There have been repeated incidents of Palestinian public figures being shot at in the West Bank, including a Palestine Legislative Council members, doctors and Palestinian Authority officials, along with the increased use of weapons to resolve personal differences. We have also witnessed an increase in family conflict and the involvement of security agents in this disorder and chaos.
Why has there been an increase in the number of shootings in the West Bank, and who is behind it? To what extent has the arms trade increased? Are these arms used for crime and family feuds or by armed groups, and is the presence of armed groups part of the preparation for the absence of President Mahmoud Abbas from the political scene, even while the weapons belonging to resistance groups are being confiscated?
The security situation in the West Bank in recent months has been a source of concern. People are resorting to violence to resolve family disputes, resulting in armed clashes between members of the Palestinian security forces and armed youths. This places the PA as a party to internal conflicts over relative degrees of power and influence on a local level.
The PA and its security forces — they have more than 70,000 personnel — appear to be unable to stop the rot of the domestic security situation. Shots have been fired at the home of PLC member Azzam Salhab; Judge Muntasser Rawajba has also been targeted; Ali Al-Adra, for one, was killed in a family quarrel in the city of Yatta, where automatic weapons were used. Many Palestinians have been wounded in clashes which no sooner die down than they start up again.
None of the efforts of the PA security agencies have succeeded in calming the situation. They have failed to confiscate the weapons used in these incidents, which raises a number of questions about the desire on the part of the PA, and its ability, to enforce the law and put an end to the security chaos.
There could be a number of reasons for the tensions in the occupied West Bank, including the poor social and economic conditions caused by high poverty and unemployment rates in the refugee camps. If the PA does not act quickly to restore control, the occupied territory will fall into the abyss. The severity of the current situation requires a firm decision from the highest level within the leadership of the PA to boost law enforcement.
However, there are those who accuse influential Palestinian figures in the West Bank of causing the security problems and poisoning internal relations because of their deep differences and desire to impose their influence on one city or another. The relatively imminent withdrawal for one reason or another of Abbas from the scene is a factor in this.
Palestinian human rights organisations have appealed to the PA to provide adequate protection to the people of Palestine, which will require good policing, the confiscation of illegal weapons and closing down the groups which supply them. Such appeals have fallen on deaf ears, though, and have had no positive responses from the PA even though some senior officials have joined the calls for an end to the disorder.
I have discovered that Fatah officials have sent messages to President Abbas asking him to intervene because the people are afraid. Gunfire, closed streets, burning tyres and the settling of accounts openly amongst PA officials have all become common in broad daylight. Influential figures within the authority, though, appear to benefit from having the chaos prolonged.
The Palestinians in the West Bank know that the PA is responsible for the security chaos that they are experiencing because the PA security agents open fire in the streets and turn a blind eye to illegal activities.
The situation in the West Bank refugee camps is arguably more serious because they are being neglected in terms of municipal services and do not receive the necessary care from the PA. This, naturally, increases people’s frustration.
Security incidents in the West Bank also arise from the illicit trade in arms, drugs and cars, despite crackdowns by the security services following tip-offs. Such campaigns have tended to be unsuccessful. The PA is simply incapable of controlling the situation.
It is worth noting that some Palestinians do not believe that a security solution is the best way to deal with the growing illegal activity, not least because the increasing use of weapons and resultant chaos is linked to political infighting. This is particularly obvious when the talk focuses on the successor to Mahmoud Abbas, which brings fierce rivalries to the surface.
The Palestinians do not hide their growing lack of confidence in the Palestinian Authority and its security and police forces. Despite their excessive budget — at least one-third of the PA’s total budget —, these agencies do not provide protection to ordinary citizens. The rule of law is noticeable by its absence, and now the legitimacy of the leadership and its institutions as represented by the PA and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is being called into question.
One matter that must be addressed is the fact that Israel is arming the Palestinian security agencies because it is certain that these weapons will not be directed at its own military and security personnel. The PA security agents have orders to stand down whenever the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are on the scene, and gunmen are able to walk down the streets with their weapons, but the Israeli forces do not arrest them. In contrast, the PA has been successful in confiscating the weapons of the resistance groups, which are pointed at the Israeli occupation, even while alarmingly — and suspiciously — unable to do anything about illegal weapons behind the chaos across the West Bank.
As and when Abbas does step down, he must leave behind consensual security and political arrangements with his senior colleagues within Fatah. If not, then we must be prepared for various pockets of security influences in the occupied Palestinian territories. With no magic solution to this disorder insight, we can expect the instability to continue. Israel, meanwhile, will monitor the situation to see how best it can maintain the polarisation of the Palestinians.
All of this will contribute to the continued weakness and fragility of the PA, coinciding with growing talk of Abbas’s successor and the desire of each Fatah clique to control more institutions in what is clearly an out of control power struggle. We are already seeing names starting to emerge for nomination as Palestinian President, all of whom are Fatah officials with differing opinions and interests at heart. The situation looks unlikely to improve.