GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A fight for control of the Palestinian security forces could undermine the prospects for a smooth political succession after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat leaves the scene.

Arafat appeared to endorse Mohammed Dahlan to lead the security forces last week when he had Dahlan accompany him to Paris. Dahlan is a former Palestinian Authority security chief and a Gaza Strip strongman who’s viewed favorably by some U.S. diplomats because of his desire to make peace with Israel. American and Israeli officials have refrained from openly endorsing Dahlan for fear of undermining his position among Palestinians.

But Arafat’s apparent endorsement may not be enough to stave off old rivalries among the dozen or so security agencies, some senior Palestinian leaders and analysts predicted. Dahlan, a 43-year-old colonel influential with some security agencies, isn’t acceptable to the higher-ranking, older heads of other agencies, said one top official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.

Arafat created the divisions as he played one security organ against another to avoid concentrating power in any hands but his own. He refused local and international demands to unify the security forces and delegate control. That refusal led to the resignation of his first prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and the threatened resignation of the current one, Ahmed Qureia.

Even with Abbas and Qureia now slated to share leadership after Arafat dies, a unified Palestinian security force may be impossible.

“Maybe everything will be wonderful, but not in the case of the security (agencies),” the PLO official said in an interview Tuesday. “Any culture of good-heartedness will not exist after Arafat’s passing.”

Security officers are pessimistic that anyone will be able to fill Arafat’s shoes and provide leadership to the security agencies. “I feel like I’m a soldier without a purpose,” Presidential Guard member Saher Nasman, 29, said recently, as he emerged from Arafat’s compound in Gaza City. “There is nobody who has his ability to lead.”

By many accounts, the security forces are 41,000 strong, 36 percent more than was stipulated in the 1993 Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority.

They outnumber armed militants by an estimated 10 to 1 in the Gaza Strip. Yet the 4-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, internal strife and battles with militants have weakened the security forces.

They were unable to halt a wave of chaos that gripped the Gaza Strip last summer, including armed takeovers of Palestinian Authority buildings, raucous demonstrations and kidnappings of police officials.

A renewed battle over the security agencies probably would lead to a further breakdown of law and order and prompt Israel to suspend its controversial withdrawal of soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Some Palestinian analysts predicted that Qureia and Abbas won’t be able to stay in power without a strong, unified security apparatus.

“The current leaders don’t have enough power or popularity,” said Ibrahem Ibrach, a political science professor at al Azhar University in Gaza City. “Security services will control everything on the ground.”

Security officials are seeking to allay fears of any imminent collapse of control.

In Gaza, longtime rival security chiefs Moussa Arafat, a relative of the ailing leader, and Rashid Abu Shabak, who’s closely allied with Dahlan, met privately last week to bury the hatchet in deference to their ailing leader.

On Tuesday, the head of the Palestinian Public Security Agency, Abdel Razek al Majaide, opened the office of a new, 250-member task force to tackle problems between militants and police.

Rival political and militant Palestinian factions met twice last Friday and offered support for a plan to increase the security agencies’ authority over militants and their weapons, which was first proposed in March but shelved after Israel assassinated Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the militant group Hamas.



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