Welcome to the first edition of “Inside the PA,” a weekly on-line publication designed to provide valuable insight into the workings of the Palestinian Authority. We will review important statements by senior PA officials and developments within Palestinian society, in major part drawn from the PA media.
“We have a society that surpassed every other nation in the world.” -PA President Mahmoud Abbas, on December 11, when consecrating a cornerstone for a new court complex in Gaza City. This Week in the PA â—In Gaza City, PA awaits December 15 deadline for Israel passage opening â—In Gaza City, Hamas prepares for primaries for PLC elections â—In Khan Yunis, Fatah investigates attack on senior organizer â—In Ramallah, PA prepares for anti-crime offensive â—In Jenin, PA police launch crackdown on drug dealers â—In Jericho, PA prepares new police training course NEWS DIGEST
1. PA ABSOLVES ITSELF OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTACKS IN ISRAEL 2. PA SECURITY POWERLESS TO ARREST CERTAIN ISLAMIC JIHAD TERRORISTS 3. PA TO SUPPORT FAMILIES OF “MARTYRS” 4. U.S. FINANCES BOGUS PA LAW ENFORCEMENT 5. U.S. AIDS HAMAS MUNICIPALITY 6. PA COMPLETES MAJOR MILITARY COURSE 7. NO PA HELP FOR CHRISTMAS
PA ABSOLVES ITSELF OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTACKS IN ISRAEL
A senior official said Palestinian security forces would not be held responsible for attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Instead, the officials said the responsibility for such attacks would be dealt with by terrorist groups as part of their commitment to a ceasefire with Israel in February 2005.
PA Prisoner Affairs Minister Sufian Abu Zaida outlined PA policy during an interview with A-Jazeera television on December 7. Abu Zaida, whose words were reported in the PA media, said the Islamic Jihad suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Netanya on December 5 did not involve the PA.
Instead, Abu Zaida, speaking for the PA, said Jihad was provoked by Israel into suicide attacks. He said Jihad, rather than the PA, would be asked to investigate the group’s responsibility for the bombing, in which six Israelis were killed.
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“The Islamic Jihad devoted itself to an absolute commitment to the calm,” Abu Zaida said. “It seems that a certain group breached this decision and this stance, and this is up to the Islamic Jihad to investigate and to respond to. But in general, the Islamic Jihad lost many martyrs during the last few months and the last few weeks. And I think this provoked the Islamic Jihad to carry out this operation so that Israel would retaliate in a stronger manner against the Palestinian nation.”
Abu Zaida blamed Israel for not cooperating with PA security forces in halting terrorism. He cited the death of whom he termed “martyrs” in such West Bank cities as Jenin and Tulkarm as well as in the Gaza Strip.
“For a long time, Israel has not cooperated with the Authority, and it has carried out arrests and assassinations,” Abu Zaida said. “This operation will give Israel the justification it needs to raise the level of its operations, assassination, arrests and siege of the Palestinian people.”
Abu Zaida’s insistence that the Jihad strike served as a pretext for Israeli retaliation characterized the PA response to the suicide bombing. The PA issued a condemnation of the Jihad attack within an hour of the suicide bombing.
[PA officials have also reported the arrest of 13 Jihad members in the West Bank on December 6. The PA Interior Ministry confirmed the arrests, which also took place in Bethlehem and included two senior Jihad representatives, the Palestinian news agency Maan quoted Bethlehem governor Salah Ta’amari as saying.]
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has been the most vociferous in his criticism of Palestinian terror attacks on Israel. But Abbas has failed to follow up his words with any action and repeated the theme that terrorist strikes only fuel Israeli retaliation.
“We should move ahead with this calm until security and stability have been reached in the homeland, until our people feel no fear from the threat of tanks and aircraft,” Abbas said in a ceremony in Gaza City on December 10. “Anyone who commits acts of provocation against others, especially against Israel, should know that he is acting in an irresponsible way against the interests of his homeland and against the interests of his own people.”
Some of Abbas’s words have echoed in the editorials of Palestinian dailies. On December 6, the PA-owned daily Al Hayat Al Jadeeda said the Palestinian people did not require the bombing of civilians. The newspaper reasoned that such attacks hurt the image of the Palestinians in the West.
“We should admit that the explosions will not be able to bring out the real picture of the resistance when it only targets civilians,” the editorial said.
Al Hayat Al Jadeeda warned that defending such attacks — by terming them “resistance or struggle” — endangers the reputation of the Palestinians. The newspaper said “the Palestinian majority does not agree with that.”
“[How long] will we remain silent to those who always put us and our fate on the edge of the abyss?” the newspaper asked.
But the editorial was buried deep in the newspaper. Instead, prime Palestinian coverage of the Jihad attacks focused solely on Israeli measures.
The front page of the PA-owned Al Ayam on December 6 — the day after the Jihad suicide bombing — led with the headline “Israel imposes a closure and threatens to resume assassinations, attacks and home demolition.” The news of the PA condemnation was tiny article under the fold.
PA SECURITY POWERLESS TO ARREST ISLAMIC JIHAD TERRORISTS Khaled Abu Toameh of The Jerusalem Post, presents a different aspect of the issues:
Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for Monday’s suicide attack in Netanya, on Tuesday lashed out at the Palestinian Authority for condemning the bombing and arresting a number of its operatives in the West Bank. PA security forces were only partially successful in attempting to clamp down on Jihad activists for violating the unofficial truce with Israel, meeting fierce resistance in Jenin. Islamic Jihad denied that it has offices in Syria, saying its activities were solely restricted to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A senior Jihad official in Gaza City expressed “astonishment” at statements issued by PA officials in which they condemned the Netanya attack. Referring to Israeli and US charges that the Islamic Jihad leadership was operating from Syria, the official claimed that the organization’s secretary-general, Ramadan Shalah, had left Syria several months ago, but refused to elaborate.
Another Jihad official in the West Bank accused the PA of succumbing to Israeli and American pressure. “The Palestinian Authority is serving the interests of Israel,” he charged. “This is a very dangerous development and we will have to respond.” Hours after the attack, PA security forces tried unsuccessfully to detain a Jihad terrorist in Jenin. The man, who was not identified, was shot in the shoulder during the attempt to detain him. Eyewitnesses said scores of Fatah and Islamic Jihad gunmen, backed by many civilians, foiled the attempt to apprehend the terrorist and take him to a prison in Jericho.
Local members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah’s armed wing, voiced support for the suicide attack, pledging to use force to thwart any attempt by the PA to detain Islamic Jihad officials. The group’s commander, Zakariya Zubeidi, was among those who welcomed the attack, saying it was “a natural response to Israeli violations of the truce.” Another attempt to detain Jihad activists in the Balata and Askar refugee camps near Nablus also failed after dozens of gunmen drove back the PA security forces after pelting them with stones.
PA TO SUPPORT FAMILIES OF “MARTYRS” On the same day that the suicide bombing took place in Netanya, several sources reported that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had signed a law that will give regular stipends of at least $250/month to families of “martyrs,” which includes suicide bombers.
The allocations will be paid from the budget of the Palestinian Authority via the Martyrs’ Families and Injured Care Establishment, which is directly responsible to the PA Social Welfare Department. Some of this money comes from international donations.
U.S. FINANCES BOGUS PA LAW ENFORCEMENT The United States and European Union, heavily critical of the Palestinian refusal to reform security agencies, have been pouring millions of dollars to bolster law enforcement by the Palestinian Authority.
The Bush administration has launched an $8 million program to improve the efficiency of the Palestinian judicial and law enforcement system. The U.S. Agency for International Development plans to provide equipment and expertise to the PA court system.
On December 5, USAID launched its program in a ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Officials said the Justice and Enforcement program NETHAM has been designated to assist the PA Justice Ministry and legal institutions.
The U.S.-financed effort began amid a breakdown in the Palestinian law enforcement and judicial system. Palestinian attorneys and judges have repeatedly walked off their jobs to protest intimidation by members of the ruling Fatah Party. The judges have reported threats by Fatah gunmen and a refusal of PA police to enforce judgments.
Officials said the United States would not enforce Palestinian law. Instead, the USAID program would seek to improve PA coordination, policy planning, and strategic development.
USAID also plans to provide the PA justice system with modern information technology equipment and capabilities. Officials did not elaborate.
“The program will also enhance skills of court administrators to improve their efficiency and professional commitment,” a USAID statement said. NETHAM also plans to help the PA enforce laws and court decisions. Officials said the program would provide technical assistance, training, and mentor law enforcement officials.
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Over the last year, the United States has sought to improve the PA police, with about 60,000 officers on the payroll. Officials have acknowledged little progress in the effort to streamline the PA force and introduce discipline and reform.
On December 11, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas attended a ceremony to lay a cornerstone for a courthouse in Gaza City. Abbas acknowledged that security in the Gaza Strip was poor, with constant attacks on members of his ruling Fatah Party.
“Unfortunately, the security situation still is unstable, specially in Gaza,” Abbas said in words reported by the Palestinian media the following day. “This will not continue; security must prevail.”
Abbas also acknowledged that Hamas and other Palestinian groups have been threatening to end the so-called ceasefire with Israel announced in February 2005. Already, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal has warned that the ceasefire would expire at the end of 2005.
USAID has also pledged to finance the Gaza courthouse. Construction was expected to begin in early 2006 in coordination with the PA Justice Ministry, Planning Ministry and the Palestinian Supreme Judicial Council.
“The Gaza Courthouse project represents USAID’s response to the severe need for new and functional infrastructure in the Palestinian justice sector,” Rasem Kamal, a USAID specialist, said in news release by the U.S. government and quoted by PA newspaper. “The new courthouse will ensure that Palestinian judges, lawyers, clerks and public will together advance justice in proper premises, where citizens’ access to justice is maximized.”
The United States has been the largest donor to the PA. Officials said Palestinians have received more than $1.7 billion in U.S. economic assistance since 1993. U.S. AIDS HAMAS MUNICIPALITY The United States, despite its boycott of Hamas, has decided to fund municipalities operated by the Islamic opposition.
The Palestinian media reported on December 11 and 12 that the U.S. Agency for International Development has funded development projects in Bani Suhaila. Bani Suhaila is a municipality controlled by Hamas and located on the edge of Khan Yunis.
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Bani Suhaila Mayor Abdul Khader Al Rokab said U.S. AID and the Islamic Development Bank provided $392,000 for the paving of two roads from the town to other areas of the Gaza Strip. Al Rokab said he expected additional projects to develop the municipality.
Hamas won 12 out of 13 seats in municipal elections in Bani Suhaila. The remaining seat was won by an independent candidate. So far, there have not been reports of the United States financing projects in other Hamas-controlled municipalities in the Gaza Strip. In municipal elections in 2005, Hamas won the majority of seats in such towns as Rafah, Al Buraij and Beit Lahia.
PA COMPLETES MAJOR MILITARY COURSE The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly told Western donors that it does not have a military. But to its own people, the PA has constantly reminded them of the growing Palestinian army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
On December 7, the PA-owned Al Ayam daily reported the graduation ceremony of a military course in the West Bank city of Jericho. Al Ayam, in a headline “Graduation of Military Course in Jericho,” said 250 Palestinian cadets from throughout the PA territories completed military training.
Al Ayam published a news story from the official Palestinian news agency Wafa that told of a ceremony to conclude the military course for the PA security forces. The cadets were addressed by the commander of the National Forces in the northern governorates, Col. Nidal Sauli, who expressed the PA’s commitment to an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
This was the first graduation of cadets from the enhanced course that included a range of military techniques and skills. The cadets were addressed by security commanders at the facility, named after PA security officer, Col. Ahmed Yusef Abu Hamidan, who was killed in an Israeli raid of Nablus in 2002.
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The report described a “military demonstration” by the cadets, which included rappelling, jumping from moving cars and other urban warfare tactics. Wafa quoted PA speakers as urging the cadets to help impose the rule of law in the PA areas.
At the same time, however, senior PA officials said Palestinian terrorist groups would not be disarmed. PA Foreign Minister Nasser Al Kidwa told the London-based Al Hayat daily, “There is no such thing as ‘disarming’, nor will there be.” In remarks reported last week and repeated in the PA media on December 8, Al Kidwa said the PA would merely seek what he termed an “organization of weapons” by terrorist groups. He said the PA would continue to allow terrorists to continue to carry weapons until “the Palestinian situation changes entirely.”
Still, the PA continues to receive aid from Western donors. On December 7, Wafa reported that the PA and Norway signed an agreement estimated at $750,000 to assist PA police as part of a European Union initiative. NO PA HELP FOR CHRISTMAS
Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh has accused the Palestinian Authority of failing to provide financial assistance for his city’s Christmas celebrations. According to Khaled Abu Toameh of The Jerusalem Post, in an urgent letter to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Batraseh pointed out that the municipality has not received any funds from the PA since May
“There are many promises, but we haven’t seen anything on the ground,” Batarseh wrote. “Recently the Palestinian cabinet decided to allocate $50 million for decorating Bethlehem for Christmas, but until now we haven’t received the money.”