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The Oslo Accord of 1993 provided for the establishment of the Palestinian security services to maintain public safety in the Palestinian territories as well as to coordinate security efforts between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel to combat what Israel calls ‘expected’ military attacks by the Palestinian resistance on Israeli targets. The issue of security has thus been at the heart of Palestinian-Israeli relations for decades. Similarly, it has become the cornerstone of all political agreements and steps related to the revival of the peace process between the two sides since the establishment of the PA in 1994.
The start of the Palestinian security services was modest, with a personnel that initially did not exceed 3,000. By early 2000, this number had increased to more than 30,000, in part due to the integration of the Palestinian Liberation Organization‘s (PLO) forces. Furthermore, a large number of security offices were established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, the second intifada (uprising) in 2000 prompted Israel to destroy most of these offices in 2001 and during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
After the end of the second intifada in 2005, Israel aimed to keep the security services weak both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The repercussions of this were felt particularly acutely in the Gaza Strip, where the security services were unable to suppress the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas organization, which in 2007 seized control of the security apparatus and expelled all security personnel from their positions.
The PA security services consist of three main branches: the Interior Security Forces, the General Intelligence Service and the National Security Forces, in addition to a non-executive supervisory body, the National Security Council, which oversees all of the PA’s security organs.
1. Internal Security Forces
The Internal Security Forces include several bodies such as the Civil Police Force, Civil Defence and Preventive Security Service (PSS). Perhaps the most important and prominent of these is the PSS, which was previously affiliated with the Ministry of Interior. After the legislative elections in January 2006, the responsibilities of the apparatus were transferred from the government to the presidency. Comprising approximately 5,000 personnel, the PSS is regarded as the most organized of the security bodies. It is responsible for internal security and for pursuing opponents of peace. Since 2007, the apparatus has been tasked with leading the Gaza Strip branch remotely. It also collects information on all local and international organizations operating in the Palestinian territories.
However, it is regularly criticized for its role in making politically motivated arrests, particularly of Hamas supporters. Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the service, was accused of handing over Hamas members to Israel and of involvement in torturing several Hamas prisoners to death, including prominent leader Muhyi al-Din al-Sharif.
Civil Police Force: This civil body was established after the Oslo Accord under the chairmanship of Major General Ghazi Jabali. It is currently headed by General Hazem Attallah in the West Bank and Major General Taysir al-Batsh in the Gaza Strip. Among the force’s tasks are internal security, civilian and infrastructure protection and law enforcement. The force has approximately 8,000 members in the West Bank and an estimated 5,000 members loyal to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In the West Bank, the force receives high-level technical training sponsored by some European countries. A number of directorates fall under the force, including the Traffic Police Directorate, the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, the Directorate of Drug Control and the Riot Police.
2. General Intelligence Service
The General Intelligence Service (GIS) is considered to be one of the most important security services that report directly to the president. The head of the GIS is appointed by the president and has the rank of minister. The roots of the service go back to the 1960s, when it was established under the supervision of the former prominent PLO official Salah Khalaf. The service has approximately 3,500 members, mostly from the Fatah party.
Major General Amin al-Hindi was head of the GIS from the establishment of the PA in 1994 until 2005. He was succeeded by Brigadier General Tariq Abu-Rajab, who was replaced in 2007 by Major General Tawfiq Tirawi after Abu-Rajab failed to prevent the 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip by the al-Qassam Brigades. After Tirawi was appointed as head of the Jericho Security Academy, Major General Majid Faraj was appointed as head of the service in September 2009.
Although some of the tasks assigned to the GIS include working outside the Palestinian borders to detect external threats to national security, including espionage, sabotage and conspiracies, the service works intensively inside the Palestinian territories to prevent acts that could endanger the security and safety of the Palestinian people. Therefore, the service has collaborated with the PSS to pursue Hamas elements and supporters in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. Deaths were recorded in the prisons and headquarters of the GIS.
3. National Security Forces
The National Security Forces (NSF) are the nucleus of the future Palestinian army. The NSF’s tasks include protecting the land, sea and air borders, controlling the entrances and exits of the cities, and assisting the police when they are unable to maintain security. The NSF has four main apparatuses: 1. Public Security, which operates in the field of intelligence; 2. Naval Police, which serves as the coast-guard. They are based in Gaza and are tasked with preventing the smuggling of arms and drugs. They were integrated into the GIS after Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip; 3. Aviation Security, which is a small unit with several helicopters used for transporting Palestinian leaders internally; 4. Military Intelligence, which collects information about ‘external enemies’ and supervises the work of the military police.
The Oslo Accord stipulated the quality and quantity of the weapons the Palestinian forces could use. Israel was against giving the Palestinian forces any kind of medium and heavy weapons, while allowing them to use some types of light weapons, including Kalashnikov rifles, small pistols and limited quantities of ammunition. The NSF possesses a small number of light PTR-70 armoured vehicles and BDRM-2, which are used for dispersing violent riots. The Internal Security Forces have a large number of military jeeps.
Israel remains very cautious about allowing the development of the Palestinian security services, fearing that Palestinian weapons will be used against Israeli forces. Therefore, importing ammunition goes through many negotiations with Israeli political and security officials and takes a long time. Moreover, all the weapons in the possession of the Palestinian security services are registered with Israel. In the event of Israel seizing a weapon in any act of resistance against the Israeli army, the weapon is confiscated and the person who had the weapon is questioned and held accountable. The individual involved is also punished by being blacklisted, accused of involvement in terrorist activities and prosecuted.
Security Service Reform
After the weaknesses the security services displayed during the second intifada and the Palestinian divide in 2007, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah initiated extensive reforms. These reforms are the subject of ongoing debate among Palestinians, who view an integrated security sector as essential to protect civilians against Israeli military operations inside the Palestinian territories. Israel, on the other hand, views the reforms as one way to enhance security coordination between the two sides and provide the infrastructure for what it calls ‘the fight against terrorism’. Accordingly, the Palestinian security services have been retrained with US supervision and funding.
Observers of Palestinian affairs believe that the PA spends approximately 30 per cent of its general budget on security. A study conducted in December 2016 estimated that the number of security personnel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip amounts to approximately 83,000. This is an average of one personnel for every 48 citizens, one of the highest ratios in the world. The United States, by contrast, has one police officer for every 485 citizens.