Is the Palestinian Authority Losing Control in the West Bank?
In recent weeks, the Palestinian Authority security forces have been launching a massive crackdown on anarchy and lawlessness in various parts of the West Bank.
The crackdown was ordered by Abbas after he discovered what many Palestinians have known for a long time: that his security forces and Fatah loyalists are responsible for the chaos and anarchy.
Palestinians say this is the biggest operation to be carried out by the Western-funded security forces since Mahmoud Abbas was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005,
Dozens of Palestinian security officers, some of them holding very high ranks, have thus far been rounded up and transferred to a Palestinian prison in Jericho.
The officers, who were trained and armed by US and EU security experts over the past years, are suspected of involvement in various types of crime, including extortion, armed robbery, kidnappings, physical assaults and fraud. Some of them, according to Palestinian sources in the West Bank, are also suspected of involvement in trafficking weapons and drugs, The clampdown was ordered by Abbas following a series of incidents in Jenin, which reached their peak when unidentified gunmen opened tried to assassinate the Palestinian governor of the city, Kadoura Musa, who was not hurt in the assassination bid, but died a few hours later of a massive heart attack.
Jenin residents said that the assassination attempt provided further evidence that the Palestinian Authority has lost control over their city. They said that for the past few years, Jenin has been under the control of local gangs whose members consisted mostly of former Fatah militiamen and security officers.
The ongoing security crackdown has also resulted in the arrest of scores of Fatah gunmen who were part of the faction's armed wing, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
These security officers and Fatah gunmen have been imposing a reign of terror and intimidation on Palestinians not only in Jenin, but in other parts of the West Bank, including Nablus, the largest Palestinian city, and its nearby Balatta refugee camp.
Palestinian security sources say that the crackdown has also resulted in the confiscation of dozens of rifles and pistols, as well as large amounts of ammunition, that were found in the possession of clans, armed gangs and unruly security officers.
But while many Palestinians have expressed satisfaction with the decision to restore law and order, others have, meanwhile, criticized Abbas for acting in a "hysterical" manner.
Abbas's critics complain that the weapons that his security forces have confiscated were being kept for use against Israel.
In Balatta refugee camp last week, dozens of Palestinians took to the streets, chanting slogans against Abbas and his security forces. The protest drew a harsh response from Abbas, who instructed his security personnel to expand the crackdown inside the camp.
In the short term, the Palestinian Authority may succeed in restoring law and order to areas under its control in the West Bank. But in the long term, the clampdown will increase bitterness and frustration among a large number of Fatah gunmen and security officers who feel betrayed by Abbas.
Abbas loyalists argue that their president if facing an "international conspiracy" aimed at undermining and isolating him because of his refusal to resume peace talks with Israel. According to these loyalists, Abbas's enemies have been arming and funding disillusioned Fatah gunmen and security officers in a bid to spread anarchy and lawlessness in the West Bank.
Sources close to Abbas have identified the primary enemies as Mohammed Rashid, a former aide to Yasser Arafat, and Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah security chief. Both Rashid and Dahlan are currently waging a smear campaign against Abbas and his two businessmen sons, Tarek and Yasser, accusing them of financial corruption and abuse of power.
The security crackdown in the West Bank has nothing to do with combating terrorism. The arrests and confiscation of weapons are part of an effort by the Palestinian Authority to fight crime and dissension within its own ranks.
The clampdown could last for weeks or months. Abbas is fighting to regain control over refugee camps and other Palestinian communities that have fallen into the hands of gangsters and thugs.
In the last week, Abbas has renewed his threat to go back to the UN to ask for recognition of a Palestinian state if Israel does not comply with his demand for a freeze of settlement construction and acceptance of the pre-1967 lines as the future borders of the state. But before he heads back to New York, Abbas will have to prove that he has not lost control over certain parts of the territories which are supposed to be under his jurisdiction.
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