Training the Palestinian Security Forces for What?

On Thursday afternoon, December 24, 2009, Rabbi Meir Chai, a 45-year-old religious school teacher, was shot and killed as he left the Shomron settlement of Shavei Shomron, in which he lived with his wife and seven children. Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade claimed responsibility almost immediately, and promised "more quality operations from us...."

Two days later, on Shabbos, Israeli forces blockaded Nablus [i.e., Shechem] and surrounded the homes where the three Al-Aqsa Brigade members who plotted the attack lived. None of the three surrendered in response to a demand from the IDF [Israel Defense Force] forces that they do so, and each was subsequently killed in gun battles with Israeli forces.

The response of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian [sic] media to the murder of Rabbi Chai and to Israel's subsequent killing of his murderers raises again troubling questions about the Palestinian security services forces currently being trained by American and European experts.

Since 2005, the United States and EU [European Union] have spent hundreds of millions of dollars training thousands of members of the various Palestinian security forces on the assumption that those forces will constitute one of the key institutions of the Palestinian state in the making. Those forces have been trained both in the basic police work and tasked with anti-terrorist efforts (at least in the minds of the trainers), on the assumption that a reduction in anti-Israel terror is a key component in winning Israeli agreement to the creation of a Palestinian state.

The results so far do not justify the investment nor give much cause to hope that the Palestinians are any closer to creating a stable political entity capable of living in peace with Israel. In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky argued that only a democratic Palestinian state, in which citizens are capable of freely proclaiming their views in the marketplace, offers any hope of long-term peace with Israel. The creation of a trained police force would not have been self-evidently the first item on the agenda in creating the basics of a civil society capable of evolving into a democratic state. Nor has the record of the Palestinian security forces provided much cause for optimism on this score. Palestinian human rights groups have raised constant complaints against the various security forces for arbitrary arrests, brutality, and shakedown operations.

Nor has the training proved successful in creating a national identity that supercedes various other identities. Almost all members of the security forces are simultaneously members of Fatah, the revolutionary Palestinian organization from which most of the current leaders of the Palestinian Authority were drawn, and profess loyalty to Fatah. In addition, American trainers are not sufficiently sensitive to the importance of clan loyalties in Palestinian society.

The latter may have played a key role in the total failure of the American and European-trained forces to prevent a Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, even though those forces enjoyed a vast numerical advantage over the Hamas forces. Many Palestinian Authority fighters simply deserted or joined with Hamas fighters. Low levels of loyalty and esprit de corps have also characterized the Palestinian Authority forces in confrontation with Palestinian gunmen on the West Bank since 2007. Palestinian Security forces proved incapable of evicting Fatah gunmen from the casbah. They proved similarly ineffective in operations against an Islamic Jihad group in the Kabatya refugee camp. And in a mock drill, fake "Hamas" operatives attacked a PA prison and freed all the prisoners after the Palestinian security forces fled the scene.

Most important from Israel's point of view, the American-trained forces have proven to be indifferent as an anti-terrorist force. As Maj.-General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the IDF Staff and Command College and former head of the IDF Research and Assessment Division, points out, police work may have legitimacy in Palestinian society, anti-terrorist activities do not. Israel continues to carry out 70-80% of the anti-terrorist actions in the West Bank. To the extent that the Palestinian Authority security forces have conducted such operations, it has been almost entirely out of a desire to prevent a repeat of Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in the West Bank, not out of any desire to protect Israel from terror attacks.

Indeed it would be impossible to expect Palestinian security forces to show any commitment to anti-terror action when the Palestinian Authority leadership continues to glorify terrorism. After the murder of Rabbi Chai, approximately 100 meters [109 yards] from the site of a recently removed security checkpoint, the Palestinian Authority issued no condemnation of his murder, even after the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade claimed responsibility. Palestinian media described Anan Subbah as the mastermind of the murder of Rabbi Chai, after the former was killed by IDF security forces. And yet Palestinian Authority President Abbas sent personal condolences to "the holy martyrs of the Palestinian revolution," and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salem Fayyad personally visited the families of the slain terrorists. Meanwhile the official Palestinian media denounced their deaths as "murder in cold blood" and an "assassination."

The proclamation of Rabbi Chai's murderers as "military commanders, brave heroes and fighters," was of a piece with the Palestinian Authority's consistent glorification of terrorists. In late December, Abbas sponsored a celebration of the 50th birthday of Dalal Mughrabi, the mastermind of the 1979 Coastal Road Massacre, in which 37 Jews were killed. The official proclamation described her as the "bride of the cosmos," and the Palestinian Authority daily proclaimed her "the heroine of the Palestinian heroines."

Two high schools, numerous sports competitions, a new computer center, a Palestinian summer camp and a town square have been named after Mughrabi to date. A one-hour Palestinian television special recently celebrated the 1979 attack. In a similar vein, the Palestinian Authority just issued a musical video celebrating Wafa Indris, the first Palestinian female suicide bomber.

But while the U.S.-trained Palestinian security forces have proven largely ineffective against Palestinian terrorists of various stripes, they do threaten Israel. Twice before have CIA-trained Palestinian security forces, with whom there was a faade of cooperation with Israel, turned their guns on Israelis — the first time during the Tunnel Riots of 1996 and the second time at the outset of the Second Intifada called by Yasir Arafat after the 2000 Camp David summit. The fear is that those being trained under the supervision of U.S. General Keith Dayton may prove more effective than their predecessors. Dayton has himself stated that U.S. training has lifted Palestinian expectations of receiving their state within two years, and he raised the spectre of the Palestinian security forces turning their guns on Israel if those expectations are not met.

There is evidence that those U.S.-trained security forces include members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade responsible for the murder of Rabbi Chai. PA Prime Minister Fayyad, the great "Palestinian moderate" in Western eyes, has previously offered shelter to Brigade members in the compounds of the Palestinian security forces and paid their salaries out of PA coffers. Dan Diker, one of Israel's most respected political analysts, writes that senior Al-Aqsa Brigade commanders have been assigned senior positions in the PA security forces, such as Aba Jabbal, the senior Palestinian Authority officer in Nablus. The mastermind of the murder of Rabbi Chai's murder, Anan Subbuh, was found with two M-16s in his possession, even though as part of a U.S.-brokered amnesty agreement, he had foresworn any future possession of such arms. [The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department, making it a Federal crime to aid and assist either Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade or anyone connected with the organization, e.g., Fatah.—ed]

Senior members of the Israeli defense establishment point out that the Palestinian security forces are not only receiving training from the United States and Europe, but high quality equipment. For instance, advanced surveillance equipment capable of monitoring military communications networks, intelligence networks, and cellular phones has been employed against Israeli targets. Abu Yousuf, a senior officer in Abbas's Force 17 Presidential Guard, told the New York Sun (August 21 2007), "I do not think the operations of the Palestinian resistance [a code word for terrorism] would have been so successful and would have killed more than one thousand Israelis since 2000 ... without these [American] trainings."

After the IDF eliminated the three terrorists who murdered Rabbi Chai, the United States demanded public clarifications from Israel of what had taken place. No similar clarifications were sought from the PA after Rabbi Chai's murder and the PA's failure to condemn it.

Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice-president of Agudath Israel of America, wrote to Secretary of State Clinton, of Mr. Abbas's failure to disassociate himself and the Palestinian Authority from Rabbi Chai's murder, "There is something deeply wrong here." When the recipients of half a billion dollars in aid under the 2010 foreign aid budget law "are linked to terrorists, and even have words of praise for terrorists, it is only logical to question the wisdom, not to mention the moral rectitude of our aid," he continued.


[ Jonathan Rosenblum, Director of Jewish Media Resources Reprinted from Israel Resource Review ]