Israeli-Palestinian security collaboration called into question

The Israeli military’s discovery of the bodies of the three missing settler youth on Monday followed by what was described as an Israeli revenge attack today against a Palestinian teenager, whose body was found in the woods, are yet further evidence that security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) – in the absence of a just resolution of the conflict – serves only a program of settlement and occupation, securing neither peace nor safety for anyone.

Israel continues to exercise military control over the West Bank (including the area from which the slain settlers were attending school) and to maintain a siege on Gaza. Its recent large-scale military actions, which included re-occupation of the region’s cities at night and bombardment of Gaza, does not serve the interests of Israeli civilians. Nor does it serve the U.S. taxpayers that have been footing much of the bill for the PA security cooperation with Israel over the past several years, or advance U.S.-led peace efforts. Least served by Israeli-PA security cooperation are the Palestinian people who have been living under Israel’s military occupation for nearly 50 years. 

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PA security forces are trained to police this status quo. Last week they worked side-by-side with Israeli soldiers to quash popular protests. Reports also say that PA security fed the names of suspects to Israel. In the ensuing hunt, seven were killed, two homes were demolished and another 600 detained, all without charge or judicial procedure. Thousands more were terrorized.   

Such a PA-Israeli partnership, while Israel’s military trampled on the rights and dignity of Palestinian civilians, has led to demands for the re-examination of the West Bank security program that has been based on American, Israeli, and European priorities. This program advances the goals of the occupation instead of ensuring the safety of the people it is meant to serve, or the goals of peace that most American taxpayers support. On the contrary, the U.S. billions sent to the region have made a two-state solution all but impossible and done nothing to protect Palestinian civilians such as the two teens killed on May 15 in what Human Rights Watch called an “apparent war crime,” though attention has lagged far behind the case of the three Israeli teens.

Today’s framework of security collaboration is perhaps more shocking because it is being supported on the public stage by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.  Speaking in June at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation conference, Abbas explicitly defended coordination, claiming it was “a Palestinian national interest.” He had earlier gone so far as to call it “sacred.”

In this context a “Palestinian national interest” should not be understood as the collective interest of the Palestinian people, or the interest of a two-state solution. Rather, it refers to the interests of a PA elite for whom security forces ensure personal protection, and a stability that guarantees the safety of assets and investments. This agenda protects no one.

Originally set up under the 1993 peace process, the priorities of the Palestinian security forces took a sharp turn with the death of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, the election of Abbas, and the subsequent split between Hamas and Fatah. 

In 2003 then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon put the issue on the negotiations table, demanding that the PA implement security apparatus reforms as a precondition for future talks.  This was accepted and encouraged by the U.S.

Security reform thus became a top priority for Abbas, and may be his real lasting legacy. It has seen the sector swallow 31 percent of the government’s annual budget. That is more than the PA budget for health, education and agricultural sectors combined.   

Between 2007 and 2010, the U.S. State Department allocated $99 million to the reconstruction of the PA security infrastructure and a further $392 million to train and equip what would become the National Security Forces (NSF). Locally known as the Dayton Forces, they were shaped by American Lieutenant General Keith Dayton. The general’s mission was as a liaison ferrying between an Israeli government with a settler lobby and a PA government elite.

The millions budgeted for security equipment was spent solely on tools designed for internal suppression and the protection of Palestinian VIPs. Strategic planning goes ahead with Israeli military objectives in mind, and is crafted without a thought for the defense of the Palestinian people, the protection of their lives, their goals, or their dignity.

For average Palestinians, safeguarding “security and order” means mass campaigns of arrest and interrogation and homes invaded by PA forces, while towns and villages are raided by the Israeli military. The Palestinian security sector is far from being part of any national project that serves the Palestinian cause. Rather, its operations and flagrant coordination with the Israeli occupation run against Palestinian national interests.  

If there is to be a nationally authentic security sector, then these forces must be restructured in a manner that relates to the real needs and expectations of the population. Focus on internal policing known as the “Dayton Doctrine” must end and a program that demands accountability and justice be put in place.

Dana is a policy adviser of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.