Heavily armed militias wrest control of West Bank Palestinian refugee camps from Palestinian Authority
The rising level of Palestinian terrorism in recent months must be attributed largely to the 19 West Bank refugee sites veering out of the control of the Palestinian Authority, its head Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and its security services, debkafile’s military and counter-terror sources report after a thorough investigation on the ground. The close to quarter of-a-million Palestinians living in those camps have fallen into the hands of local armed militias run by terrorist organizations, crime mobs and arms racketeers.
The situation today is such that the Palestinian security forces don’t dare set foot in those areas, especially the big refugee camps of Nablus (Balata), Tulkarm, Dehaisha – between the Jewish Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Hebron – Askar – east of Nablus, and Jenin. Another no-go area is the Shoafat camp in the municipal area of Jerusalem.
Palestinian security units are afraid of being greeted in the same way as the Israeli military forces, which have cut down on entry to those camps after coming under a hail of automatic fire, firebombs and grenades wielded by gangs of armed thugs. There were also attempts to seize soldiers as hostages.
At the Jenin Palestinian camp on Dec. 17, an Israeli unit arrived to pick up a terrorist suspect; and on Dec. 19, an elite paratroop unit drove into the Qalqilia camp. Both IDF forces withdrew under heavy fire and did not return to deal with the violent assailants.
Control of the big West Bank cities and their outlying refugee camps passed to Palestinian authority under previous accords with Israel. Since then, no one has stopped the Palestinian camps stocking big dumps of illegal weapons, including anti-tank and anti-air rockets, with the local militias vying amongst each other for the biggest and most advanced weaponry.
Our intelligence sources report that, from the third week of December, those arms began spilling over into the Palestinian villages around the camps and are now reaching the towns in trucks of farm produce delivered to city shops. In this way, the local militias are extending their sway from the camps to the West Bank towns under PA rule, such as Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and even its own seat, Ramallah, and the Palestinian neighborhoods of E. Jerusalem.
Abu Mazen has not so far lifted a finger to assert his authority for cutting down the armed militias’ rule over a large section of his populace. He recently tried to use the veteran Palestinian general Hadj Ismail, in his capacity as coordinator of relations between the PA and the Palestinian provincial governors, to persuade them to take action and put a stop to the mayhem.
This was not much good, because the governors are no longer taking orders from any PA official, especially Abu Mazen.
debkafile points to the strange paradox of the United States and Israel conducting negotiations with the head of a Palestinian ruling body, whose authority slides further day by day and whose signature on any accord would have little practical value.
The parties concerned pretend not to notice this situation for three reasons:
1. US Secretary of State John Kerry, though aware of the true state of affairs in Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank, realizes that acknowledging it would render irrelevant his painstaking attention to developing agreed security arrangements in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank itself.
After Kerry keft Israel after another bid to close the gaps between the Palestinians and Israel, a senior Israeli security source told debkafile Monday, Jan. 6 that before tackling the borders question, the Secretary needs to urgently address with the breakdown of security in Palestinian-controlled areas on more than 90 percent of the West Bank before it explodes.
2. The Netanyahu government and its security arms prefer to turn a blind eye to the chaos spreading out from the refugee camps and fast spilling over into the rest of the West Bank, lest they be exposed embarrassingly to be negotiating peace with a leader who can’t maintain order in his own house – least of all in an independent Palestinian state.
The unruly state of Palestinian security allows Israeli security authorities to rate the rising violence as random rather than the work of a terrorist organization. This may be true technically, but should not let them off the hook.
3. Abbas can’t afford to admit to his loss of control in the refugee camps because this would entail exposing his constantly eroding authority in the population he hopes to rule in a future Palestinian state – and not only on the security front. He has also lost the bulk of his support in the main Palestinian ruling bodies: the central committee of his Fatah party and the central council of the PLO.