Today, there are over 83,000 security personnel in the West Bank and Gaza combined, forming one of the highest ratios of security personnel to civilians in the world. They account for approximately one third of the budget of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In both the West Bank and Gaza, the security forces have become authoritarian tools used by Palestinian leaderships to control and limit political participation and silence freedom of expression. Several laws, including the PA’s Basic Law, and executive decrees are in place to regulate the security forces, yet in practice these act largely without accountability. PA security forces continue to perpetrate human rights violations including arbitrary detention, torture, and use of excessive force. In the West Bank, many Palestinians therefore perceive the PA security forces as agents of the Israeli occupation
The 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement, signed in Cairo, specified the creation of a Palestinian police force which formed the basis of today’s Palestinian security forces. There were three major phases in the development of these forces.
The first phase saw a proliferation of forces beyond what was stipulated in the agreement, such as the Preventive Security force (PS), and the morphing of PLO security bodies into PA institutions, such as the General Intelligence Service (GIS) and Preventive Security. Members of these forces were largely drawn from members and supporters of Fatah.
The second phase began with the Second Intifada and the destruction of the Palestinian security infrastructure by Israel. After Hamas’s election win in 2006 and the internal fighting that ensued the following year, the Fatah-dominated PA forces were driven out of Gaza and replaced with newly established Hamas forces. Two separate security regimes were thus created – an issue which remains one of the most challenging in Palestinian national reconciliation efforts.
The third phase came following the Second Intifada and the resumption of peace negotiations with Israel. In this ongoing phase the PA’s Western-backed security forces in the West Bank coordinate closely with Israel.
In 2005, the European Union established the Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPS) and the United States set up the office of the US Security Coordinator (USSC). Both bodies became the two main mechanisms for international support towards the Palestinian security sector. But despite the extensive foreign-funded Palestinian securitisation programme, Palestinians remain widely exposed to violence by Israeli forces and settlers.
In Gaza, Hamas’s rapidly upgraded security forces also faced massive destruction through three consecutive Israeli military operations, in which security personnel and infrastructure were targeted.