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Security Sector Reform
in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

by Roland Friedrich
85 pages, November 2004
© PASSIA Publications
ISBN # : 9950-305-10-1

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Table of Contents:

List of Abbreviations


  1. Structure of Analysis
  2. Theory and Methodology

I. The Concept of Security Sector Reform (SSR)

II. Reforming the Palestinian Security Sector

  1. The Political Dimension
    a) External Political Setting

i. Regional Actors and SSR: Israel, Egypt, and Jordan

ii. Global Actors and SSR: US and EU

    b) Internal Political Setting

i. Power Structure of the Palestinian National Authority

ii. Political Legitimacy of the Palestinian National Authority

iii. Strategic Priorities of Key Security Actors

  2. The Institutional Dimension

a) Proliferation of Security Orders

b) Command and Control Structure

c) Size of Forces

d) Legislative Basis

e) Civil-Democratic Oversight Mechanisms

f) Culture of the Security Sector


3. The Economic Dimension

4. The Societal Dimension





The Syrians have fourteen, the Egyptians have twelve.
I have only six to protect me. [1]

Yasser Arafat, when asked why the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) needed so many security forces.




Since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000 and the simultane­ous end of the Oslo process,[2] numerous calls for a comprehensive reform of Palestinian institutions, especially the PNA, have been made from both inside and outside the Occupied Territories. These demands have become especially pressing over the last year as the PNA, indeed the whole Palestinian political system, has found itself facing its most acute crisis since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in 1994. On the domestic level, Palestinian senior officials and legislators, political leaders, and civic organizations, as well as citizens from all across the spectrum have urged the PNA to improve its performance and transform itself into an effective set of institutions capable of meeting the basic needs of the Palestinian people. At the same time, international demands for change have been no less evident: Palestin­ian reform has emerged as a key ingredient in Israeli and United States (US) Middle East diplomacy and is one of the core elements of the Quartet’s ‘Road Map to Israeli-Palestinian Peace.’ [3]


A key factor in this context is the reform of the Palestinian security sector, in particular its police forces and intelligence services and their political oversight and control mechanisms.[4] The performance of these agencies over the last ten years has been widely criticized, by the Palestinians due to their inability to guarantee law and order and to provide protection against Israeli attacks, and by the Israelis, for not fulfilling their task of preventing violence against their state.


However, the Occupied Territories constitute a unique backdrop for efforts of Security Sector Reform (SSR). Unlike in other political con­texts – such as Eastern Europe or Africa – the target for SSR in the Palestinian case is not a sovereign state, but a transitional regime with contested legitimacy and a disputed territorial basis.[5]


Against such a backdrop, this research paper will examine Palestinian SSR in the post-Oslo phase,[6] a scenario marked by renewed Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the virtual devastation of the PNA, and external pressure to overhaul the remaining Palestinian governing institutions. The underlying question is threefold: first, what are the actual contents and objectives of SSR in the Palestinian context? Sec­ondly, who are the political actors engaged in the reform debate and process, and what are their motivations? And thirdly, what are the political and operational problems associated with the efforts to re­shape the Palestinian security institutions? By undertaking such an inquiry, this paper will also shed some light on the more general ob­stacles that SSR faces in the context of state formation.


1. Structure of Analysis


A major constraint when trying to clarify the contents and objectives of SSR in the Occupied Territories arises from the fact that it is a subject layered with multiple notions. There are different interpretations of what SSR in the Palestinian context actually means, and these depend on the internal or external actors talking about SSR and their respec­tive political interests, objectives, and strategies. There exist two con­flicting notions of Palestinian SSR, which can be described as the ‘re­structurist’ and the ‘reformist’ agendas. Both agendas have their sup­porters in both the international and domestic arenas. The ‘restructur­ist’ agenda is advocated by Israel and the US, but to a certain extent is also advocated by some actors within the Palestinian political system. The ‘reformist’ agenda, meanwhile, is chiefly a demand of the Pales­tinian citizenry and civil society and is supported externally by the EU.


Both notions require further explanation. The ‘restructurist’ agenda proposes a reorganization of the Palestinian security forces with the ultimate aim of removing control from the hands of Yasser Arafat, president of the PNA. According to this perspective, SSR functions as a tool for changing the existing Palestinian power structure by weaken­ing Arafat’s hegemonic position, with the long-term objective of dis­mantling the Arafat order in its entirety. Yasser Arafat, however, is widely recognized as the democratically elected president of the PNA, even if his rule in practice has always shown authoritarian traits.[7] The ‘restructurist’ agenda stands therefore in contrast to the normative underpinning of SSR, which is the promotion and transfer of democ­ratic structures. In other words, it is not concerned with democratizing the Palestinian security sector but rather with changing the regime; it is thus contradictory to the very meaning of SSR.


In contrast, the objective underlying the ‘reformist’ agenda is the transformation of the PNA security institutions so that they can play an effective and democratically accountable role in providing security for the Palestinian people. Indeed, reforming the Palestinian security forces in accordance with SSR precepts has been a long-standing demand of the Palestinian citizenry and civil society that dates back to the Oslo years.[8] The ‘reformist’ agenda reflects the concern of the Palestinian public with the security agencies’ performance, especially in terms of their widespread patterns of corruption and lack of respect for human rights, their inability to uphold law and order, and their failure to protect the Palestinians against incursions of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).[9]

Against the background of this conceptual divide, the research paper is structured as follows: the first section will examine the theoretical concept of SSR and take a close look at the origins, contents, and problems of the SSR agenda; the second section will provide a detailed analysis of SSR in the emerging Palestinian state by scrutinizing the objectives of the actors involved and contrasting SSR precepts with the factual situation on the ground. This examination will be made with reference to the political, institutional, economic, and societal dimen­sion of SSR: the political dimension sets the overall context for SSR; the institutional dimension describes the characteristics of the security sector to which SSR aspires; and the economic and societal dimensions set forth the necessary support mechanisms for successful reform.[10] In accordance with the assumption that a genuine reform of the Pales­tinian security sector is primarily and originally an internal demand, special emphasis will therefore be placed on the domestic Palestinian setting and the respective actors engaged in the reform process.


2. Theory and Methodology


A systematic analysis of SSR in the Occupied Territories faces several theoretical and practical difficulties. The first concerns the relative novelty of the SSR agenda itself. SSR as a key concept has emerged in policy circles only very recently. While academic work on the topic is thus limited, at the same time there is a plethora of policy papers on the operational and technical aspects of SSR. In particular, there is a lack of a clear and systematic analysis of the SSR agenda grounded in political science theory that must entail a critical assessment of its ideological underpinning.


A second analytical difficulty relates to the multiple-level character of SSR in the Palestinian context and the variety of agencies involved. Although originating from the Palestinian domestic arena, efforts to reshape the Palestinian security sector are deeply embedded in the wider context of the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict. This means that SSR has ramifications on both the regional[11] and the international[12] levels as well as the local level, with all three levels being closely in­tertwined and each having mutual influence in relation to the others.


A third constraint is a practical one, given the lack of academic litera­ture and empirical material on the Palestinian security sector with regard to the timeframe evaluated here. The existing work mostly relates to the Oslo period,[13] and the few articles covering the post-Oslo security domain are based mostly on Israeli intelligence sources.[14] The empirical basis of this paper therefore consists mainly of PNA docu­ments, internal working papers, and the findings of personal field research.[15]


Such shortfalls render the construction of an effective analytical framework more difficult. The theoretical frame that seems most ade­quate in terms of analyzing Palestinian SSR is the concept of democ­ratic transformation. Democratic transformation refers to the transi­tion[16] of a political system from authoritarian rule to democracy.[17] It can be broadly defined as a long-term and dynamic process that con­sists of progress towards a more rule-based, more consensual, and more participatory type of politics.[18] The democratic transformation approach is on the one hand sufficiently broad to include the concep­tual dimension of SSR, in particular its normative key elements of civil-democratic oversight and control, which are central in any process of post-authoritarian or post-conflict transition. The analysis of the SSR agenda in the paper’s first section will thus be made with reference to the idea of democratic transformation as a deontological concept.


At the same time, the democratic transformation approach also offers theoretical frameworks for dealing empirically with the emerging Pal­estinian state. Transition in the Palestinian context is a rather complex process that entails at least two vectors. On the one hand, there is a transition from external rule to some form of statehood and territorial sovereignty, implying the transformation of a revolutionary and exiled liberation organization into a territorial government with responsibility for administration and bureaucracy. Simultaneously, there is a vector running from authoritarian rule to democracy, with the PNA constitut­ing a hybrid that embodies characteristics of both. Formal mechanisms that are supposed to provide for the democratic conduct and operation of the Palestinian regime exist and function, but they are secondary to the actual power and decision-making structures, which are informal and which consist of power concentration and social control by sur­veillance, intimidation, and material incentives.[19]


A good starting point for the analysis of such multi-dimensional trans­formation processes, especially when looking at limited timeframes, is an actor-centered perspective. The analysis of the internal political context for SSR here is thus informed by an elite-oriented approach[20] to system transformation that analyses the objectives and strategies of the institutional and personal actors involved in transforming a political system. According to this perspective, the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy is a function of a continuous process of defining and redefining the preferences, strategies, and options between actors on the elite level.[21] The elite approach seems capable of doing justice to the highly dynamic nature of Palestinian politics and its implications for the political feasibility of SSR. However, it is important to note that the elite is not an autonomous actor but is in multiple ways bound to the societal realm and to the political demands that originate from there.





[1] Bahatia, Shiham, “Arafat’s Torturers Shock Palestine,” in Guardian Weekly, 24 September 1995.

[2] The term ‘Oslo process’ refers to the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation process that began with the 1993 Declaration of Principles (DOP) and ended with the 2000 Camp David negotiations, which terminated without the reaching of an agreement. The contractual framework of the DOP and the subsequent agreements signed by the Israelis and Palestinians constitute the external legal basis of the PNA.

[3] The ‘Road Map’ is a gradualist peace plan issued by the Quartet of Middle East mediators in April 2003. The Quartet comprises the US, the European Union (EU), the Russian Federation, and the United Nations (UN).

[4] A comprehensive analysis of security sector reform in Palestine would have to also include the Palestinian judiciary and penal system. This, however, is be­yond the scope of this research paper.

[5] In substance, the PNA is a limited self-government system with limited adminis­trative, security, and legislative powers over limited areas in the West Bank and Gaza. While the PNA lacks many fundamental characteristics of a state – territorial contiguity, sovereignty over land, water and airspace, a fiscal base etc – the fact that it can legitimately exercise violence to maintain social order within the Occupied Territories gives it a state-like quality.

[6] The ‘post-Oslo phase’ as understood here covers the period since the out­break of the second Intifada in September 2000 until the present (October 2004).

[7] Running for the position of chairman (the title was later changed to president) of the PNA in the first Palestinian general elections in 1996, Yasser Arafat won with 87 percent of the votes. Although the second elections to the PNA presi­dency and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) – which were originally scheduled for January 2003 – have not been held, polls indicate that 54 percent of the Palestinian electorate would again vote for Arafat. Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR). Poll No. 12, 24-27 June 2004, p. 8.

[8] According to the PCPSR, an overwhelming majority of 93 percent of the Pales­tinians supports inside and outside calls for fundamental political reforms. With regard to the security sector, 79 percent support the unification of the Palestinian security services under the control of the Cabinet, and 85 percent support the appointment of an effective interior minister who controls the secu­rity services on a clear legal basis. Meanwhile, 42 percent of the Palestinians believe that the PNA itself is the factor impeding the processes of reform but with only 12 percent believing that Yasser Arafat opposes them. PCPSR. Press Release Poll No. 13, 23-26 September 2004.

[9] The security services receive one of the least positive ratings of all PNA institu­tions, with only 35 percent of Palestinians considering their performance in a favorable light. Ibid.

[10] Chanaa, Jane, Security Sector Reform: Issues, Challenges, and Prospects, Adelphi Paper 344. Oxford: International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), 2002, p. 28.

[11] The regional level refers to the set of state-actors geographically adjacent to the Occupied Territories – in particular Israel, Egypt, and Jordan – and their interaction with the PNA.

[12] The international level refers to the wider set of international actors interacting with the PNA, especially the Quartet and its members, but also Norway, Japan, and individual member states of the EU.

[13] Such as, for example Lia, Brynjar, A Police Force without a State: The Pales­tinian Security Forces and International Police Aid in the West Bank and Gaza. London: Ithaca, 2004; Peake, Gordon, Policing Peace: The Establishment of Police Forces in the Palestinian Territories and Kosovo, Dphil Thesis, Oxford 2003; Milton-Edwards, Beverley, “Palestinian State-Building: Police and Citi­zens as Test of Democracy,” in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 25 (1998) No. 1, pp. 95-119.

[14] Such as Luft, Gal, From Clandestine Army to Guardians of Terror: The Pales­tinian Security Forces and the Second Intifada, Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR),

[15] This research was conducted between 21 July and 11 August 2004 in Ramal­lah and Jerusalem and encompasses 15 half-standardized interviews with Palestinian and Israeli officials, academics, journalists, and representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), as well as representatives of the donor community. Systematic research was complicated by the sensitive nature of the subject, the unstable domestic situation at the time of the author’s stay, and the adverse effects of the Israeli closure policy, which rendered research in locations other than those mentioned above impossible.

[16] Transition is defined here as the interval between the existence of one politi­cal regime and another; it is thus not an established order, but on the contrary, constitutes periods of disorder.

[17] Both of the terms ‘authoritarian rule’ and ‘democracy’ are loaded with evalua­tive and context-dependent connotations; this makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to agree on a single timeless and objective definition. However, in order to operate on a clear conceptual basis some definition of both terms is imperative. ‘Authoritarian rule’ is hence understood here broadly as a political regime that is characterized by the restriction of freedom in favor of obedience to authority. Features of ‘authoritarian rule’ may entail (1) the location of political power with a single leader or a small group, (2) the exercise of this political power largely unbound by legal or political restrictions, (3) a high degree of centralization, personalization, and arbitrariness in decision-making, (4) a lack of the rule of law, (5) limited political pluralism, and (6) the existence of parallel structures of domination, mobilization, and control. Likewise, ‘democracy’ may be defined as a form of rule based on (1) equal citizenship and civil rights shared by all, (2) popular sovereignty and universal suffrage, (3) defense of minorities, (4) free and regular elections, (5) separation of powers among legis­lative, executive, and juridical branches, and (6) the rule of law.

[18] Whitehead, Laurence, Democratization. Theory and Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 27.

[19] See e.g., Ghanem, Asad, The Palestinian Regime: A ‘Partial Democracy.’ Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2002, pp. 104-135.

[20] The term ‘elite’ here refers to the so-called Politically Relevant Elite (PRE). The PRE comprises those persons in a given political system who wield political influence and power inasmuch as they take strategic decisions or participate in decision-making on a national level, contribute to defining political norms and values (including the definition of ‘national interest’), and directly influence political discourse on strategic issues. It encompasses top government, admin­istrative, and political leaders, but also reaches beyond this to include groups that contribute to political processes or influence them from various sidelines, such as leaders of mass movements and people who temporarily gain a posi­tion of political relevance. Perthes, Volker, “Politics and Elite Change in the Arab World,” In Perthes, Voker (ed.), Arab Elites: Negotiating the Politics of Change. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004, pp. 1-36, p. 5.

[21] Merkel, Wolfgang, Systemtransformation. Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 1999, p. 102.


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