It is so sacred that Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, apparently bragged about jailing the intellectual and resistance fighter Bassel al-Araj less than a year before his assassination.
Contrary to what Abbas may infer, he does not have a divine duty to enforce the occupation. Rather, he is following a game plan hatched by governments in the West a couple of decades ago.
During the first six months of 1998, Britain held the European Union’s rotating presidency. As part of that work, diplomats based in Brussels drew up a proposal for “security cooperation” between Israel and the PA.
The proposal was drafted ahead of a visit by Tony Blair, Britain’s then prime minister, to the Middle East in April that year. It recommended that an EU “security” specialist and the heads of “preventive security” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza would meet every two weeks or “at time of crisis.”
The purpose of these discussions would be to allow the EU to identify what “practical assistance” it would provide the Palestinian Authority. The assistance would contribute towards fulfilling the PA’s “security obligations to combat terrorism.”
Those “obligations” were elaborated on in the Wye River Memorandum, a document signed by Yasser Arafat – predecessor to Abbas as the PA’s leader – and Benjamin Netanyahu, then (as now) Israel’s prime minister, in October 1998.
Under the “memorandum,” the PA was required to take a “zero tolerance” approach towards “terror and violence.” That would involve arresting all those suspected of violence and banning “terrorist” groups.
The PA was also told to “issue a decree prohibiting all forms of incitement to violence and terror” – terms which when defined by Israel have been used to suppress a wide range of political activity against the occupation.
The Wye River Memorandum, in effect, made the PA’s forces subservient to Israel.
It required that Israel be given details of all the PA’s police officers – as if to emphasize that Israel was ultimately their master. The US was given responsibility for supervising such “cooperation” – though perhaps capitulation would be a better word.
Britain and the US have been willing to hold the keys for the jailers of Palestine.
That was literally the case during the second intifada. In 2002, Israel approved a deal under which six Palestinians were locked up by the PA in the West Bank city of Jericho.
Part of the deal was that Britain and the US would provide guards to oversee the detention. One of the detainees – Ahmad Saadat, a prominent figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – had not been charged with a recognizable offense.
Eleven years ago this week, Israel raided the Jericho jail where the six were being held.
The raid was enabled by Britain and the US. Israel was given advance notice that they had decided to withdraw the prison guards (supposedly for the guards’ safety).
All six of the men were seized by Israel and are still behind bars today.
Britain has subsequently been a key player in an EU operation to mentor the Palestinian police. Most of the men who have headed this operation to date previously served in the British police and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the north of Ireland.
They include its first chief, Jonathan McIvor. He was the most senior uniformed officer on duty in Plumstead, the area of London where the Black teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993.
An official inquiry into that crime found there was a culture of “institutional racism” in the London Metropolitan Police. The inquiry criticized McIvor for failing to meet his responsibilities on the night of the murder and for lacking sufficient knowledge about racist violence in the area.
Tools of repression
The criticism did not stop the British government from nominating McIvor for the EU job.
Britain proved its commitment to McIvor by paying most of the bills during the first year he managed the EU operation. McIvor quickly began assessing how to equip the PA’s police with tools of repression like batons, tear gas and rubber bullets.
The operation’s tacit objective was to make Israel happy. That goal has been attained.
Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesperson for the Israeli police, has credited the EU with boosting cooperation between Israel and the PA.
A related initiative was launched by the US in 2005. It involved appointing a US military general as a “security coordinator” to train the PA’s forces.
Britain and Canada have supplied personnel to that initiative, too.
Keith Dayton, the security coordinator from 2005 to 2010, promoted disunity among Palestinians. He facilitated the mass round-up of people suspected of Hamas connections in the West Bank during 2007.
Dayton was also a key figure behind a botched plan hatched by the administration of George W. Bush. The plan involved arming and training Palestinian proxies in Gaza to overthrow the Hamas-led administration, after the party won Palestinian Authority elections in 2006.
The US intervention provoked deadly battles between supporters of Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party in 2007 and led to the ongoing political division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Later, Dayton gloated about the success he enjoyed in convincing the PA to “allay Israeli fears.” Some Israeli troops stationed in the West Bank joined Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. They left their usual posts, Dayton has claimed, because “they could trust” the PA’s forces.
Those forces did not let the Israeli oppressor down. The PA suppressed protests held in the West Bank against the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
It is continuing to suppress protests.
Palestinians have taken to the streets of Ramallah in the past week, denouncing the PA’s complicity in Bassel al-Araj’s killing and the persecution of other activists. The demonstrators have been met by police officers wielding batons and firing tear gas.
Bassel’s father, Mahmoud al-Araj, was among those beaten.
It is disgraceful that a man who has just lost his son could be treated with such brutality. That is what happens when the Palestinian Authority strives to please the oppressor by copying its tactics.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 16 March 2017.