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Policy Analysis

Policy Focus 154

State with No Army, Army with No State Evolution of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces,
1994–2018

Neri Zilber and Ghaith al-Omari

Also available in العربية

March 2018


No institution embodies the move toward Palestinian self-determination quite like the Palestinian Authority security forces (PASF). Created in the wake of the Oslo Accords, the PASF encompasses a collection of gendarmerie, police, intelligence, and civil defense services that has played a crucial role, for both good and ill, in every subsequent chapter of Israeli and Palestinian life. Moreover, despite the steady backslide in Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic relations, security cooperation between the two sides endures. This is a testament to shared pragmatism as well as recognition of the cost of the alternative: chaos, violence, and renewed bloodshed. It may well be the most positive aspect of the entire U.S.-led peace process.

In this Policy Focus, Neri Zilber, a journalist, and Ghaith al-Omari, a former advisor to Palestinian negotiators, offer a thorough narrative of the PASF’s development from 1994 until the present, filling a major gap in the literature. In doing so, the authors demonstrate how a dispassionate, ground-level analysis of the security situation in the West Bank—and the role of security coordination in particular—could impel a move from mere symbolism to substance in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

NERI ZILBER, a journalist and analyst on Middle East politics and culture, is an adjunct fellow of The Washington Institute. He was previously a visiting scholar at the Institute in 2014-2015, where his research focused on the Middle East Peace Process, with particular emphasis on Palestinian economics and state-building.

GHAITH AL-OMARI, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, is the former executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine. Previously, he served in various positions within the Palestinian Authority, including advisor to the negotiating team during the 1999-2001 permanent-status talks.