
The truth is that the PA is not an authority. Israel wants it to act on its behalf to monitor the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories without giving it any sovereignty. Israel wants the PA to represent it in preserving its security and preventing any resistance operations against it; it is an authority subject to Israel’s diktats on every level. The truth of the matter is that since its establishment, the PA has performed these three duties, meaning that it is ultimately a fragile autonomous entity in the occupied territories. It is natural for the PA to dissolve itself if it has any self-respect for itself and its people; sadly, President Abbas has threatened to dissolve the PA not once but several times, betraying his real intentions. It is difficult to understand such dissolution statements at a time when the Israeli media are reporting that the PA is being used to disperse demonstrations (for the first time since the establishment of the authority), and that the security forces face the mass demonstrations with tools including tear gas, rubber bullets and sound bombs. I also find it difficult to understand the threats to dissolve the PA while it continues its security coordination with Israel. President Abbas is better off cancelling the Oslo Accords altogether and then dissolving the PA.
It is a well-known fact that the number of PA employees has reached 250,000, in addition to the 70,000 security agency workers. It is natural to ask about the fate of these employees should the PA be dissolved. Also, ever since the establishment of the authority, a class of people have benefitted from its existence and they are concerned with its survival. Some are actually founders of the PA and its leaders, so it is natural for them to work on keeping the PA alive rather than dissolving it; they are protecting their milch cow.
Why talk about dissolving the PA given the marginalisation of the PLO and its institutions? Those who founded the PA grew within the authority rather than in the PLO, which is why they have made every effort to strengthen the PA institutions at the expense of the broader-based organisation.
Why, though, talk about dissolving the PA at a time when the Palestinian arena is suffering from political division and there is no form of national unity? If they really want to dissolve the authority, they should begin by achieving national reconciliation and unity, followed by the reformation of the PLO along with all of its institutions; cutting all negotiations with Israel, as they have proven to be futile over the past 20 years; and restoring legitimate resistance in all of its forms, including armed resistance. They would not be arresting those affiliated with the resistance and placing them in Palestinian prisons nor would they be seizing weapons from the hands of their own people under the pretext of responsibility. They should also be boycotting Israeli politically, economically and in terms of security, and restore the cause as an Arab cause, relying on the Arab masses instead of waiting for the Zionists’ “kindness” and American pressure. Those who seriously want to dissolve the PA would put the Palestinian cause back in the context of international legitimacy and the UN resolutions issued in this regard rather than proposing a state within the 1967 borders alone, and would also remain committed to the refugees’ right of return.
Those who are serious about wanting to dissolve the PA would commit to a strategy that was drawn up precisely and based on factors such as referring back to the people and what they decide with regards to national rights, without conceding any of these rights; they would also use political tactics that serve this strategy which must also be based on resistance of all kinds.
The PA leadership’s threat to dissolve the authority are not serious; in fact, they are nothing more than an effort to improve conditions for the resumption of negotiations. This is especially true because the PA threat is being opposed strongly by the US, Israel and other Western counties, all of which are interested in the existence of the “authority with no authority”; an authority that relieves Israel of the burdens of its occupation.
All that is left to say is that the PA’s performance in every field, especially with regards to the security agencies, is as far as possible from the popular interests of the Palestinian people.
Translated from Al-Sharq, 1 April 2015
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.