JERUSALEM — Amid growing indications that anarchy and lawlessness are reaching a critical stage within the Palestinian territories, observers now are wondering aloud if the financially broke and politically splintered Palestinian Authority is on the verge of collapse.
The mayor of the West Bank city of Nablus, Ghassan Shakah, resigned last week to protest the growing lawlessness, warning in a full-page letter in the Arabic-language daily Al-Ayyam that “chaos has become a general situation, lawlessness and the absence of order and security have become a daily practice, and the rule of the jungle has become an accepted view.”
Internal violence reached a peak this week with the daytime assassination on a Gaza City street of a prominent Palestinian journalist, Khalil al-Zaben, who was considered a leading adviser to Yasser Arafat. The assassination was seen as a product of internal feuding within Arafat’s Fatah organization, which is intensifying as talk grows of an Israeli pullout from Gaza.
In the past week in Gaza, armed men connected to wings of Fatah and various Palestinian security services have stormed the offices of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation and the Palestinian Lands Authority and opened fire on a ranking Fatah official, Nu’man al-Shanti. Three weeks ago, members of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service roughed up the commander of the P.A. police force, Ghazi Jabali, by jamming his head into a toilet in his Gaza City office. One of Jabali’s bodyguards was killed and 10 others wounded in the ensuing shootout.
Matters are said to be even worse in Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank, where at least 30 people have died from internal violence in recent months. Among the victims was the mayor’s brother, Ahmad Shakah, killed in November while driving the mayor’s car. Others include a 37-year-old mother shot dead in a botched abduction as she entered a pharmacy to buy cough syrup for her infant daughter, and a 13-year-old boy killed when he walked into a gang battle on his way to get a haircut.
The mayor told Palestinian reporters last week that he “decided to resign in order to sound the alarm and save the city. Since the outbreak of the intifada, Nablus has fallen into a state of anarchy, there is no security, and I felt that there was nothing more I could do. Our society has been destroyed.” His resignation takes effect May 1.
While blaming the Israeli occupation, Shakah also took the P.A. to task. “The Palestinian Authority should have taken responsibility for what has happened to the city, but it has done nothing,” Shakah said. “The Israeli occupation was not the only reason for the city’s collapse. My resignation is a warning bell to the Palestinian Authority and the residents of Nablus, because both of them are doing nothing for this city.”
Palestinians say repeated Israeli army raids have crippled Palestinian security services, accelerating the slide into lawlessness. Israel says the raids are necessary to pre-empt Palestinian terror attacks.
“We’ve reached a state — I’m not sure if we can go lower than this,” Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University, told the Forward. “It’s very bad. But mind you, the West Bank is totally under the occupation of Israeli forces, and we have incursions every day, and we have all these checkpoints, so the Israelis are not far from what’s happening inside the territories. They are playing their part in what’s happening.”
Jarbawi said the Palestinian Authority could be in danger of collapsing, and not just economically. “The P.A. is under pressure from three different sides: militarily from Israel, politically from the U.S. administrations, and economically from the donor countries, specifically the EU,” said Jarbawi. “The Authority for the past few years received funds from the donor community. Now the donor community is not giving what they used to do, because, I assume, they want to put pressure on the Authority because they want to yield political results. That is going to make the Authority more vulnerable than it is right now, and I’m not sure what will happen in the next few months.”
This week Arafat accepted a long-standing demand from donors, agreeing that the salaries of security personnel be paid into their bank accounts rather than handed out in cash by officers. The reform was laid down as a condition by European officials for aid to be renewed. Arafat had resisted for months, fearing it would weaken his control over his security apparatus.
The decision came after a week of noisy confrontations between Arafat and his aides. At a meeting last week of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, its first gathering in three years, Arafat reportedly tossed a microphone at former security minister Nasser Yousef after Yousef criticized him for blocking security reforms. Arafat then stormed out of the meeting, accusing Yousef of collaborating with the enemy. Yousef reportedly threw a pen at Arafat, but missed.