The Palestinian Authority (PA) towers rise above a barren four meter high concrete wall. Slim and tall, reminiscent of Arabic castles of the Crusader era in these lands, they guard the perimeter. It’s neither a prison nor a military establishment. It is the Ministry of Health in the city of Jenin, on the main road between Jenin Refugee camp and the city centre. A strategic outpost outside one of the hotbeds of armed resistance in the West Bank. This pattern is reflected in other cities, nowhere near as obvious as in the city of Nablus. An extensive PA compound is also located strategically between the city centre and the notorious refugee camp of Balata, flanked by high cliffs on one side and defensive walls and towers on the other
These fortified compounds of the Palestinian Authority seek authority, but seem to lack it in most instances. Raids on Balata and other refugee camps meet the same resistance as the incursions by the IDF- rocks, Molotovs, tyre fires and shots. The PA presence in places, such as the refugee camps and the web that is the old town of Nablus, is virtually non-existent.
The defensive capability of the PA is questionable. Furthermore, the direction in which the defence is facing calls for further scrutinising. The current compounds under construction have no chance of withstanding an attack by a mechanised Israeli force, neither land-borne nor air-borne. It will, however, provide solid defensive capabilities against armed rebels, whose power lacks in heavy weapons. With unconfirmed reports of large amounts of funds flowing into Balata refugee camp from abroad, this seems like the opening of an entirely different game in Palestine. “There are more weapons in Balata now than there were during the second Intifada”, concludes a source from the camp.
The third of the PA budget spent on security is perhaps justifiable. With it, so is the resentment of the population. The PA remains highly unpopular amongst the majority of population, largely due to its corruption, but also due to its inability to stand a firm ground and work for the people. “Recent polls have shown that the PA’s popularity has dropped to an all-time low.” [EI, 2012] The situation is no better in late 2013. Tension between Hamas and Fatah remain high, with other friction parties creeping towards the centre stage.
The Palestinian Authority controls majority of the West Bank with full administrate and security powers in Area A (its power house), whereas Area B falls under Israeli security control and Area C is under full Israeli control. This doesn’t stop, however, frequent incursions by the IDF deep into Area A, along with incidents of PA security personnel arrested in the West Bank and recent shooting of a PA police officer by the IDF in Qalqilya, “for his role in a Fatah-Tanzim terrorist cell, that carried out shooting attacks on the IDF” [JPOST].
Russia (along with Pakistan, Yemen and Algeria) is providing training to the Palestinian security forces. According to a PA Intelligence source from Ramallah, groups of 20 or more PA security personnel are being trained at any given time in Moscow and a city in the east of the country for free. He himself has been to Russia twice in the past two years. “The PA is most strong in Ramallah, they have authority. It’s more difficult elsewhere, definitely in Nablus.” When asked about Chechnya, the reply is more complicated. “Chechens are Muslims, so they will always be our brothers. They are under occupation, so are we. Same same. We would always fight on their side”.
The element of fear is evident on every side. The fear is seen on the 18 year old draftees guarding the checkpoints within the West Bank, to the taxi drivers refusing to drive on open roads passing multiple settlements, to the settlers themselves: “We are on the defence here. There are no sides, there are no compromises”.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Fatah-led State of Palestine, aims to integrate the ex-fighters into the security services of today’s Palestine. However, “in a popular uprising, many will put down their uniforms and join”, concludes a longstanding activist. The strategic locations of Government compounds do not diffuse the situation. Instead, it shores up the defences in anticipation of what is likely to come. The view is echoed by a local professor (name omitted): “the next intifada will be against the PA, the settlers, or both”.