"There is a crisis. There is a state of chaos." That's what Ahmed Qureia said after announcing his resignation from what some call the Palestinian Authority's prime ministry. "We have an absolute state of chaos," echoes the mayor of Jenin, a West Bank town. That chaos, growing since Yasir Arafat initiated the Oslo War in September 2000, has prompted the PA to declare a state of emergency; it could signal the end of the PA itself.
According to an April poll of the Gaza-based General Institute for Information, 94 percent of Palestinians believe that a state of lawlessness and chaos prevails in Palestinian Authority territories. As Palestinian security forces have fragmented and dissolved, armed groups of unknown identity have taken their place, using strong-arm tactics against a hapless population. The Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group finds that "weapons possession has become socially legitimized in Palestinian society."
In gang-dominated Nablus, for example, some deaths have resulted from spiraling criminal activity and reckless accusations of "collaboration" with Israel. But, Reuters explains, most casualties involve mistaken identity or plain bad luck. In two typical stories dating from February 2004, "Amneh Abu Hijleh, 37, entered a pharmacy to buy cough syrup for her infant daughter only to be shot dead in a botched abduction. Firas Aghbar, 13, was killed when he walked into a gang battle on his way to the barber for a birthday trim."
As explained by the Washington Post, "the Palestinian Authority is broke, politically fractured, riddled with corruption, unable to provide security for its own people and seemingly unwilling to crack down on terrorist attacks against Israel." One unnamed Fatah member estimates that 90 percent of gang activity is carried out by Palestinian Authority employees.
In February, for example, one Palestinian police officer died and eleven were wounded when rival police factions fought each other within the confines of Gaza's police headquarters. Things climaxed on July 16, as Al-Fatah terrorists ambushed and seized Gaza's police chief for several hours; and then some recently-sacked Palestinian policemen abducted the director of military co-ordination in the southern part of Gaza.
The UN's Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, has offered choice comments on the spreading anarchy, telling the Security Council that "Clashes and showdowns between branches of Palestinian security forces are now common in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian Authority legal authority is receding fast in the face of the mounting power of arms, money and intimidation." He also reached the startling conclusion that "Jericho is actually becoming the only Palestinian city with a functioning police."
This descent into chaos prompts four observations.
- The PA has joined other parts of the Greater Middle East (Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan) in the general trend toward lawlessness.
- Mr. Arafat predicted in 1994 that "Either we build a Singapore in our country or fall into the trap of the tragic Somali model." He thus acknowledges that the PA's slide to Somali-like anarchy symbolizes his own failure.
- The Islamic proverb, "Better a thousand days of tyranny than one day of anarchy," has an element of truth, for life in the PA territories has truly become hellish.
- Although Mr. Arafat launched the Oslo war nearly four years ago with the intent to destroy Israel, he is, ironically, destroying not Israel but his own proto-government.
The question now facing Palestinians is whether they have learned the right lessons from their bitter experience. That for once they are not blaming Israel for their problems gives some reason for optimism. Cox News Service notes that, "as the disorder spreads, Palestinian intellectuals and politicians are increasingly looking past Israel as the usual scapegoat and admitting they share a part of the blame." National Public Radio quotes a Palestinian saying that the PA is in trouble "because many people are being killed or kidnapped or robbed. … We are all accusing the government of not doing anything." A poll by the Gaza-based General Institute for Information finds that just 29 percent of Palestinians hold Israelis responsible for the PA's failure to enforce law and order.
This is a good start. But to emerge from their political predicament requires Palestinians coming to terms with the existence of the Jewish state of Israel. So long as they resist this change of heart, the Somali model remains their fate.