Palestinian Anarchy, Post-Arafat
by Daniel Pipes
Since chaos in the Palestinian Authority areas became acute in February 2004, I have been following it in a weblog entry titled "The Growing Palestinian Anarchy." But the out-of-control funeral for Yasir Arafat on Nov. 12 and then today the shooting up of his pretend-successor, Mahmoud Abbas, suggest that a new era has begun. I mark that with the start of a new blog. Here are some details, provided by Charles A. Radin of the Boston Globe:
Comment: I have been predicting since Arafat took ill that his death will deepen the anarchy that has been brewing the past year. This remains a distinctly minority position but events such as the one described here may begin changing minds. (November 14, 2004)
Nov. 15, 2004 update: Arutz Sheva reports that two other clashes have taken place:
Arutz Sheva sees these three incidents as possibly "the first signs that previously sporadic battles are set to take a much more violent."
Nov. 17, 2004 update: "Militants threaten to hang PA men suspected of corruption" reads the Ha'aretz headline, reporting on an open letter from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to Palestinian Authority and Fatah figures suspected of venality – Mahmoud Abbas, Salim Al-Za'anun and Rouhi Fattouh. The Brigades sent an open letter that reads in part:
Comment: The Palestinian night of the long knives grows closer and no one, perhaps not even tens of thousands of occupying troops, can stop it.
Nov. 18, 2004 update: Ahmed Qorei, the Palestinian Authority's pretend prime minister, declared today that "Armed chaos must cease, armed demonstrations must cease. Everybody must respect law and order. The current chaos is in no one's interest, except for those who benefit from it personally." He added that Fatah party is examining ways "to put an end to armed chaos, maintain order and impose the rule of law." (For the French original translation of these remarks, click here.)
Nov. 22, 2004 update: My friend and fellow historian Robert Satloff, with whom I normally agree, disagrees with me on the matter of Palestinian chaos, as he writes in the Weekly Standard. "If history is any guide, worst-case fears about a descent to anarchy in the immediate aftermath of Arafat's death are unwarranted." He reaches this conclusion by observing that although the Palestinian Authority is not legally a state, it has enough state-like attributes so that comparisons with states are valid. And Arab governments, he continues, have been undone by coups d'état and assassinations but rarely revolutions or civil wars because elites prefer to hang together than hang separately. "The counter-case does not exist," he concludes in a flourish: "there is no example of an Arab state disintegrating when the leader, even the paramount leader, leaves the scene."
To which I respond that there is always a first time, that anarchy in the Palestinian territories predates Arafat's demise (as I have been documenting), and that anarchy is an increasing pattern in the region, with large parts of Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan falling under its sway, meaning that the Palestinian case is not entirely an aberration.
In any case, we shall soon enough see whether or not the PA areas are governable.
Jan. 23, 2005 update: The Los Angeles Times has a major article today by Laura King, "Palestinian Police Face the Enemy Within," that documents the continued anarchy within the Palestinian security forces. As King puts it,
I fail to see how Abbas, who lacks anything like Arafat's authority, will tame this monster.
April 1, 2005 update: A group of fifteen Palestinians belonging to Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades went on a shooting rampage in Ramallah. Most dramatically, the terrorists fired on Mahmoud Abbas' West Bank headquarters, the Mukata, even as he was inside it. As the Jerusalem Post describes the episode:
In addition, the terrorists damaged five restaurants and cafes.
[Aug. 22, 2005 update: I received a letter today from Adel Boulos, chairman of Albardauni's Restaurants Company, who states that "The Bardouni Restaurant mentioned in this article was NOT attacked" by dozens of Fatah gunmen. He goes on to state that "Our restaurant respects the will of the Palestinian Street and was not involved in any attack since the beginning of the intifada."]
The owner of one restaurant used another analogy: "We are living in a jungle. These men think they are above the law and everyone is afraid of them."
A Palestinian security official, commented on condition of anonymity, saying the group "crossed a red line. They attacked the presidential headquarters. They are defying the Palestinian Authority and now we have to take harsh steps against them, otherwise they will control the city and spread chaos." As for Israel's minister of defense, Shaul Mofaz, he noted how "This act shows that Abbas must act swiftly against the terror groups."
June 23, 2005 update: "I'm weak," Mahmoud Abbas said to Ariel Sharon at one point during their summit on June 21. "Help me." To which Sharon replied, "Don't say that. People might believe it."
July 3, 2005 update: Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, wrote the political obituary for Mahmoud Abbas today in "Heading for a failed state." Excerpts include:
July 15, 2005 update: For the first time since 1998, open combat and a public exchange of accusations has taken place today between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, reports Michael Widlanski. The PA responded by declaring a state of emergency and his broadcast media blamed Hamas for starting a period of fitna ("civil strife"). Voice of Palestine radio announced 25 PA staff had been wounded and PA television added that two police cars had been burned.
July 17, 2005 update: Khaled Abu Toameh writes in the Jerusalem Post about the worsening anarchy in Gaza:
July 20, 2005 update (1): "Palestinian police and Hamas militants clashed in gunbattles in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday, leaving at least 13 wounded in the worst internal fighting since before the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising five years ago," writes Joshua Mitnick in the Washington Times. "The fighting marks the first time that Mr. Abbas has used force against the Islamic militants to enforce a calm with Israel after months of trying to negotiate with Hamas."
July 20, 2005 update (2): If you can't control the bad news, at least control its distribution. "Fatah bans press on PA-Hamas clashes" reads the Jerusalem Post headline. Khaled Abu Toameh reports that the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate instructed local reporters and photographers to refrain from covering the clashes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Pictures that some journalists take "do not benefit the struggle of the Palestinian people for liberation and independence." Anyone who violates these strictures will bear the consequences.
July 25, 2005 update: Anat Kurz of Tel Aviv University writes (in an unposted Tel Aviv Note) that "The recent outburst of [intra-Palestinian] violence was not simply another stage in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. … There is nothing new about the initiation and suspension of violence by Palestinian actors to enhance their organizational standing. But in the past few weeks, intra-Palestinian politics have become the primary engine of violence and left the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as little more than a pretext."
July 27, 2005 update: Strategic Assessments Initiative, a Washington think tank, has published a study, Planning Considerations for International Involvement in the Palestinian Security Sector, that "paints a picture of complete disarray among the soldiers and police working for the Palestinian Authority," as summarized by Tim Butcher of the Daily Telegraph. "Only one in four possesses a weapon, there is a critical shortage of ammunition, and senior positions are handed out along clan lines rather than on merit. This is in contrast to groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are well armed and organised." SAI finds no improvement since the bad old days of Yasir Arafat. "The report predicts potential anarchy when Israeli settlements in Gaza are withdrawn next month, with the land grabbed by the first armed Palestinian group to reach any vacated property."
Sep. 12, 2005 update: To surely no one's surprise, Palestinian anarchy has increased with the complete withdrawal of the Israeli presence in Gaza. In an article titled simply "Anarchy in Gaza Strip," Yedi`ot Aharonot reports today on "an orgy of looting and vandalism," explaining that
Oct. 6, 2005 update: "Palestinian Vigilante Killings on the Rise" reads the Associated Press news item by Mohammed Daraghmeh:
"The security situation is deteriorating in a very dangerous way, with no one putting a stop to it," said Hassan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian legislative council. "Chaos is the most dangerous threat Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are facing now," said an analyst, Hani al-Masri. "If the Palestinian Authority doesn't take hard steps to protect us from chaos, it will collapse."
Oct. 9, 2005 update: In an article from Rafah on Jamal Abu Samhadana, dubbed one of "Gaza's New Strongmen," Time magazine's Matt Rees writes that he
Oct. 13, 2005 update: Khaled Abu Toameh reports on the latest developments, concerning Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, which
Oct. 21, 2005 update: The anarchy develops in new directions, reports the Associated Press, with gunmen
Nov. 6, 2005 update: "Since the assassination of senior Islamic Jihad member Loai Saadi in Tul Qarem last month," reports the Israeli daily Yedi`ot Aharonot, "40 rockets were launched in Israel's direction, only 7 of which exploded in Israeli territory. The rest exploded in Palestinian areas, at time causing damages and injuries." More broadly, the IDF estimates that four out of five Qassam rockets intended for Israel actually land in Gaza.
Nov. 10, 2005 update: "The Palestinian Authority security forces are on the verge of collapse because of rampant corruption and growing anarchy, according to a letter sent by a large group of PA security officers to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas." For details, see the full article by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post.
Nov. 19, 2005 update: Here's a dimension I had not until now considered – clan-based anarchy – as reported by Ha'aretz:
Nov. 27, 2005 update: Khaled Abu Toameh reports in the Jerusalem Post that "A group of gunmen on Sunday went on a rampage inside the offices of the online newspaper Donia al-Watan in Gaza City, destroying furniture and equipment and threatening to kill the editor-in-chief, Abdallah Issa." The newspaper has focused on corruption and lawlessness in the Palestinian Authority and newspaper sources said the attackers were members of a Palestinian faction sent following a recent critical report.
Dec. 13, 2005 update: About 100 al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades gunmen stormed election offices in Gaza, smashing desks and computers, and provoked a shoot-out with the police and forcing the closure of all election offices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One Abu Eyad, said to be a spokesman for the gunmen, called the assault "a peaceful step to protest the policy of [candidate] appointments within Fatah" said warned it was just a first step.
In a separate incident, members of a Gaza clan attacked the main Palestinian security complex in Gaza to kill an inmate they blame for the death of one of their relatives. The security forces returned fire and prevented the break-in.
Dec. 28, 2005 update: Mixing an election campaign with anarchy leads to strange results, specifically masked gunmen taking over election offices and demanding spots on the ticket for their armed group in the Fatah party's list of candidates in the January polling.
Dec. 29, 2005 update: Writing from Cairo, Eli Lake concludes in the New York Sun that recent developments in Gaza suggest that Mahmoud Abbas "was barely in control and that he could not deliver on promises to curb terror." This does not come as a total surprise to me. I wrote in "Arafat's Last Threat to Israel?" just before Arafat's death in November 2004, that
Dec. 30, 2005 update: Anarchy in Gaza has prompted all but a few dozen foreigners to flee the area, and 25 of the remaining ones work for the United Nations, which provides heavy security – living under a curfew, their apartments patrolled, and moving about escorted in convoys.
Dec. 31, 2005 update: On Dec. 29, a Palestinian family attacked a Gaza police station in an attempt to free a relative detained on drug charges, sparking a shootout outside the station between itself and a rival family that led to the deaths of a police officer and a civilian. Angry over the killing, some hundred 100 Palestinian policemen early yesterday stormed the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Egypt, firing in the air and taking up positions, thereby forcing its closure for much of the day. "The unarmed European Union observers — responsible for enforcing the terms of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement that opened the border last month — fled to a nearby Israeli military base." The police only left the crossing in the evening. Several hours later, the Europeans reopened it. Oh, and "Members of the incarcerated man's family stormed the police station again yesterday, sparking another deadly shootout. A 14-year-old boy passing through the area was mistakenly shot in the head and died instantly."
Jan. 2, 2006 update: For fifty years, the United Nations has operated the UNRWA Beach Club in Gaza City for its personnel. In recent times, it has had the distinction of being the only place in Gaza one could order an alcoholic drink. At 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, masked gunmen stormed the club during a New Year's revelry, pushed the guests out, tied up and struck the security guard with gun butts, placed two explosives by the bar, unrolled a detonator cable, and blew up the charges. The result was destroyed furnishings, a roof partially brought down, broken windows, and damage to the neighboring Palestinian Civil Defense building. It bears noting that the United Nations, with its many agencies, is the second-largest employer in Gaza.
Jan. 4, 2006 update: As they say, you couldn't make this up. Three items from Gaza:
(1) Melbourne's Age reports that "dozens of police stormed government offices in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah to protest at the failure of the Palestinian Authority to fight growing lawlessness. The police raided government offices, courthouses and the municipality building in Rafah. They smashed windows at the Interior Ministry building and forced the staff to leave."
(2) The Times (London) reports that Palestinian police arrested a suspect in connection with last week's kidnapping in Gaza of three Britons, Kate Burton and her parents. "The suspect, named as Alaa al-Hams, a faction leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah party, was bundled into an unmarked car by unidentified men in the Rafah refugee camp south of Gaza City last night. … About 20 gunmen later stormed a Palestinian Interior ministry building in Rafah, demanding the release of their comrade. All were armed with assault rifles, and some brandished rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Palestinian sources said that officials were in contact with the gunmen by telephone and were trying to persuade them to leave."
The gunmen then stole two bulldozers, Ha'aretz continues, and rammed through a massive wall near the border "as a show of force against the Palestinian Authority. After seizing a bulldozer to cheers from onlookers, gunmen smashed through concrete blocks lining the border near the Palestinian refugee camp of Yibna, witnesses said. The gunmen fired into the air in celebration." Then things really got out of hand, as the Associated Press recounts:
(3) The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights tells about a family feud started by school children that escalated to hand grenades and led to two dead, several injured.
The Christian Science Monitor sums up the situation in Gaza thus:
Jan. 5, 2006 update: Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Harry de Quetteville deems that the border incident described immediately above "marked the total collapse of law and order in Gaza." As though intending to confirm this assessment, the Palestinian Authority released Alaa al-Hams, the member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades whose imprisonment prompted the riots and border wall breach. was released as a result of the agreement reached between Fatah and the [Palestinian] Authority yesterday. This will calm all types of protests from our side," al-Hams told The Associated Press by telephone.
Jan. 8, 2006 update: Steven Erlanger of the New York Times reads the situation this way: "There is spreading chaos, a sense of deterioration and growing concern among both Palestinians and Israelis that the Palestinian Authority, nearly bankrupt and facing a huge budget deficit, may look like a failed state even before it becomes one."
Jan. 26, 2006 update: I am closing this entry here, for with the electoral triumph of Hamas I expect a new order in the Palestinian Authority, a far less anarchic one, where the "one gun" that Arafat boasted of really does take charge. And if I am wrong, well there is always the prospect of a new blog, "Palestinian Anarchy Continues under Hamas."
Aug. 24, 2006 update: Well, I called that one wrong, so go to "Palestinian Anarchy Continues under Hamas" for the continuation of this saga.
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