West Bank: Where Security Gets Really Tricky

January 09, 1994|By ORI NIR

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.

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.

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.

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.

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