“To serve and protect” is the motto of many a police force. In the case of the tens of thousands of Palestinian police and security officers, what they serve and protect are the interests of Yasser Arafat and a handful of his henchmen. As for the Palestinian population at large, well, they’re on their own.

Since Mr. Arafat’s arrival in Gaza in 1994, he has established at least nine different intelligence services and deployed nearly 40,000 Palestinian policemen. In addition, high-ranking security officials in major cities, like Jibril Rajoub in Hebron, have their own private security details. The connections between all the different security forces are murky at best. And the actual size and scope of the secret police and undercover intelligence services are also unclear. What is clear, however, is that the Palestinian Authority has one of the highest ratios of security personnel to civilian population in the world.

The police have been busy. Since May 5, it has been the official policy in the Palestinian Authority to impose the death penalty on any Arab who sells land to Jews — and a trial is not necessary for passing sentence. Since that declaration, at least three men have been killed by Palestinians for being real estate agents, and the police are the prime suspects. In the first case, a 70-year-old man, Farid Bashiti, was found with his hands tied behind his back, shot in the head. A Palestinian policeman is already in Israeli custody for his part in Mr. Bashiti’s slaying. The second victim, Harbi Abu Sara, was 46 and was shot in the head four times. The third victim was from the city of Nablus. The details of his death are still unclear. But the killings were clearly the product of single design. In all three cases, the men were brought to the same house in Ramallah for interrogation before they were murdered. Israeli investigators say they have evidence that a senior Palestinian security officer is involved in two of the three murders and the kidnapping of a fourth victim, also suspected of land sales to Jews. And earlier this week, Israeli police foiled another kidnapping attempt, once again directed at a land-sale suspect, and arrested four Palestinian security officers and two other men.

As for Chairman Arafat, he has defended the death-for-land-sales policy and its enforcement, saying, “we are talking about isolated traitors. And we will impose against them what is on the law books. That is our right and our obligation to protect our land.” Apparently, that also goes for suspected land dealers. Palestinian police arrested 12 men on suspicion of land sales in the past two weeks, according to Palestinian Attorney General Khalid Qidrah. This comes on top of another six arrested the week prior. And Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein, who originally announced the policy, says he has a list of another 200 suspected land dealers Palestinian security forces will be “investigating.” At the same time, plainclothes Palestinian security officers have been harassing suspected land dealers in East Jerusalem by threatening them with arrest or death.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is still trying to get the Palestinian Authority (PA) to hand over suspected terrorists, as per the Oslo accords. In March the government submitted a list of 31 terror suspects, none of whom have since been handed over to Israel. Among the list of 31, 11 suspected terrorists are now members of, that’s right, the Palestinian police force.

As for what PA policemen and security forces do to their own people, the record is abysmal. According to Palestinian writer Fawaz Turki, “To date, 14 Palestinians have died under torture at the hands of thugs (no other word will do here) from the dreaded intelligence services.” Twenty-six-year-old Mahmoud Jamal Jumayal was tortured to death in July 1996. A month later, the Palestinian Authority tried and convicted three PLO security officers in connection with Mr. Jumayal’s death. A Palestinian court in Jericho sentenced Capt. Abdul Hakim Hijjo and Lt. Omar Kadumi to 15 years plus hard labor and Sgt. Ahmed Biddo received a 10-year jail term plus hard labor. A police force diligently policing itself? Maybe so, maybe not. The trial took less than two hours and Palestinian human rights activists denounced it as a sham. Were the right men brought to justice — or did authorities find scapegoats to convict before anyone could complain? Many Palestinians held in PA jails have tried to commit suicide, and one man who did not succeed told his family that he was going to try again. As he explained, “Why wait and let them do it for me?”

Police have also harassed editors and human rights activists who have had the temerity to criticize the PA or the chairman. There are allegations that Palestinian policemen have threatened Israelis living near PA autonomous zones and within Palestinian-controlled cities. Last September, PA police and security officials turned the guns they got from Israel against Israeli soldiers, and this year during several days of riots in the West Bank and Gaza, PA policemen, alongside civilians, hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers and civilians.

There is no Palestinian state or autonomous Palestinian region. There is only a kleptocracy run by thugs and goons who are destroying any hope the Palestinian population might have had that the Oslo accords would lead to freedom and democracy. Oh yes, and the last $100 million installment of U.S. aid (for a grand total of half a billion in taxpayer funds) is on its way to the Palestinian Authority. Ain’t life grand?