As rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza have sought to strengthen their respective Palestinian Authority Security Force (PASF) sectors in recent years, they have adopted very different approaches. The Fayyad government in the West Bank largely relies on financial and training support from the West, while the Hamas-ruled Gaza, lacking significant outside help, has been forced to streamline its operations.
Although well-intentioned, Western efforts have hindered—rather than helped—West Bank forces, who have received almost $450 million in assistance from the United States and the European Union since 2007. The West’s limited focus on technical rather than political assistance and disjointed overall approach—along with the lack of coherence and autonomy in the West Bank PASF—are largely responsible for the sector’s failure to develop its own training and planning capabilities.
The Gaza PASF, on the other hand, has benefited from the absence of external support. Hamas, rather than outside donors, chooses how to design its policies and programs and set its priorities. As a result of this sense of ownership and efficient approach, its security sector is more integrated, has a clearer chain of command, and has developed more professional training and planning capabilities than the West Bank sector.
But the fundamental problem in both regions is that security sector rebuilding and restructuring occurs without democratic governance and a constitutional order. While the Fayyad government in the West Bank and the Haniah government in Gaza stress a strict adherence to the rule of law and genuine observance of human rights, their lack of constitutional checks and balances—especially weak legislative and judicial oversight—makes this difficult. Civilian control of the security forces is also growing more tenuous, especially as political infighting grows in the West Bank and Islamization increases in Gaza.
This trend will continue unless a number of steps are taken. These include achieving Palestinian “ownership” of security sector development—especially in the West Bank—reintegrating the West Bank and Gaza PASF, assuring government control of security in both areas, and designing a new national security vision by engaging all relevant stakeholders. Otherwise, growing authoritarianism in the region will threaten not only its long-term security but also the ability to achieve Palestinian statehood.