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Business News/ Politics / Palestinian Authority Fights Its Own People in Struggle to Survive

Palestinian Authority Fights Its Own People in Struggle to Survive


The leadership is trying to reassert control in the West Bank, where militants reign in some areas.

Members of the Tulkarem Brigade are made up of militants from several Palestinian factions.Premium
Members of the Tulkarem Brigade are made up of militants from several Palestinian factions.

TULKAREM, West Bank—When Palestinian security forces last week tried to remove barricades preventing Israeli soldiers from entering a refugee camp, local residents were incensed. A resulting gunfight between militants and Palestinian security forces ended with a 25-year-old man shot dead and a growing sense of resentment among ordinary Palestinians who see their government as inept, corrupt and, some say, a collaborator with Israel in occupying the West Bank.

“After this, everything is broken," said Mohammed, who saw the fight break out from his falafel shop. “We have no trust in them."

Standoffs such as the one in Tulkarem are becoming more common as the Palestinian Authority tries to reassert its grip on power and prevent its rivals and a range of militant groups from gaining influence. It has been dangerously weakened over the past year in the midst of a flood of illegal weapons into the area and anger over near-daily incursions by the Israeli military that have made 2023 one of the deadliest years for Palestinians in nearly two decades.

In recent weeks, the semiautonomous authority has been pursuing a sometimes violent crackdown on militants and arresting hundreds of political rivals, part of a do or die effort to maintain its hold over the West Bank.

“It is their last gasp," said Diana Buttu, a lawyer and former Palestinian negotiator with Israel. “They are beginning to feel that the end is near."

The authority’s role as the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people is especially important now, as the U.S. works to broker a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has given the Saudis a list of concessions from Israel that he wants to be part of any diplomatic deal. Saudi Arabia has been a longtime financial and political supporter of Palestinian efforts to create an independent nation alongside Israel, but it cut off funding for the Palestinian Authority in 2021 in the midst of persistent concern about incompetence and corruption. Until efforts this year at rapprochement, there was a sense that Abbas had lost the Saudis’ ear.

Incidents such as the recent flare-up in Tulkarem are now raising tensions between the authority and residents, who see the authority as working with Israel to suppress resistance to the occupation.

“We support the PA taking up its role in maintaining law and order," said Faisal Salameh, an official at the Tulkarem refugee camp. “But at the same time, the Israeli raids have increased, which is putting the PA in a position of looking treasonous."

The militants in Tulkarem who fought with Palestinian Authority security forces last week call themselves the Tulkarem Brigade. They are made up of militants from a variety of factions, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, which is the political party that controls the Palestinian Authority.

“They have tried to arrest us several times," said a 24-year-old member of the Tulkarem Brigade. “What they want is to end this national movement of armed resistance without offering a way to protect our people."

A Palestinian Authority police spokesman, Luay Irzeiqat, said security forces entered Tulkarem at the request of local residents who asked them to clear out the area around a United Nations school, where militants had set up metal barriers and roadside explosives. The spokesman said the police have launched an investigation into whose bullet struck Abdelqader Zaqdah, a 25-year-old man killed during the gunbattle, and who witnesses say wasn’t involved in the fighting. The Palestinian Authority said results of the investigation are expected to be released later this week.

“If the bullets in his body are from Kalashnikovs, then he was killed by our men and we’ll take responsibility, but if the bullets are fired from M16 rifles, then it isn’t us," said Irzeiqat.

The Palestinian Authority blames Israel for undermining its ability to control the territory by conducting regular raids to arrest militants that have left many people dead. So far this year, more than 180 Palestinians, most of whom were militants, have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli security forces.

“The Israeli forces and their raids are the problem," said Kamal Abu Al-Rub, the Palestinian Authority-appointed acting governor of Jenin.

In July, Israel conducted a two-day operation in the Jenin refugee camp that was its largest military assault in the West Bank in decades. The Israeli army said it arrested militants responsible for more than 50 shooting attacks against Israelis and confiscated thousands of weapons including guns, ammunition and explosive devices. At least 12 Palestinians were killed, most of them militants, with 100 injured and thousands displaced after widespread damage to the camp.

“It is what is embarrassing the PA and putting them in a weak position," said Abu Al-Rub.

Israel has said that the authority hasn’t done enough to crack down on militants who launch attacks against Israelis, and is withholding millions of dollars of taxes collected on behalf of the authority as punishment. U.S. officials have warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of collapse, which could thrust the region into a war if Israel doesn’t do more to bolster its standing.

Suhail Salman, a former deputy mayor of Tulkarem, said the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to assert its power are adding more pain for residents already suffering under the occupation.

“The PA believes that if it stops the Israeli army’s raids and killings, that is a success," he said. “But the end result for the ordinary citizen is that it is now doing the same in addition to Israel."

Ari Flanzraich contributed to this article.

Write to Shayndi Raice at

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