SSR-RC Blog Archive

US involvement leading to mixed results in Palestinian SSR By: Geoff Burt | SSR | May 17, 2010

A March 2010 report by the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI), entitled The State of Reform in the Arab World 2009-2010 outlines the US-funded SSR initiatives taking place in the Palestinian Territories.  According to a US Government Accountability Office report, the US State Department has allocated about US$392 million from 2007-2010 to train and equip the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces, renovate or construct infrastructure, and build the PA capacity. Of this, US$160 million was for training, mostly for the National Security Forces, US$89 million was to provide non-lethal equipment, US$99 million was for infrastructure, and only US$22 million was to build the capacity of the interior ministry.

The Arab Reform Initiative report outlines the mixed results from the US-funded reform initiative. It lauds US efforts in reforming the National Security Forces, who have seen “significant improvements” due to professional training, mostly in Jordan. The training has increased professionalism and reduced factionalism; with the result being that in the last year “the national security force was not involved in any arbitrary arrests, interrogations, or other bad practices” (Arab Reform Initiative, 2010: 66).

However, findings expose the dangerous “slide towards expediency” that is threatening these gains. US involvement has been less effective in promoting reform of the PA’s other security institutions: In particular, “intelligence and preventive security resorted to arbitrary detentions and mistreatment of detainees including torture with the full knowledge of and alleged encouragements from foreign intelligence agencies such as the CIA” (Arab Reform Initiative, 2010: 66).

All of this begs the question – what are the aims of the US-funded reform process? To establish a rights-respecting security sector, subject to democratic oversight? Or to pursue the perceived short-term security interest of the US and Israel?

The ARI report alleges that “outside players had a negative impact on the democratization of the security sector, because their priority was efficiency (mainly defined by Israel’s security needs) rather than security sector reform of the kind that is implemented in other countries as part of democracy promotion schemes” (Arab Reform Initiative, 2010: 66). Journalist Khalid Amayreh—a leading critic of the PA—called it “a police state without the state.” He added that “the authority needs to develop stronger courts and other institutions before giving security forces more power…They need to be more answerable to their own people.”

On this subject, the ARI report recommends that the PA “expand monitoring of the security agencies to ensure that they stop mistreating detainees and freedom for the political opposition to organize demonstrations and public meetings […and that] executive authorities in both parts of Palestine must stop political detention and arbitrary arrests” (Arab Reform Initiative, 2010: 85)

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