Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Fatah Movement Central Committee members in Ramallah, West Bank on January 24, 2017. (Photo by Palestinian Presidency - Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Palestinian President Abbas Begins Recruiting Gaza Security Forces

Analysts see the move as an attempt to reassert his presence on the ground

Following the recent unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has initiated a recruitment process in Gaza to resurrect his security forces in the Strip.

Fatah Central Committee member Hussein Sheikh revealed that Abbas’ aim is to restructure the security establishment amid calls for Hamas’ disarmament. “We want a security institution committed to the basic laws of the State of Palestine whose doctrine is to protect the national project and the political agenda of the legitimate Palestinian representative,” he stated.

According to sources, the PA plans to enlist some 5,000 Gazans between the ages of 18 and 22, who are medically fit and have unblemished records in their previous jobs.

When reached by The Media Line, both Palestinian Authority Vice President Mahmoud Al-Aloul and Fatah Central Committee member Tawfik Tirawi—the latter being the head of the PA’s military college in Jericho—refused to comment on the matter.

For his part, Abdul Haj Ibrahim, the head of the Department of Political Science at Birzeit University in the West Bank, explained that the new recruits will take the place of some six thousand officers who will be forced into retirement in an effort to both inject fresh blood into Gaza’s new security body as well as to ensure loyalty to Abbas.

“It is a strategy to absorb youth into the security forces, in hopes of changing the stereotype in Gaza as well as to create hope and minimize the tensions,” he told The Media Line.

Gaza remains full of armed groups affiliated with Hamas and other Palestinian factions, including the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad, and their disarmament was not specifically addressed in the unity talks in Cairo. Instead, both Fatah and Hamas agreed simply to engage in dialogue and make joint decisions on pursuing peace or war.

Accordingly, Motaz, a police officer in Gaza who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity, believes the unity accord is nothing but propaganda. “No one informed me about any decisions and given that the sides have not discussed the security file until now, how is it that [Abbas] has started to recruit in the Strip?”

In this respect, Hamas has maintained throughout negotiations with Abbas that it will not lay down its weapons, raising the specter of a situation not unlike in Lebanon, where Hizbullah maintains de facto control over the government by virtue of being the dominant military force in the country. Hamas is believed to have restored its arsenal to pre-2014 levels—when the group was decimated during a seven week war with Israel—with some 12,000 missiles and 25,000 fighters at its disposal. It  also has reportedly continued to build its subterranean network of attack tunnels which have been used to infiltrate Israeli territory.

As such, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made clear that Jerusalem will not engage with any Palestinian entity that includes Hamas unless the group disarms, accepts previous deals signed with Israel and recognizes the Jewish state’s right to exist.

On the other hand, some Israeli political and defense analysts are more optimistic, including Amir Oren who contended to The Media Line that Abbas’ move could eventually be construed as positive “if the security forces in Gaza are similar to the forces in the West Bank.” Oren likewise believes that recruiting youth into the any future security establishment could help to alleviate the humanitarian situation in the Strip and thus enhance Abbas’ standing there.

“Hamas has to accept it and they will as they are in a very weak position,” he elaborated. “Therefore, it will effect positive change in both the economic and security sectors.”

Oren concluded, however, by warning against mixing the old with the new, as “we don’t want the fresh forces to be security officers during the day and Hamas fighters at night.”

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