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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159
(415) 356-7801


February 23, 2005

Why Palestinian Security Can'tãor Won'tãStop Terrorists

Dear Friend of FLAME:

Let's give Mahmoud Abbas the benefit of the doubt for moment---which is a supremely generous gesture, since the man has been a loyal apparatchik of the murderous Palestine Liberation Organization for decades. But let's say that Abbas really does accept the Jewish state of Israel (though he's never said as much); let's say that he really does want a two-state solution (though he refuses to give up the contradictory demand of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to Israel); and let's say that he wants to comply with the very first condition of President Bush's "road map" and dismantle terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad (though Abbas flatly denies that he intends to do this). So despite all concrete evidence to the contrary, let's assume that because Abbas is making some gestures and noises that would generally indicate a desire for peace, that this is what he intends to work for. Can he really bring it off?

A hint of the answer was contained in a recent Associated Press report, which read: "Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, under growing pressure to rein in militants, ordered his security forces Monday to prevent attacks on Israel and investigate a deadly shooting of Israeli civilians last week. But Palestinian security officials were short on details about possible actions against armed groups, and a spokesman for Hamas said his extremist group would continue attacks."

What we see these days on the editorial pages of well-meaning papers like The New York Times, which insist that now is the time to press both Palestinians and Israelis for peace, is a triumph of hope (or desperation) over facts on the ground. Indeed, it's so unlikely that Abbas will be successful in controlling the terrorists for any length of time, let alone dismantling their infrastructure, that assumptions to the contrary are pure fantasy . . . and therefore irresponsible.

To illustrate the impossible quandary that Abbas finds himself in, please take a minute to review the report below, published just last week in the Washington Post. Its writer, Lara Sukhtian, is a prolific Associated Press reporter who specializes in Israel-Palestinian affairs. Her account is objective . . . and painfully discouraging. The fact is, Abbas will not bring Hamas and the rest of the terrorists to heel any time soon. Even if he had the intention, he does not have the determination. Even if he had the determination, the article below confirms that he does not have the authority.

Israel has set free some 500 Palestinian convicts, it has dramatically relaxed checkpoints in Gaza and the West Bank, it has called an end to targeted assassinations of terrorists, it ignores continued suicide bomb attempts and rocket attacks, and it has practically ceased construction on its security fence. Before Israel makes any more concessions, let's see what Abbas can do beyond issuing noble-sounding sound bites.

Best regards,

Jim Sinkinson
Director, FLAME

P.S. If you know others who, like we, are wary of mounting pressure on Israel to release convicted terrorists, arm Palestinian "security forces," and relax its precautions against suicide bombers and Qassam rocket launchers, please send this message to them using the "Forward to a Friend" button below. The more people discover the truth about the so-called peace process, the more realistic they---and the U.S. government---will be in conducting negotiations with the Palestinians.

Palestinian Police Won't Stop Militants
by Lara Sukhtian, Washington Post, February 16, 2005

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip - Palestinian policemen, who have been given the task of restraining militants, say they can't or won't do the job. Interviewed at their front-line positions, some say they feel sympathy for the gunmen, while others fear getting shot at by Israeli troops.

The shortcomings of Palestinian police were evident last week when officers stood by as Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets and mortar rounds at Jewish settlements in Gaza. Officers also did nothing when gunmen broke into Gaza's central jail, killing two inmates and abducting a third who was later slain.

"This is all part of the state of chaos we have been living in," said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' security adviser, Jibril Rajoub.

The poor performance is a result of years of rampant corruption, rivalries among commanders of numerous police forces set up by the late Yasser Arafat and a lack of discipline and training. The result is Abbas must depend largely on the good will of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups to uphold a fragile truce with Israel.

Abbas has promised to clean house, and fired nine police commanders in recent days, but overhauling Gaza's 17,000-member police force will take time, Rajoub said. Palestinian legislators are considering a law to reduce the number of security services to three, with clearly defined authorities and new commanders, but passing it could take months.

A tour of four Palestinian security posts near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis - a frequent launching ground for mortar fire at Israeli settlements and border communities - found the policemen are there largely as symbols.

At one post, consisting of a tin shack, a tent and broken plastic chairs held together by rope, a dozen officers watched a teenager climb a sand dune, perilously close to an Israeli army watchtower. The officers yelled for the boy to get back, but did not go after him.

They wouldn't chase militants either, the officers said, fearing they would be shot at by Israel's soldiers.

"It's terrifying," said one officer, who like his colleagues spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with police regulations. "We're stuck between the settlers and soldiers on one side, and the fighters on the other."

In any event, the officers added, they have to coordinate with Israeli troops if they move closer than 400 yards to an Israeli army position or Jewish settlements. Such coordination causes delays, and by the time they got permission, any militants firing mortars would be long gone, they said.

At another outpost, a policeman said he was not willing to risk his life when Abbas gives no clear instructions on how to deal with militants. While the Palestinian leader has said he wants police to restore calm, he also stresses the need to avoid confrontations. In addition, many policemen have relatives who are militants.
"I will never raise my weapons against the fighters," one officer said. "I can only ask them not to fire."

Meanwhile, widespread corruption has turned some security chiefs into warlords, who dispatch officers to extort money from businesses or settle personal scores.

Until last year, commanders personally distributed monthly pay to policemen, often keeping large sums and turning subordinates into serfs. In one major reform by Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, wages are now deposited directly into officers' bank accounts by the Palestinian Authority.

Many officers are more loyal to their clans or to militant groups than to the Palestinian leadership.

One top security official estimated 80 percent of all killings in Gaza in recent years were committed by members of the security forces, but said they are rarely brought to justice.

Several months ago, the 16-year-old son of Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, a senior official in the Palestinian Health Ministry, was killed by five gunmen as part of a family feud. Hassanain said he knew the identities of the gunmen, but that his son's murder was never investigated.

"The law is absent and the Palestinian Authority is weak," Hassanain complained.

On Monday, relatives of the three inmates killed in last week's jail break-in protested outside Abbas' office, demanding he take action. Seven people have been arrested so far, including prison guards and gunmen.

"The Palestinian Authority was responsible for their life, and so it is now responsible for their death," said Mohammed Abu Yousef, whose brother, Hussein, was dragged from the prison to a nearby refugee camp and killed in the street in broad daylight.

Gaza residents have mixed feelings about the increased police presence ordered by Abbas. They are happy to see uniformed officers in the streets, yet most believe the officers are incapable of making them safe.

"They can't stop anything or anyone right now," said Bassam Qannan, 42, in Khan Younis. "It's all for show. They're useless."

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