palestinian police 298.
(photo credit: )
The Palestinian Authority government is planning to cut the number of policemen in the West Bank by half, officials in Ramallah said over the weekend.
The decision was in the context of the PA government's efforts to reconstruct and reform the Fatah-controlled security forces, the officials explained.
But the move, which will leave about 30,000 policemen unemployed, has drawn sharp criticism from some Fatah leaders and security officials, who warned over the weekend that it would trigger a "revolt" against the PA leadership and destabilize security in the West Bank.
A senior Fatah official said that it was "inconceivable" that the PA would reduce the number of its policemen while Hamas was recruiting more men to its security forces in the Gaza Strip.
"I don't know whose idea this is, but it's a very dangerous one that will only weaken Fatah in the West Bank," he said. "Instead of getting rid of the policemen, we should be looking for more to join our security forces."
The PA security forces have some 80,000 men and women on their payroll. However, it is estimated that nearly half of them don't report to work and actually have no real jobs.
The PA has an unusually high ratio of security forces to civilians. Agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel in 1994 and 1995 limited the PA security forces to some 30,000.
Under pressure from the US and EU, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad recently agreed to reduce the number of policemen in the West Bank by half.
Previous attempts by the PA leadership to lay off thousands of policemen were called off for fear of a mutiny inside the Palestinian security services.
Some Palestinians argue that Yasser Arafat made a huge mistake by recruiting tens of thousands of Palestinians to the security forces.
"Arafat wanted to provide jobs for as many Palestinians as possible, so he recruited as many people as possible to the dozen or so security forces," said Gaza-based businessman Abdel Karim Darwish. "The international community was anyway paying the salaries of the members of the security forces. This way Arafat managed to provide an income for tens of thousands of families."
Darwish warned that the dismissal of thousands of policemen could have serious repercussions on the Palestinians.
Unemployed policemen, especially those who are young, might find a new home with other hostile Palestinian groups, he said, referring to Hamas. He added that the best solution would be to ask the Gulf countries to absorb many of the unemployed policemen.
According to the new PA plan, all policemen over the age of 45 would be forced into retirement. In addition, thousands of men and women whose names appear on the payroll of the security forces but don't do any work would be fired immediately.