FOR several years, critics of the Oslo process have expressed growing alarm at the dangers to Israel posed by the Palestinian Authority security forces--at least a dozen bloated agencies ranging from blue-uniformed "civil police" to plain-clothes intelligence units.
Concerns related to the size of Yasser Arafat's army; the type and number of weapons it employed; and human rights violations attributed to elements within it. All three areas violated the letter and spirit of the Oslo accords.
Commentators warned of the grave danger such a force would pose to Israel in any future times of conflict, tying up large numbers of Israeli troops in Judea-Samaria and Gaza while foreign enemies assaulted the country's borders.
Paraphrased, the question many asked was: "Will the many PA policemen with backgrounds of anti-Israeli schooling and terrorist training easily turn into upholders of law and order and protectors of all innocent life, Arab and Jew?"
The answer was quickly made clear--in the many cases of brutality meted out by the troops on Palestinians who failed to toe the line, in the dozen deaths in custody, in last September's mini-war which saw PA police turn their guns on their Israeli counterparts, and in the murder of Arab land dealers suspected of selling property to Jews.
Last month, the question was again answered when PA "policemen" acting on Arafat's instructions intervened in an internal Russian Orthodox church dispute, violently evicting a group of monks and nuns from a Hebron monastery.
But the truth appeared finally to hit home on July 14, when Israeli security agents arrested three Palestinian policemen en route, they said, to carrying out an attack against civilians in the Jewish community of Har Bracha northeast of PA-controlled Nablus.
The three were driving in a civilian car, slowly and with lights dimmed. When the Israelis ordered them to stop, oneof them drew a firearm and opened fire. Return fire persuaded them to surrender. They were arrested, and found to be in possession of weapons not registered with the PA
Brief questioning revealed that they had been sent by the Nablus police commander, Colonel Jihad Massimi to carry out an attack.
Although some dismissed the incident as a case of rogue elements, perhaps acting under orders from a renegade officer, it soon became clear there was far more involved. Israeli security sources spoke of a terror underground within the PA forces, a cell also connected to an unsuccessful attempt to murder a rabbi four days earlier. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the situation the "grossest" violation yet of the Oslo accords: "The Palestinian Police were placed in the field to fight terrorism, not to carry it out."
The US government said it found the evidence provided by Israel relating to Har Bracha "valid and disturbing".
Israel arrested a police colonel in nearby Tulkarm, Munir Abushi, on suspicion of involvement in the attack on the rabbi. Demands for the PA to extradite Massini, in line with Oslo, were rejected. Arafat chose instead to detain the suspect himself.
But PA sources quoted in The Jerusalem Post (July 22) voiced anger at the arrest, claiming Massini was being used as a scapegoat. Arafat has long mastered the art of letting junior heads roll, to protect himself and his lieutenants.
The sources pointed fingers at Massini's superior, PA "civil police" head Brigadier-General Ghazi Jabali. Strengthening their claims was an article in Ha'aretz (July 21), which reported that Israel had transcripts "obtained through monitoring and other means", linking Jabali to the Har Bracha operation. The obvious next question was, did Arafat give his police chief instructions for the attack?
Yes, said the PA sources quoted in The Jerusalem Post on July 22: "Arafat personally called for 'limited action' against Israelis at a meeting with police officers in Nablus", they said. They quoted Jabali himself as saying "his instructions originated from PA chairman Yasser Arafat".
For more on the PA security forces, the constituent units and Oslo violations, see the April 1997 edition of the Digest.