In addition to the recent wave of terrorism coming from the West Bank, the past year has seen a surge criminal violence, much of it gang-related, in Israel’s Arab communities, with most of the victims Arabs themselves. Many factors account for this problem, among them the availability of illegal arms—a legacy, David M. Weinberg argues, of the Oslo Accords:
There is a direct line that runs from Oslo to the current Israeli Wild West situation. Israel provided Yasir Arafat’s police force with tens of thousands of rifles and hundreds of tons of ammunition. These weapons soon ended up in the shooting arms of Arafat’s sixteen different declared security organizations and many other declared and undeclared terrorist factions.
At first, Israel sought to monitor and therefore control the use of its weapons in the Palestinian Authority (PA) by registering the ballistic signature of every gun and rifle before transferring it to Arafat. But the Oslo-era enthusiasm for “strengthening” the Palestinian Authority led to more and more helter-skelter arms handovers, with Israel soon losing track of the weapons. The U.S. and other Western countries involved in providing security assistance and training to the PA also were supposed to have a handle on this, but they too soon lost track of the swelling armories of Yasir Arafat and his multiple organizations of gunmen.
Much of this Israeli-provided weaponry was directed at Israeli civilians and IDF troops during the second intifada, leading to the need for Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. For a while, this operation indeed led to a renewed tight Israeli grip on the flow of weaponry into and within Palestinian areas. But in 2004 then-Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz re-approved gun licenses for all PA police officers. Over the years since, and under American pressure to ease up on the PA and “strengthen” Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas, the IDF has further relented, leading to the current weapons-loose state of affairs.