Advertisement
News

West Bank: Where Security Gets Really Tricky

It will take not only a great deal of good will, but a sweeping change in the ethos of Palestinian society, for security arrangements to succeed in the newly autonomous Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. (While external security -- control of border crossings -- is one of the sticking points in talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, there is a draft agreement on internal security -- policing of autonomous areas.)

It will take no less than a miracle, however, for such internal security arrangements to be implemented effectively in other parts of the West Bank, when time comes to extend self-rule to all the occupied territories. Even if Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is able to provide the 4,500 Jewish settlers in Gaza with reasonable security -- and that's a big if -- in the West Bank, his mission will be all but impossible.

Advertisement

The security arrangements in Gaza sound simple, but the simplicity masks a host of problems. Under the terms of the accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization PLO), Israeli security forces will be responsible for protecting Israelis, both Jewish settlers in Gaza and residents of Israel. The newly formed Palestinian police force will be responsible for public order in Palestinian population centers.

But it is easy to imagine scenarios where that neat division of responsibility will break down, with disastrous consequences.

Advertisement

Picture this: Four Palestinian activists of the militant Hamas faction, opposed to the Israel-PLO accord, armed with machine guns and hand grenades, cross from Gaza's Palestinian refugee camps of Rafah or Khan-Younis to one of the dozen or so Jewish settlements in the Gush-Katif cluster in Gaza. Under cover of darkness, they ambush Israeli cars and kill a whole settler family. They disappear into the night, escaping to a refugee camp less than a mile away.

According to the security agreements between Israel and the PLO, Israeli security forces will not have the right to pursue the attackers once they leave the narrow Israeli-controlled enclave surrounding the settlement cluster.

The Palestinian police force will be responsible for chasing them as they cross into the Palestinian-controlled zone.

For such arrangements to work, there must be a sea change in the approach of both Israelis and Palestinians toward the question of security. Neither public yet realizes what's involved.

Israelis will have to come to terms with the notion that their security forces do not have the ability to prevent and abort anti-Israeli terrorist attacks before such attacks are actually carried out. They will be able only to defend against them once they are carried out.

Furthermore, Israeli security forces will not have the right of hot pursuit after Palestinian attackers into Palestinian-controlled areas.

Such a defensive security behavior is foreign to Israelis, particularly in the occupied territories, who are used to the aggressive role their secret service (Shin-Bet) and military played in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinians, though, will have an even harder adjustment. They will have to internalize a whole new set of social values which correlates to the new reality on the ground.

Advertisement

Instead of confronting the Israeli authorities, they will have to adjust to cooperate with them, even on security issues. During the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, conflict and revolt became enshrined values in Palestinian society.

The agreement with Israel requires Palestinians to turn away from those values. Now the focus must be on cooperation. Palestinians will have to cooperate among themselves to build their civic society and with Israel to ensure tranquillity.

Most difficult for Palestinian society, particularly for young Palestinians (half the population in the occupied territories is under the age of 15), will be the need to abandon the old perception of heroism. A hero in the eyes of Palestinian youngsters has always been the activist who fights the enemy (Israel) in order to drive him out of the Palestinian homeland. The admiration for that hero -- whether it is the armed Fida'i in the 1950s and 1960s, the "children of the stone" who symbolize the glory of the intifada, or even the suicidal knifers of the last year or two -- is the backbone of the modern Palestinian ethos. Militant Hamas activists in Gaza have gained strength by capitalizing on that concept of a hero.

Military opponents of the accord, who have stepped up their attacks on Israeli settlers and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, are still very much admired, and it's difficult to imagine a situation where fighting the settlers -- their longtime nemesis -- will not be a claim to fame.

Why is that such a problem? Because the Palestinian police force will be expected, if not actually required by Israel, to quell Palestinian armed militants who attack, or even plan to attack Israelis. Prime Minister Rabin said last weekend that this expectation was the very basis to his willingness to deal with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat, using his armed police force, should be able "to prevent planning, using Gaza Strip, Gaza City as a springboard for terror groups to attack Israelis traveling on the roads allotted to them or Israeli settlements," said Mr. Rabin. "I based my readiness to the whole idea to look at PLO Chairman Arafat as a partner [on the assumption] that he can do it if he'll decide to do it."

A deep and swift process of social and cultural change has to occur in Gaza for Hamas to lose the popularity it enjoys now. It's difficult to envision that happening.

Advertisement

Without it, Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian police will face a terrible choice: to clamp down on Hamas activists, which jeopardizes their credibility domestically, or to tolerate a significant amount of violent anti-Israeli activity, risking a credibility crisis with the Israeli public.

Israelis will not tolerate the Arafat-controlled Gaza Strip's becoming a safe haven for terrorists. For most Israelis, the proof of the accord with the PLO will be in its ability to reduce the level of violence and provide them with a reasonable sense of personal and communal safety. Absent that sense, they are likely to cast a vote of no confidence in the accord, eventually bringing down the Rabin government and deferring the chance for a resumption in the peace process indefinitely.

But let's suppose that security arrangements in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho do succeed, producing a dramatic reduction in violent attacks against settlers and against Israelis inside Israel proper. Suppose Israel's security forces manage to practically seal off the settlements in Gaza and the border with Israel, thus preventing contact between Israelis and Palestinian militants. It may be possible in Gaza, which has a relatively small number of settlements (16), housing a relatively small number of Israelis, in the relatively tight cluster of Gush-Katif.

But it doesn't seem possible in the West Bank. Most of the 136 settlements there were intentionally scattered by the Likud governments alongside Palestinian towns and villages, rendering a Palestinian self-rule with meaningful sovereignty characteristics almost impossible.

Clustering the West Bank settlements into Israeli-controlled enclaves, as Israel plans to do in Gaza, is impossible in the West Bank. It will fragment the area, turning it into a dysfunctional, complex, checkered network of isolated communities, denying the Palestinians any territorial integrity.

Given the proliferation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, safety for the settlers and territorial integrity for the Palestinians are practically irreconcilable. Furthermore, it is practically impossible to seal off the West Bank from Israel in order to prevent infiltrations, the way the Gaza Strip is sealed today.

Advertisement

Israeli and Palestinian policy-makers have yet to explain to their constituencies how they propose to implement autonomy arrangements in the West Bank once time comes to extend Palestinian self-rule beyond Jericho. The main reason they haven't is that they themselves haven't yet figured it out. Considering the grim prospects for the success of such interim arrangements in the West Bank, it might be better to skip them, and negotiate a workable final-status accord for the occupied territories.

Ori Nir is Washington correspondent for Ha'aretz, an Israeli daily.


Advertisement