On February 5, the reconstituted US House of Representatives Subcommittee on
Middle East and North Africa held a subcommittee hearing on the subject of
“Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects.”
expert witnesses from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy testified
and expressed optimism that US-trained Palestinian Security Forces, affiliated
with Fatah, will combat the Hamas terror group which competes for power in the
nascent Palestinian Arab entity.
Yet the Fatah policy and attitude toward
Hamas can be summarized by an exchange I had with Fatah founder Yasser Arafat at
a press conference in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 1994, the night before
Arafat became one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
question: “Mr. Arafat, Israeli prime minister Rabin and Israeli foreign minister
Peres said a few hours ago in answer to my question that you deserve the peace
prize because you have committed yourself to crushing the Hamas terror
Arafat’s answer: “I do not understand the question. Hamas
are my brothers.”
The disparity between the stated US goal for a given
policy and the given result is large enough to leave the thoughtful observer
aghast. Certainly this is the case with regard to the American investment in the
security forces of the Palestinian Authority.
When the PA was founded in
1994, president Arafat, by design, established a multiplicity of security forces
with overlapping authority and in competition with one another.
diverse forces of the PA, which often constituted no more than private fiefdoms,
were ineffective and corrupt. What mattered to Arafat was that no force was of
sufficient size or competency to seize power.
In several instances while
Arafat was in power, PA forces turned their weapons on Israel. In September
2000, Arafat recruited security forces to organize attacks on civilians and
soldiers in the course of what was called the second intifada, or
The Israeli military decimated the PA security forces in 2002,
with facilities demolished and weapons seized.
Serious involvement by the
West began to revitalize the Palestinian Security Forces after Arafat’s death in
November 2004. Subsequent US support for the PA Security Forces was intended to
be a step towards creation of that stable Palestinian Arab entity.
2005, the Office of the US Security Coordinator was established.
US officers who work within that office are assigned to the State Department.
The coordinator reports directly to the secretary of state. Mahmoud Abbas,
Arafat’s successor, reorganized the security services into six main forces, and
instituted a policy of mandatory retirement at age 60.
Efforts by the US
to strengthen the PA forces were delayed, however, by the Hamas victory in the
PA legislative election in 2006. Hamas held a majority of the seats in the
legislature and was heavily represented in the government. In addition, it had
created its own security forces, with generous funding from Iran and
In June 2007, Hamas fighters routed a US-equipped and US-trained
PA force that was 10 times bigger and captured the Gaza Strip. The failure of
the PA forces was plain to see, and the US was prepared to invest more
vigorously in strengthening that force because Abbas then ostensibly separated a
Fatah-controlled government from direct involvement with Hamas.
the Office of the Security Coordinator, with a staff of 145, defined as a key
goal of its efforts the development of a PA security force with paramilitary
capabilities that could protect Abbas’ regime from Hamas. The American
investment in this venture encompassed major assistance in reforming the forces
and rebuilding of infrastructure, providing equipment and major involvement in
In 2011, the Security Office enlarged its focus to include the
development of PA indigenous readiness, training and logistics programs as well
as the capability to maintain and sustain operational readiness and support
By that year, US-financed training programs had graduated
4,761 Palestinian cadets from the US-supported Jordanian International Police
Training Center in Amman. The Coordinator’s Office also conducted training in
the West Bank attended by 3,500 security commanders and troops. Washington
helped build joint operations centers for planning, command and control, as well
as the National Training Center in Jericho.
However, as we consider the
situation now, we see that not only has that goal of providing PA Security
Forces with the capacity to repel Hamas not been achieved; over the past year,
the influence of Hamas within the PA security forces has grown significantly.
This, in spite of all the funding, training and weaponry that has been
ALL OTHER factors aside, there is an underlying cause that is
routinely overlooked: the nature of traditional Arab (which includes Palestinian
Arab) culture. Whatever the PR promoting a Palestinian state would have us
believe, the reality is that for many Palestinian Arabs, loyalty does not rest
with some abstract notion of a state that must be defended. Primarily, loyalty
is to the extended family: the clan.
Training does not significantly
alter this perception.
The problem lies with the fact that within the
same extended clan there may be those serving in the PA Security Forces and
those who are members of Hamas. Security Forces officers are loathe to do battle
with their brothers in Hamas.
In a 2011 report by the Center for Near
East Policy Research on “The Dangers of US aid to PA Security Forces,” this
issue was addressed.
Dr. Mordecai Kedar, research associate at the
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said that while
the troops could be loyal to the PA for the present, “When [not if] there will
be domestic problems in the PA/Palestinian state these people will be loyal
primarily to their clan [Arabic: hamula] rather than to the state, since they
will never shoot their brothers or cousins....”
Palestinian-Israeli journalist explained that the clan system is not as strong
as it once was, however: “This is Arab society.
You can’t erase a
centuries-old tradition, can’t tamper with culture. It will never work. You
can’t impose a solution on anyone.”
Another cultural predisposition among
the Palestinian Arabs has to do with combating terrorism. Maj.- Gen. (res.)
Yaakov Amidror, former head of the IDF’s Research and Assessment Division, and
currently security adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, observed that,
“There is a huge difference in the Palestinian view between law enforcement,
which is seen as legitimate, and anti-terrorism, which is not seen as
legitimate. The US confuses the two.”
This assessment has never been
properly assimilated by US authorities involved with the training
The PA has no laws against money laundering for terror groups;
PA statutes do not define any group as a terrorist organization. There has never
been action against Hamas undertaken by PA security forces out of an
anti-terrorist ideological conviction.
WE MIGHT ask then, why American
government and military officials have blithely ignored these realities, instead
of proceeding according to their own version of the situation: a version that is
likely doomed to fail.
But even beyond these basic cultural facts lie
other problems. There has been a decline of the PA Security Forces that has been
accelerated by the fiscal crisis that began in the fall of 2012. With monthly
salaries withheld or partially issued, many PA officers have stopped any
semblance of work. With the consent of their commanders, the officers clock in
and then go off to other jobs. This search for money has been exploited by
Hamas, made rich by donors such as Iran and Qatar.
Numerous PA officers
have been quietly working for Hamas, notably in its military wing, Izzadin
Hamas penetration has been strong in several areas of the West
Bank, particularly in the Hebron region, where senior PA intelligence officers
are believed to be providing intelligence to Hamas.
Coupled with this is
a new rapprochement process between the PA and Hamas, with talk of a unity
Separation between the PA and Hamas following the Gaza coup
was never as complete as was popularly imagined. As early as 2008, public
security minister Avi Dichter charged that the PA was committed to transferring
roughly NIS 4 billion each year to Hamas to help pay the salaries of its workers
and security officers. Abbas also arranged for the PA to pay for the electricity
generated for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Now there is evidence of
Fatah- Hamas coordination in parts of the West Bank. The PA has lifted the ban
against Hamas rallies, and Hamas has gained control of many West Bank mosques.
Israel’s intelligence community has determined that Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled
Mashaal has ordered the establishment of military cells to take over the West
WHAT ISRAEL now faces is a worstcase scenario; PA security forces
have a history of turning on Israelis, and with the increased cooperation
between the PA and Hamas, the likelihood of this happening again grows more
likely. Statements of late by PA officials suggest such
Former PA foreign minister Nabil Shaath, for example, has
called for unity with Hamas that would “win further victories for us.” With
Hamas cooperation, he said the PA would escalate “the struggle against Israel”
However, should there be a repeat of prior attacks by PA forces,
bolstered by cooperation with Hamas, dealing with the situation will be far more
difficult than it has been previously.
Now those PA forces are far better
equipped and trained, thanks to a US policy that may have been illadvised from
The time has come for an evaluation of the impact of US aid
to the PA Security Forces, however well intended.
The writer is director
of the Israel Resource News Agency and Center for Near East Policy Research,
Beit Agron International Press Center.