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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Palestinians Close to Deal to Disarm Militants


Palestinian officials said today they have reached a tentative agreement to absorb about 700 gunmen in the West Bank city of Nablus into the Palestinian security services, pushing forward with a campaign aimed at disarming rogue militants roaming the Palestinian areas. The programme of offering government jobs to militants in exchange for giving up their weapons has been a centrepiece of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to impose law and order in the chaotic West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has said the tactic is ineffective and demanded tougher action against the militants, and even Palestinian officials conceded the weapons collection would not take place anytime soon. Still, reaching a deal in Nablus could be significant. The city is widely considered to be a centre of militant activity – a concern that was underscored yesterday when gunmen in a nearby refugee camp opened fire and set off a bomb as the Palestinian prime minister delivered an emotional lecture about the need to end the chaos. No one was injured.
On the one hand, I welcome the idea of Palestinian militants joining the political process and abandoning unilateral violence. On the other hand, I worry that too many of these people are not 'freedom fighters' but thugs and murderers. Juvenal, the Roman satirist wrote, "Who will guard the guards themselves?" This question seems especially relevant in terms of the Palestinian security services which already seem to have a very unhealthy number of guards who need guarding. Leavening this already unhealthy mix with more extremists seems somewhat dangerous. Historically though, it has always been the thugs and murderers who seized power and eventually became the politicians and police. Western institutions have distanced us greatly from these ignoble roots, but they are their nonetheless. Perhaps it is necessary that Palestine follows the same path. I would like to think though, that with all of our expirience at developing social institutions we could find a better way.


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