The Palestinian Authority was created as a result of the interim agreement stipulated in the Oslo accords. However, the nature and perception of this authority developed in a way that deviated from what Palestinians originally intended. This was partly a result of the vagueness of the original agreement and the contradicting understandings of the Palestinian and Israeli sides of those accords and their different components, including the nature of the PA.
Palestinians perceived the PA as a transitional authority that would develop into a full state. Different Israeli political parties, however, held different views on the future of the PA. The regular changes of coalitions in Israel thus affected the dominant Israeli policies vis-a-vis the PA. Since the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, several Israeli governments were led by parties that did not necessarily believe in the goal of ending the occupation and establishing a fully sovereign independent Palestinian state. As a result, these Israeli government pursued policies aimed at preventing the PA from emerging as the basis of such a state.
The main strategic change after Rabin came with the government of the Likud under Binyamin Netanyahu and the adoption of a functional division strategy between Israel and the PA, i.e., that Israelis and Palestinians divide their responsibilities on occupied territories rather than along territorial lines, which was the rationale behind Oslo. Thus Israel kept certain controls over all the territories. Since then, Israel has continued a gradual change in its relations with the PA, narrowing the space in which the PA functioned, not only geographically but also on socio-economic and security levels.
This Israeli approach culminated during Ariel Sharon's premiership when a situation was created whereby the PA was confined to performing certain functions relating mainly to education and health, while Israel maintained overall authority in terms of security, border control, control over movement as well as over natural resources, including water and land use.
This new reality, created unilaterally by Israel, discredits the PA in the eyes of its people and has left the Palestinian leadership with a dilemma. On the one hand, the leadership cannot accept this situation for any significant length of time because such a circumscribed authority has no potential of developing into a full state, its very raison d'etre. But nor can the leadership dismantle the PA because that would usher in the return of full Israeli control over Palestinians including in the social sphere. Furthermore, within the leadership there remains some hope that there can be a reversal of the deteriorating powers of the PA.
Nevertheless, we've reached a situation that reminds many of the South Lebanese Army, an entity created by Israel to promote and secure Israeli interests in its occupation of Lebanon. An example is the situation in Nablus where the PA wanted to resume security responsibilities in order to enforce law and order on an anarchic city and bring an end to the ongoing Israeli incursions. However, the Israeli army, while allowing Palestinian police reinforcements, continues its regular incursions into Nablus at night. Thus the Palestinian police patrol during the day, undertaking duties of traffic control and civil policing generally, while at night the Israeli army takes over the streets. This situation can only further discredit the PA in the eyes of its own public and strengthen comparisons with the SLA.
The Annapolis meeting and the subsequent negotiations may be a decisive moment for the Palestinian public. The direction and success of those talks could determine whether there will be any faith left that the PA can finally develop into a state and secure an end to the occupation or whether this peace process is simply another means by which Israel hopes to maintain significant control over fundamental aspects of Palestinians' lives.
So far the signs are not good. The Israeli insistence to continue consolidating occupation and disempowering the PA will further alienate this authority from its own people. The ultimate outcome of this course will be to render the PA irrelevant and reinforce support for the only available alternative, the opposition led by Hamas.- Published 12/11/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Our region is increasingly characterized by militant non-state actors, many of them Islamist, operating in anarchic conditions in collapsing Arab states or entities. This description fits Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan and Somalia--no fewer than five out of 22 Arab League members. Israel confronts these non-state actors on two fronts: Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and to some extent the West Bank as well.
This dynamic not only reflects the gloomy state of health of the Arab state system. It also invites outside involvement and intervention. Hizballah, for example, enjoys Iranian patronage and Syrian support. Hamas relies for financial and material support on wealthy backers from the Gulf and increasingly on Iran and Hizballah. Israel is no stranger to this reality: witness its relationships in the past with the Kurds of Iraq, the Maronites of Lebanon and the South Lebanese Army.
The question before us today is whether a similar Israeli patronage status is being applied to the Fateh-based Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, and what this might mean for the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Here a brief look at recent history is relevant.
From the mid-1980s until the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israel trained and paid the salaries of the SLA, which numbered some 2,000 soldiers, deploying it as a proxy buffer force against Hizballah. There was no Israeli-Lebanese political dimension whatsoever to this enterprise.
Beginning in May 1994, within the framework of the Oslo accords and in an effort to establish Palestinian political autonomy and eventually statehood, PA/PLO leader Yasser Arafat created no fewer than 12 competing and overlapping security services in Gaza and the West Bank. By and large they were corrupt and inefficient; at various times and to various degrees, but especially after October 2000, they engaged in or collaborated with terrorism against Israel. Some of them were also linked in a variety of cooperative relationships with the Israeli security establishment. But they were not accused of "collaborating" except in those few instances, such as in the spring of 1996, when they actively confronted Hamas, particularly in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, their overall behavior was one of the main factors that led to the current sorry state of the Palestinian state-building enterprise.
Now, after years of violent intifada, Arafat's death and replacement by Mahmoud Abbas, the Hamas takeover of the Strip and the IDF's return to area "A" Palestinian cities in the West Bank, an attempt is being made to reconstitute the decimated and demoralized Fateh-linked security forces there. In view of everything that has happened, there is far more external involvement and control in this effort, particularly American and Israeli, than 13 years ago. Indeed, if we accept the conventional wisdom that the Abbas/Salam Fayyad government in the West Bank could not continue to exist and function without tacit Israeli security support, then any effort on the part of that regime to deploy security forces, beginning with the 400 policemen recently dispatched to Nablus, cannot but appear to reflect elements of a patron-client relationship with Israel and, accordingly, remind us of the pre-2000 era in southern Lebanon and the relationship between the IDF and the SLA.
From an objective standpoint, there may be no alternative. Certainly, in the short term a patron-client relationship between the IDF and the nascent Palestinian security forces in the West Bank is preferable to the adversarial relationship that characterized the years of the al-Aqsa intifada after 2000. Nevertheless, it is a dangerous relationship because it portrays the Abbas/Salam government as a lackey of Israel, and this can only work to the detriment of a nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace process that in any event enjoys slim chances of success.
Obviously, the SLA in its day was a very different creature than today's Palestinian security forces, which are part of a political state-building enterprise that enjoys broad international support. Still, the last thing we and the Palestinians need right now is a Hamas campaign to portray the PLO/PA as the reincarnation of the SLA. Hence Israel in particular should make every effort to enable the renewed Palestinian security establishment to operate as independently as possible.
The former SLA commander, Major General Antoine Lahd, now runs a restaurant in Tel Aviv. Any comparison to Abbas and Salam is, to say the least, not flattering.- Published 12/11/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Unite or dissolve
an interview with Eyad Sarraj
bitterlemons: Hamas is saying that by pursuing negotiations with Israel under current circumstances, the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority is in effect collaborating with the occupying power. Is this a fair assessment?
Sarraj: I don't think we can go that far. However, Hamas does seem to be in the middle of a kind of tacit agreement tp work against it between Fateh, particularly after the takeover of the Gaza Strip, and Israel and the US. Certainly that's how it seems to Hamas members. The signs started to appear immediately after the election of Hamas when there were antagonistic statements from the US administration, from Israel and then even from Europe.
Of course when Hamas took military control of Gaza, this angered Fateh, including the president, who felt personally humiliated and stabbed in the back. So in a way, there is a big camp, perhaps including most of the world, working against Hamas, or at least not accepting Hamas rule over Gaza.
bitterlemons: There is currently a very tight closure on Gaza that is affecting all Gazans and not just Hamas. Critics say the West Bank PA is not doing much, if anything, to have this blockade lifted. What do you think?
Sarraj: I recently sent a letter to the minister of health in Ramallah, telling him there is a serious shortage of food, medicine and vaccination in Gaza because his ministry is refusing to sign purchase orders for Gaza hospitals. Such action is completely incomprehensible, especially since the budget for this does not come from the PA but from the World Bank. What the ministry is doing is lending credence to the theory that Ramallah is participating in the conspiracy against Hamas.
And in effect, what is happening is hurting all Gazans, including patients. Look at what happened a few months ago when doctors were instructed to strike. That was unacceptable. For doctors not to work is unacceptable and it hurts everyone in Gaza.
bitterlemons: Where is the tipping point then? You say to talk of the PA as collaborators is a little strong, but when do people, particularly in Gaza, reach a point where they see the PA as being against them rather than on their side?
Sarraj: I think the PA, Mahmoud Abbas and Fateh are patriotic. They are still smarting from the blow of losing Gaza, and Abbas feels personally humiliated. But this doesn't mean that the PA is made up of traitors. It is true that the Fateh-led PA for a long time made many big mistakes, mistakes that led to Hamas' election victory. Hamas did not come out of the blue, it came from people tired of Fateh mismanagement and disillusioned with the peace process. But that doesn't make Fateh traitors. Nevertheless, Fateh has made no serious attempt to rehabilitate itself and become a body that can govern.
bitterlemons: Some argue, along with the late Edward Said, that the whole setup of the Oslo accords was such that essentially the PA was designed to be no more than an administrative arm of the Israeli occupation. Do you agree with this?
Sarraj: I agreed with Said at the time, but I said to myself let's give this a chance. We knew what the Israeli intentions were. All along Israel refused the notion of an independent Palestinian state. All along Israel wanted more land and refused to define its own borders. But it was an opportunity we tried to explore. But in addition to the Israeli position, Fateh did not properly seize the opportunity and we are now in the situation we are in, proving Edward Said right.
bitterlemons: Do you think the PA can now become a state?
Sarraj: I think today, tragically, the Palestinians have no say in their own destiny. Today, the decision is made elsewhere, not in Ramallah or Gaza. It's made in Tel Aviv or in Washington. The Palestinians have lost the ability to govern themselves, to make war or to make peace. It's very serious.
bitterlemons: What's the next step?
Sarraj: I think one option is for President Abbas to come to Gaza and declare that Gaza is part of the Palestinian territory and that we are all one front. If he doesn't, we will lose the question of Palestine. The second option is to completely dissolve the Palestinian Authority, make Israel take responsibility as the occupying power and expose it to the rest of the world.- Published 12/11/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Eyad Sarraj is president of the board at the Gaza Community Mental Health Project.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
The political context is totally different
by Dani Reshef
The Palestinian General Security Forces have been operating since 1994. They suffer from some of the symptoms displayed in its day by the South Lebanese Army, which was sponsored by Israel and operated in the years 1985-2000.
At a superficial glance, both military forces were trained and equipped by foreign powers in order to confront other factions of their own society rather then an external enemy. Whatever genuine local cause there was, it was severely undermined by being cast as a foreign cause waged on behalf of foreign powers. SLA and PGSF have thus shared a serious problem of legitimacy in their societies, and the question who they really have served remains open. This contrasts with Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, which ultimately are intended to confront an external enemy, Israel, thereby giving legitimacy to those organizations in their own societies.
In both cases, the recruitment to all these forces has followed local tradition and historical tribal relations by leaving options open and never putting all eggs in one basket. It was very common among Shi'ite families of South Lebanon to send a few sons to serve with the SLA and a few others to join Hizballah, to pass information from side to side as a precaution and to switch sides when it seemed worthwhile. This is equally the case in many Palestinian families, where some serve with Fateh and others are Hamas operatives.
In this situation, both PGSF and SLA have found all possible excuses not to engage in a serious fight wherever there was a chance they might confront their relatives on the other side. The tendency to blame the foreign power for not providing enough training, ammunition and equipment is a perfect excuse for doing very little.
Although the SLA, like the PGSF, had its own chain of command, neither has ever really been fully responsible for its decisions. A large apparatus of mainly Israeli liaison officers has, so to speak, supervised and coordinated every move and, in fact, indirectly commanded both the SLA and PGSF, thereby augmenting the impression that they are extensions of the Israeli army rather than genuine Lebanese or Palestinian forces.
But alongside the similarities there is also a big difference between the two military forces. The SLA never had a political branch with far-reaching political direction and aspirations, like the PGSF. General Antoine Lahd, the SLA commander, was the only semi-political figure in South Lebanon. His roots were in northern Lebanon and he was well connected to the political intrigues of Beirut, but he never showed any political interest in South Lebanon. The SLA never claimed to be a legal force in Lebanon; its legitimacy derived from the fact that there were other illegal forces and militias in Lebanon. The basic feeling within the SLA was that its existence was something temporary. Its wish was to join the Lebanese army as a territorial brigade, just as some other militias in Lebanon did after the Taif agreement of 1989.
In contrast, the PGSF is a legal force legitimized by the Palestinian and international communities under a political umbrella. It is not a temporary force and is there to stay as a coherent institution in Palestinian society. Despite the fact that the PGSF is trained and equipped to confront Hamas within Palestinian society, its primary long term mission is to restore law and order in all of Palestinian society and even to prepare for the prospect of confrontation with an external enemy: Israel.
To summarize, there are similarities between the South Lebanese Army and the Palestinian General Security Forces in their operational conduct, their performance and the patronage and supervision of a foreign power. But the PGSF, despite its considerable failings, operates within the long-term political context of Palestinian society and has a long-term role in protecting Palestinian institutions and society, whether under Hamas or Fateh, whereas the SLA had no long-term role in Lebanese society and never operated within a Lebanese political context.- Published 12/11/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Dani Reshef served as an IDF intelligence officer in South Lebanon.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.