The Growing Palestinian Anarchy
by Daniel Pipes
A sure sign of the depths of the Middle East's political troubles is the way it see-saws between brutal autocratic control and no less brutal anarchy. It's harder to say which is worse, but possibly anarchy is, for autocracy at least has some rules while anarchy lacks even that. Regions currently suffering from severe autocracy include Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Anarchic areas include significant parts of Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Now we see the same process underway in areas nominally under control of the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, one of the central problems with Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy is the lack of authority in the Palestinian Authority. Dan Meridor, one of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's key advisors on this issue, has noted that "there is no address, no leader, no partner, no interlocutor on the other side." Meridor says of Yasir Arafat, the PA's leader, that "he doesn't control anything anymore." Meridor goes on to point out the "impossible situation" this places Israel in. "Suppose we want to give Jenin back to the Palestinians and take our soldiers out, which we evidently want to do. We can't do that if there is nobody on the other side to assume responsibility and ensure that nobody launches rockets and suicide bombers against us." He called this leadership vacuum "the most important link in the chain," and bemoaned the fact that no one seems to see it.
In a similar spirit, when asked who was in charge of Gaza, the former head of the Palestinian preventive security forces there, Muhammad Dahlan, replied "Right now, only God is in charge." That things work as well as they do sometimes feels like a minor miracle. "Sometimes I wonder how we are functioning at all without a central government," observed one Gazan to The New York Times. "The young guys carrying guns are dominating the street. Various groups are all trying to impose their own agenda, and no one really has control." (March 10, 2003)
Feb. 3, 2004 update: A Reuters dispatch reporting on the gang-dominated scene in Nablus gives a sense of the growing anarchy. While many Palestinians blame this chaos on Israel, "for many the heart of the matter is lawless Palestinian governance, a system with no one in charge below a remote President Yasir Arafat."
Israeli authorities see more of this pattern after Yasir Arafat dies and I expect they are right.
Feb. 9, 2004 update: National Public Radio ran today an interesting report on this same subject, which included these quotations from Palestinians:
National security does not really exist in [Gaza], because the authority is not really in charge of the order of the law here. There is a big increase in the level of the crimes like killing and stealing and raping and kidnapping.
Mar. 1, 2004 update:The Washington Post carries a report today under the title "Palestinian Authority Broke and In Disarray: Collapse Is 'Real Possibility.'" It finds that "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" and includes this passage:
Three weeks ago, a gunfight erupted inside the Gaza City police headquarters between officers under Arafat's appointed police chief and security forces aligned with former Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan, now an Arafat rival. One police officer was killed and 11 others were wounded.
"What has begun to be more visible is the beginning of the breakdown of law and order," said Karen Abu Zayd, deputy commissioner general for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip. "All the groups have their own militias, and they are very organized. It's factions trying to exercise their powers."
Mar. 2, 2004 update: The Associated Press reports that Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, told a committee of the Israeli parliament today that Palestinian society "is rife with internal power struggles, maybe we can even call it anarchy."
Mar. 7, 2004 update: A Cox News Service report today by Joshua Mitnick has a small glimmer of good news, pointing to a realization by Palestinians that they bear some responsibility for the spreading chaos:
Law and order in Palestinian cities has all but disappeared during 41 months of conflict and the reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israeli forces. In many places, Palestinian police and security forces have been fragmented or disappeared altogether. The power vacuum has been filled by armed and anonymous Palestinians who are enforcing their own rules.
The lawlessness has exposed the internal divisions of Palestinian society and government. Pitted against one another are rival security agencies, militant splinter groups and some members of powerful families in the cities. And 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. …
Apr. 14, 2004 update: Analyzing internal Palestinian violence, the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) finds that inter-Palestinian strife has caused 16 percent, or one-sixth, of Palestinian civilian deaths in the 10-year period from 1993 to 2003. The Jerusalem Post reports today on a report titled "The Intrafada: or The Chaos of the Weapons," funded by the Finnish government, which finds that as "weapons possession has become socially legitimized in Palestinian society," it has been accompanied by the absence of the rule of law, as well as the inability of the central authority to control and regulate the use and carrying of weapons. Founded in 1996 due to deteriorating human rights under the newly-established Palestinian Authority, the PHRMG is headed by Bassem Eid.
Apr. 15, 2004 update: A poll conducted by the Gaza-based General Institute for Information, and reported in today's Jerusalem Post, shows that 94 percent of Palestinians believe there is a state of lawlessness and chaos in Palestinian Authority-controlled territories. And this: just 29 percent of the respondents blame the Israeli occupation for the failure of the PA to enforce law and order. (The poll of 860 Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has a margin error of 3.5%. It was conducted between March 29 and April 1, 2004.)
June 10, 2004 update: Elements of the Palestinian Authority itself have started acknowledging the prevalent anarchy, according to a report by the The Jerusalem Post's brave and talented Khaled Abu Toameh. He reports on a meeting in Ramallah yesterday, initiated by local businessmen and shopkeepers following incidents in the Ramallah area in which armed gangsters shot and killed two young men and went on a rampage against commercial establishments. Abu Toameh cites three PA officials at that meeting:
July 13, 2004 update: Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. Middle East envoy, offered some pungent comments on the Palestinian Authority and its increasing anarchy. Here is the Associated Press account of his briefing today to the Security Council:
July 14, 2004 update: Roed-Larsen's comments prompted an immediate response from his friends in the Palestinian Authority:
July 16, 2004 update: The Associated Press reports that Palestinian terrorists from the Jenin Martyrs' Brigade, part of Al-Fatah, today seized Gaza's police chief, Ghazi al-Jabali, "after ambushing his convoy and took him to an unknown location." Jabali was traveling on Gaza City's coastal road when several cars cut off his convoy and armed Palestinians put him in another vehicle and sped away. This is not Jabali's first brush with anarchy: in March 2004, terrorists fired at his office and in April, an explosion destroyed the front entrance of his Gaza home.
July 17, 2004 update: It gets even more interesting. Here is a report from Britain's Press Association on the fawda:
As a result of this anarchy, "Prime Minister" Ahmed Qureia offered his resignation and Yasir Arafat declared a state of emergency in the Palestinian Authority.
Comment: After brewing for a half year, the epidemic of kidnappings and other anarchic actions has finally reached the political level, contributing to Arafat's loss of credibility even among some of his more ardent supporters.
Aug. 2, 2004 update: "Unprecedented chaos" is now spreading to the West Bank, notes Agence France-Presse, after supporters of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin torched local offices of the Palestinian Authority's security services and the district governor over the weekend, then some 5,000 people demonstrators took to the streets in solidarity. Ahmed Qorei, the PA's so-called prime minister, hoped West Bankers would prevent the chaos seen last month in the Gaza from spreading to the West Bank. "If this chaos reaches the West Bank, then we will be on the verge of an unprecedented and unacceptable disaster."
Oct. 18, 2004 update: "Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the north West Bank city of Tulkarm Monday to demand that the Palestinian Authority put an end to armed gangs roaming the streets and terrorizing the population," reports Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post. "The protest came following a shooting attack on the home of Tulkarm Mayor Mahmoud Jallad and the killing of two young men by armed gangsters." Abu Toameh quotes one resident saying that "The situation is very dangerous because armed gangs control the streets. Many of the thugs are involved in different forms of crime."
Oct. 20, 2004 update: The warlords are steadily emerging, according to Sakher Habash, a member of the Fatah Central Committee who accused stated that "The [Palestinian] security forces have become private fiefdoms of their commanders. Instead of being loyal to the Palestinian Authority, the security forces are loyal to their chiefs. President Arafat is trying to contain the situation in order to prevent a civil war." Referring to Mohammed Dahlan, Habash complained that "When one of the security commanders is dismissed from his job, his force remains subordinate to him even if he's not in office. The situation is very serious and I fear that we are heading towards the abyss and that things would get out of control."
Nov. 14, 2004 update: The death of Arafat and the hapless efforts of his minions to succeed him seems like a good moment to close this weblog entry and start a new one, titled "Palestinian Anarchy, Post-Arafat."
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