News / Middle East

Palestinian Security Forces Reflect Promise of Future State

Palestinian security forces have succeeded in creating better security in the West Bank
Palestinian security forces have succeeded in creating better security in the West Bank

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For the last few years, the United States and other Western nations have been training thousands of Palestinian police as part of efforts to build institutions for a new Palestinian state.  For the most part, the forces have succeeded in creating better security in the West Bank. Businesses are booming, and polls show most West Bank residents feel safer. However, many Israelis see the security forces as a de-facto army under Palestinian command that could one day turn against the Jewish State.

It's early morning at the Palestinian Authority Security Forces camp in Ramallah.  

These West Bank recruits are trained with U.S. help.  They are proud, and they are disciplined.

"I decided to be part of the national security forces, first of all, to serve my homeland, and to implement the political decisions of our leaders," Sergeant Ali Salim Shaalan said. Shaalan is among hundreds of former Palestinian militants who are now part of the security forces.  His approach has changed, but his goal has not. "I want to participate in the building of our Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," he said.

The existence of a well-trained, disciplined force appears to be paying off.  Most West Bank residents say they feel safe on their streets.  The West Bank's economy is booming.

But analysts say that confidence could collapse as the stalled peace process raises frustration among Palestinians who don't see statehood coming fast enough.

Ramallah pollster Khalil Shikaki says the latest surveys indicate Palestinians are divided on the security forces. "About half of the Palestinians believe that the improved performance of the security services is essentially an attempt to disarm the resistance. The other half believes that this is part of state building. As long as diplomacy is not looking promising, Palestinians will continue to have doubts," he said.
Recent polls show growing support among Palestinians for a return to violence.  

This worries those who remember Palestinian security forces turning their guns on Israelis during the last Palestinian uprising.

Israeli Brigadier General Shalom Hariri is a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism. He advises the Israeli administration on West Bank matters and says the potential exists for renewed violence against Israelis by Palestinian security forces.

"If you ask me, today, they are doing something like 80 percent of the effort and this is very good compared to 10 percent in the days of Arafat. But still , it is very vulnerable and at the same time it's also very, very reversible," Hariri said. "For those of us who are used to the way things go in the West Bank, the situation can roll upside down within a week."

Recent cases of attacks on Israelis by off-duty Palestinian police have fueled those fears. Palestinian commanders say the cases are isolated and the perpetrators have been punished.

Sergeant Shaalan says he is - for now - placing his faith in the Palestinian leaders and their promises to end the Israeli occupation.  "There will be justice, a solution for our situation that will be found by the leaders.  At the end of the day, they will make the decisions, and we will obey their orders," he said.

Shaalan says he hopes this is the dawn of a new era of peace, and not another day of conflict.

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