The provision of weapons to the PA is a sensitive and vital issue and is one of the issues that the Palestinians have brought up in all meetings with their Israeli counterparts, especially when the Americans are present. This is after Israel refused to agree to the provision of arms several times, forcing the Palestinians to resort to the US.
According to a number of observers, ‘The provision of weapons is important so the PA can carry out its duty in confronting armed militias and to impose law and order. It is unreasonable to demand from the PA all of these things if it doesn’t have the necessary weapons. It needs various machine guns and other weaponry. It needs ammunition and flack jackets for its security men.’
The PA has also asked for armored vehicles to face any emergency that might come up. Apparently, the US has agreed to this, especially after the confrontations between Hamas and the PA in Gaza last July. It became clear then that Hamas has weapons that surpass those of the PA in quality. This is when the US began pressuring Israel into agreeing to provide the PA with weapons to support and strengthen it so it could become an active force on the ground and could be able to confront any problem that may arise. This is especially true since large quantities of weapons such as Kalashnikovs and pistols were either confiscated or destroyed by Israel during the Intifada in addition to the destruction of armored and military vehicles and even civilian vehicles the PA had acquired during the post-Oslo period.
The Palestinian side says it wants Israel’s approval to bring in armored vehicles from Moscow, which has offered to give the Palestinians 40 vehicles in the first stage, the first half as a payment and the other half as a Russian grant. The Israeli refused the offer out right.
Apparently, the American pressures on Israel bore some fruit with the security decision makers in Israel although the political decision makers are still hesitant in making a final decision. This has created a dispute between the two sides. The Israeli security establishment, the Shabak, which is headed by Yuval Disken has shown willingness to allow the PA to obtain light weapons in the Gaza Strip only. The Shabak’s recommendation is that these weapons could be brought in from Egypt under Israel supervision or Israel could sell the PA the necessary weapons itself. This has been opposed by Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who said the PA has enough weapons but has not yet shown any effectiveness.
The Shabak recommendations did, however, express fears that these weapons would turn on Israel in the future but could help Palestinian security services in imposing internal order. It also said such light weapons would not make much of a difference given that in Gaza today there are many more dangerous weapons than Kalashnikovs and pistols, which the PA is asking for. There are mortars and Katushas and RBGs.
According to Israeli media sources, Sharon is leaning towards the viewpoint of his defense minister. There is an even more extreme Israeli viewpoint against the PA having weapons, which is popular with a number of ministers and Likudniks. Likud minister Dani Naveh expressed his shock over the Shabak’s recommendations saying, ‘Are the dangerous weapons coming in from Egypt to the Gaza Strip not enough? Do we have to give the PA weapons so they could wave them in our faces yet again? We should not forget the militarization that Arafat and his PA were building, whether by smuggling weapons in his own plane before the siege or through the Karin A ship.’
Naveh believes the Palestinian police should be stripped of the weapons they have and not provided with more, claiming that the Intifada proved that the members of the police force who shot at Israelis were trained and effective. ‘Therefore, we cannot accept that they are given weapons,’ he said. Naveh also said, ‘If the PA has more weapons, this will definitely pose a threat to the security of Israel because the PA and Hamas cooperate with each other when the confrontation is with Israel.’