September 8, 2010 - 12:00am

Reforming Palestinian security forces in the West Bank would remain difficult as long as Israel occupies large parts of the area and internal Palestinian political split persists, a new report said.

"Security reform is one of the Palestinian National Authority's (PNA) most notable successes," says the report named "Squaring the Circle: Palestinian Security Reform under Occupation," released this week by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Without serious progress toward ending the occupation and intra- Palestinian divisions, support for the security measures risks diminishing," the report adds.

But recent attacks on Jewish settlers there, carried out by Hamas, the PNA's bitter rival which holds sway in Gaza, on the eve of resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on September 2, " illustrate the difficulties in sustaining such progress as long as the occupation and internal Palestinian divisions persist," the report said.

Many people in the West Bank are satisfied with the reforms that started since Western-backed Salam Fayyad took office as a Prime Minister in June 2007. Public order was restored and militants were disarmed. But at the same time, the forces, which receive training by Americans and Europeans, increased security liaison with Israel.

By re-establishing order while cooperating with Israel, " Palestinian security forces have come in for greater popular scrutiny," the report says.

The residents of the West Bank represent different political colors, and among them is a good number of supporters and members of Hamas, which is based far away in the Gaza Strip since it routed pro-Abbas forces in 2007.

Since Hamas killed four Israelis and wounded another two in separate shootings on August 31 and the following night, the Palestinian forces launched the largest crackdown against Hamas in the West Bank in years, rounding up hundreds of them.

The unprecedented campaign against Hamas questions the security forces' commitment to political pluralism, the report concludes.

"The PNA has successfully re-established public order, but it is a public order of a particular kind," says Robert Blecher, Crisis Group senior analyst. "Palestinian civil society is unaccustomed to, and resents, the controls to which it is subject. Moreover, Hamas has been frozen out of many aspects of public life and debilitated politically."

For Fayyad, ensuring personal security and a monopoly over the use of force would enable Palestinians to regain the international community's and Israel's confidence and neutralize a key Israeli argument against future Palestinian statehood, says the report.

Under current circumstances in the West Bank, the Palestinian forces can not protect their people from attacks by Jewish settlers and can not stop Israeli army frequent raids there. To deal with this, the study suggests "some short-term remedies" that include giving more wide rooms for the security forces to work in while Israel has to "sharply" reduce its incursions. Hamas should be also allowed to function as a political party and refrain from closing down civil organizations.


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