Despite arrests, PA forces growing weaker in West Bank

Despite arrests, PA forces growing weaker in West Bank

Abbas’s police thwarted two Hamas attacks on Israeli targets last week; but they seldom operate in refugee camps, so IDF forced to pick up slack

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian security officers in the West Bank city of Nablus (Wagdit Ashtiyeh/Flash90)
Palestinian security officers in the West Bank city of Nablus (Wagdit Ashtiyeh/Flash90)

Palestinian security forces succeeded last week in thwarting two attacks against targets inside Israel, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

The report was confirmed by Israeli security officials.

Security forces, led by the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, arrested two Hamas cells who planned to smuggle explosive devices into Israel. One of the cells was arrested in Bethlehem before it had a chance to obtain the explosives, while the second cell, in Hebron, was caught with explosives inside a car that was intended to enter Israel and detonate there.

The Palestinian forces managed to foil other attacks planned for inside Israel in recent years, including several abduction attempts.

In addition, Hamas said a major rally in the West Bank to celebrate the (belated) anniversary of group’s founding was canceled in the wake of the arrest of many Hamas members by Palestinian security forces.

The string of recent successes runs counter to a trend that has seen the Palestinian security apparatus grow weaker. This assessment is shared by all of Israel’s security organizations, including the IDF and the Shin Bet, and surprisingly, Palestinian sources admit that it is accurate.

In recent months, the security forces have lowered their profile in the streets of the West Bank, especially in the refugee camps. Residents of the camps and senior Fatah officials told me that there is a dangerous spike in criminal activity, ranging from property crime to drugs. At the same time, the security forces rarely, if ever, enter the camps, primarily because of the growing unrest against the PA there.

More than two months ago, an attempted arrest in the Askar camp near Nablus led to serious clashes with hundreds of locals involved, and the incident ended with the death of one of the residents from Palestinian police fire.

In addition, an operation that the PA tried to carry out in Jenin’s refugee camp yielded no results beyond bitter public criticism.

The PA’s activities in the camps have brought severe friction and hostility on the part of the residents, especially given the situation in recent weeks.

UNRWA staff have been on strike from their relief work for a long time. Because of the strike, the schools are closed and trash is not being cleared from the streets of the refugee camps, which increases the residents’ frustration with the UN, but also with the PA. Residents of the Jilazun camp blocked the main road to Ramallah last week, which led to clashes between security forces and residents.

In addition, the PA’s activities against Hamas and Islamic Jihad aren’t as intensive as they were in the past. It occasionally thwarts attacks, but it is usually the Israeli side that manages to foil most terror attacks. Because of this drop in PA operations, the number of arrests by Israel in the West Bank has gone up. Over the past year, according to IDF figures, Israeli forces arrested 3,300 Palestinians in the West Bank, compared to 2,500 in 2012. Israelis noted that the PA continues to demonstrate its presence and maintain order in the major cities, but also pointed out its inability to enforce the law in the refugee camps.

An Israeli military source told The Times of Israel that this is not due to a lack of motivation. He said that the Palestinians do their best sometimes, but it isn’t enough. He pointed to the PA’s success in confiscating the funds of the Islamic groups, but also to its inability to deal with threats from “home” — Fatah activists in the camps — who do as they please. The source added that if Israel stopped its arrests in PA territory, a wave of terror could erupt against Israeli targets.

Another major problem that Palestinian commentators point to is the significant damage done recently to the status of Palestinian courts. When Salam Fayyad was prime minister, he placed a special emphasis on the standing and role of the courts, but since Rami Hamdallah came into office, the courts have lost their authority. As a result, Palestinian forces hold people in detention without a court order, and even if the court orders their release, they remain in custody. This phenomenon has led to public criticism and harms the legitimacy of the PA security services in the Palestinian street.

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