In the context of its work on the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), ISIS Europe recently participated in a visit trip to the EU’s Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPS). Set up in January 2006 and headquartered in the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Ramallah, the mission provides police training and support to rule of law throughout the West Bank.
“This is one of the best 12 civilian (CSDP) missions” said Hansjoerg Haber, Civilian Operations Commander at a Press Conference at the Al-Tireh Compound on 29 October 2013. Since 2006, the mission has contributed to the training of around 2,000 Palestinian policemen and one hundred judges. It is composed of 71 international staff from 19 EU countries and Norway, Canada and Turkey, and also employs 41 locals.
Arguing that there is a need to lift Israeli restrictions on Palestinian policing in areas B and C that represent roughly 80% of the occupied territory of the West Bank, Hansjoerg Haber commented that “we [Europeans] have missions in areas where the security situation is much worse, but nowhere is the task as politically and operationally sensitive as here”. Indeed, policing and rule of law activities of the Palestinian Police and Courts are severely hampered by the territorial and administrative discontinuity that characterizes the current situation.
It is, indeed, first of all a matter of efficiency for the Palestinian Civil Police (PCP) which sees its full responsibility being restricted to area A solely, which only represents about 18% of the West Bank. Area B is under the administrative authority of the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian police forces cannot enter it without special authorisation from the Israeli side, while zone C is under full control of Israel. Hazim Attalah, Chief of the Palestinian Police admitted that the occupation was the main challenge for the Palestinian police, not only because of the restrictions imposed on areas B and C, but also because of Israeli interdictions on further development of the police’s capacities and equipment. He mentioned the example of the ban imposed on criminal investigation materials and laboratories that were to be provided by Canada to the PA.
If there is some cooperation at the operational level between Israelis and Palestinians, frequent incursions of the Israeli army into zone A affect the Palestinian population’s trust and confidence in its police. If general satisfaction of the PCP is believed to reach around 75%, the limits imposed on its activities and the sporadic presence of the Israeli army complicates the Palestinian police’s work.
The necessity that the ongoing Peace Process negotiations should review the abovementioned restrictions was further underlined by Hazim Attalah, Chief of the Palestinian Police. Criminals use the territorial and administrative divisions at their advantage to conduct their activities across different areas. It is thus clear that lifting restrictions would make both Palestinians’ and Israelis’ lives much more secure. Guaranteeing a sufficient and sustainable level of security is one of the essential elements of any peace negotiation between the two parties and has been a cornerstone of the EU’s approach to supporting a comprehensive peace accord for a two-state solution through its police training and rule of law support mission.
Currently composed of 7,800 staff operative in area A, the Palestinian Civil Police is ready to take control of areas B and C in the future asserted Hazim Attalah. This can however only be determined at a political level.