Backgrounder: Palestinian Security Services Explained
With the security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in doubt, the focus now is on the Palestinian security forces
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to cancel all agreements with Israel and the US and to cut all security coordination, as well. This puts the focus on the different types of Palestinian security units and their duties.
As part of the Oslo Accords, the newly formed Palestinian Authority was permitted to recruit and establish security forces to police the territories under its control. The PA was not allowed to have an army and the newly formed security forces were limited in size, the kinds of weapons they possess, and the scope of their authority.
The PA lost control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 to Hamas, the Islamist group and main rival to Abbas’ party, Fatah. The bloody clashes between the two sides saw security forces loyal to Abbas expelled from the Palestinian coastal enclave.
The Oslo II Accord divided the West Bank and Gaza into areas A, B and C. In Area A, the Palestinian Authority was to have full jurisdiction over both civil and security matters. In Area B, civil authority was vested in the PA while security control was to be shared and coordinated between it and Israel. In Area C, Israel retained both administrative and security control, though de facto, Palestinian security forces have operated in Area C, as well, in coordination with the Israeli military.
The control of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) these days is limited to Area A in the West Bank. Last Friday, PA security forces withdrew from several towns near Jerusalem that are classified as areas B and C.
The decision came as President Abbas declared that security coordination between Israel and the PA was suspended because of plans by the Israeli government to annex parts of the West Bank.
The vast majority of Palestinian people and factions view this security coordination negatively. The PASF works closely with the Israeli army and security services in gathering intelligence and locating wanted Palestinians sought by the Israelis. Also, Israel provides the PA with information on activity of its rival, Hamas, in the West Bank.
Palestinians tend to view this communication and coordination as serving Israeli needs, and see these activities by the PASF as no more than an extension of Israel’s military and security services.
The PASF consists of several units, all under the command of President Abbas.
On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh confirmed that the security coordination with Israel had ended but he stressed that the PA was committed to maintaining law and order in West Bank areas under its control and promised that the PASF would work on preventing chaos.
The many units of the PASF have gone through several changes, particularly after President Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004, when the current president took the reins of power, and after the humiliating defeat in 2007 in the Gaza Strip at the hands of Hamas.
Communication and coordination between the Israeli side and the Palestinian side were disrupted during the Second Intifada but restored under Abbas.
The United States and Jordan played crucial roles in the rebuilding, retraining, financing, and arming of the PASF under the auspices of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton.
Dayton’s main goal was to re-establish lost trust between the Israelis and Palestinians during the violent days of the Second Intifada and create a new and professional PASF capable of defending itself, in an attempt to prevent a repeat of what happened in Gaza.
According to PA data, the manpower of the PASF hovers at around 60,000, divided into several branches. Each branch has a head who swore absolute loyalty to President Abbas. No one knows the exact size of the PASF budget, but US President Donald Trump has cut millions of dollars in aid to the PA, including $60 million in financial support to the PA security apparatus.
The CIA is also believed to provide funding to Palestinian intelligence officials, which is expected to continue.
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General Intelligence Service (GIS). The GIS is one of the most powerful branches of the PASF, well-financed, highly trained and professionally equipped.
It is considered the Palestinian equivalent of the Mossad.
The GIS is known to work closely with the CIA and the intelligence services of Israel and various Arab states. The highly secretive GIS’s main responsibility is to protect the political regime of the Palestinian Authority by gathering information on any individuals or groups planning attacks on the PA in the West Bank.
The GIS’s duties include counterintelligence and security operations. GIS operations are legally confined to Area A per the Oslo Agreement but its cadres are known to work in areas B and C in coordination with the Israeli military.
GIS officers do not wear uniforms but dress in plain civilian clothing and operate from unmarked buildings using unmarked cars.
Maj. Gen. Majid Faraj, 58, has been in charge of the agency since 2009 and is considered the most powerful man in Palestinian security circles. Faraj has Abbas’ ear and is one of the top candidates to succeed him. He is close to the US despite the fact that Abbas cut off communication with Washington following President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017. Faraj has close ties to the CIA and frequently visits Washington for secret meetings with US officials at the White House.
Preventive Security Service (PSS). The PSS is the Palestinian Authority’s internal secret service, equivalent to the Shin Bet in Israel. PSS duties include maintaining internal security and uncovering “hostile” security and political operations before they take place. Its responsibilities significantly overlap with those of the GIS. Its officers are powerful and completely loyal to Abbas. The PSS was formed by Fatah operatives and its aim is to thwart activities by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two of Fatah’s main rivals. These Islamist groups pose the most serious threat to the stability of Abbas’ rule. International and domestic human rights groups have condemned the agency’s interrogation methods as constituting torture.
The PSS is headed by Gen. Ziyad Hab al-Rih, a veteran within the PASF who has led the organization in the West Bank since 2003.
Palestinian National Security Forces (PSF). The PSF is the largest branch of the PASF and acts like a Palestinian army. It has a military academy (Al Istiqlal University) in Jericho where European trainers supervise the training. US military trainers supervise and provide training for the PSF in Jordan.
PSF personnel provide an on-the-ground backup and support to other PASF branches throughout the Palestinian territories. Many members are deployed in West Bank refugee camps where they conduct many of their operations, including weapons confiscation.
The PSF’s chief is Maj. Gen. Nidal Abu Dukhan, 52. The Algerian-born Abu Dukhan previously commanded special operations for the Presidential Guard.
Presidential Guard (PG). This elite, prestigious unit was originally known as Force 17, a Fatah commando and special operations unit that existed until the signing of the Oslo Accords. Highly trained and equipped, the unit is based in the Mukataa (the PA’s headquarters) in Ramallah, a few yards from President Abbas’ office. It is responsible for the protection of the Palestinian president, prime minister, cabinet ministers and high-ranking officials in sensitive positions. The PG is also tasked with protecting and escorting foreign delegations while visiting the PA.
The PG headed by Maj. Gen. Munir Al-Zuabi.
Palestinian Civil Police (PCP). The PCP is comparable to a regular police force. Its duties include maintaining public order and fighting crime. Its officers carry light weapons – mainly pistols. The PCP is highly trained in dealing with large demonstrations and includes forensic science and canine units.
The PCP is commanded by Maj. Gen. Hazem Atallah.