Israeli security officials avow that the West Bank security situation has not been this good for 15 years. Much of this can be attributed to the deployment of newly-trained Palestinian security forces throughout West Bank cities in the course of the past year. This has made a major contribution to the restoration of law and order and the prevention of terrorism.
One example of the success of this operation is the degree to which the Palestinian Authority maintained order during Israel's recent military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. There were more angry demonstrations of solidarity among the Israeli Arab population than in the West Bank.
Arguably, the Palestinian force deployment is the single most significant Palestinian state-building achievement of the Oslo period. It deserves more international attention and Israeli reciprocation.
The force-training program is administered by General Keith Dayton, a three-star American general. Dayton-trained contingents of the Palestinian National Security Forces are deployed in large numbers in Jenin and Nablus in the northern West Bank and in Hebron in the south, with smaller units in other Palestinian towns. Dayton, whose team also trains the Presidential Guard, works in close coordination with British and European Union security contingents who train Palestinian police. He emphasizes that the forces whose training he oversees are trained to deal strictly with internal Palestinian law-and-order issues and will in no way jeopardize Israeli security interests, and that his security efforts go hand-in-hand with Quartet envoy Tony Blair's program for strengthening the West Bank economy.
There are a number of existing and potential snags in this otherwise positive picture. For one, the NSF has only begun to deal directly with Palestinian terrorist threats. The IDF still roams Palestinian territory every night, when the NSF is confined to bases. Dayton has improved IDF-NSF coordination regarding these issues, but there is plenty of room for Israeli-Palestinian misunderstanding. And there are constant allegations by Hamas and others that the NSF is little but a proxy for Israel. In this sense, "successes" such as preventing demonstrations during the Gaza war have a downside as well.
Still, overall this security program is recognized as a success. Logic dictates that Israel find a way to respond to Palestinian security achievements by reducing night incursions, removing checkpoints and reopening more West Bank roads to Palestinian traffic. Eventually, Israel should be contemplating turning over additional territory to Palestinian security forces in the northern West Bank, particularly in areas where settlements were in any case removed nearly four years ago in parallel with the withdrawal from Gaza.
With the exception of dismantling a few checkpoints, none of this happened under the Olmert government, while the new Netanyahu government can claim that it is still studying the issues and planning its approach toward a political process with the Palestinians. The key personality on the Israeli side is Defense Minister (under Olmert and Netanyahu) Ehud Barak, who presumably fears the political price he will pay if reciprocal Israeli gestures are seen by the Israeli public to have led to renewed Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
PM Binyamin Netanyahu will meet next week with President Barack Obama to discuss ways to get an Israeli-Palestinian peace process going again. Beyond their possible disagreements regarding the substance and modalities of a two-state solution, both presumably agree on the need for early confidence-building measures in the security and economic spheres. Indeed, Netanyahu has developed an entire "economic peace" theory that embodies a "bottom up" approach to improving the quality of life in the West Bank.
It is universally understood that there can be no serious Palestinian economic development unless checkpoints and roads in the West Bank are opened and free movement facilitated. The improved performance of the Palestinian National Security Forces should be reciprocated by Israel with a reduction of restrictive IDF security measures. A more serious effort to remove "illegal" outposts and prevent settlement expansion in accordance with the commitments of previous Israeli governments will also facilitate a reduction in Israeli security deployment.
While the validity of Netanyahu's "economic peace" program as a strategy for reaching an end-of-conflict agreement is debatable, no one can deny that at the tactical level these measures would make an important contribution to improving the atmosphere. We can only hope the Obama administration and its emissary, George Mitchell, will begin insisting on them forcefully, even as they support the ongoing Dayton mission.
Finally, there is plenty of evidence that the real power behind the successful Palestinian force buildup over the past year is PM and Defense Minister Salam Fayyad, who recently resigned his post in the shadow of the abortive Fateh-Hamas unity government talks. He should not be allowed to leave the scene.- Published 11/5/2009 © bitterlemons.org
The West Bank security issue is complicated and involves many different and sometimes contradictory aspects.
First of all, the security situation in the West Bank may soon witness an increase in resistance activity by nationalists rather than Islamists, especially from Fateh circles. This is because recent political developments, particularly the combination of ending resistance against the occupation and a corresponding increase in Israeli activities to consolidate that occupation, mainly through settlement expansion, has to a large extent weakened and marginalized Fateh and other PLO factions.
Second, there are increasing indications that Hamas is building its military capabilities in the West Bank. These, at the moment, appear related to Palestinian divisions rather than Israel, but that could change any minute. The nature of the preparations (including for example, hundreds of military uniforms discovered in different parts of the West Bank) shows that there is serious potential in this regard.
Third, the Palestinian security services are in a very complicated position. They are tasked with preventing any kind of military activity, whether against the Palestinian Authority or Israel. But such activities reflect negatively on the political position and credibility of the PA. Consequently, the more successful the security apparatuses, in the absence of any political progress toward ending the occupation, the weaker the political leadership.
In the eyes of the public, the role of the Palestinian security services is legitimate when they maintain law and order in Palestinian areas, but not in the dual role assigned them by Israel and members of the international community, to prevent armed resistance against Israel and thus maintain the security of Israel.
Provisionally, this dual role was assigned the security services when they were established according to signed agreements between Israel and the PLO. These agreements gave the dual role a comprehensive political backdrop. The security services were created in the context of the Palestinian interim authority, which was meant for a transitional period that would also witness a gradual scaling back of the Israeli occupation before leading to a complete end to that occupation in accordance with those signed agreements and based on the relevant stipulations of United Nations Security Council resolutions that were the terms of reference. The agreements stipulated that within the interim phase of five years, starting in 1994, the two sides would conclude negotiations on a final settlement, which would include the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and security.
In reality, however, Israel deepened and consolidated its occupation, especially in the West Bank, through the expansion of settlements and confiscation of land. Israel also gradually retreated from the commitment to negotiate final status issues until we've now reached a point where an Israeli prime minister rejects the very foundation on which the whole peace process was built, namely the two-state solution. Such developments have left the original tasks of the security apparatuses devoid of context and thus alienated them from the Palestinian people and created the complicated and contradictory security situation we see today.
Israel cannot expect calm in the West Bank while continuing its settlement expansion. It also cannot expect continued harmony in its relations with the PA. Israel has unilaterally created a de facto functional division of labor in the security field and retained overall security control while leaving the PA other functions and responsibilities in a way that was neither agreed upon nor will lead to the realization of Palestinian aspirations to end the Israel occupation and achieve independence and self-determination.
Of course, Israeli security is the other side of the coin. But neither Israelis nor Palestinians will see their legitimate objectives--security and statehood--realized if they are not realized together.- Published 11/5/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president for community outreach at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
VIEW OF A PALESTINIAN CITIZEN OF ISRAEL
Security reform and the political process
by Shlomo Brom
At the end of the second intifada, the Palestinian territories and the West Bank in particular were on the verge of complete anarchy. PA security organs had ceased to function; their installations had been attacked by Israeli security forces and their members arrested and disarmed. The resulting vacuum was filled by armed gangs ruled by thugs and self-appointed warlords. At this stage, Israel had succeeded in achieving freedom of action in the West Bank for its security forces and had substantially reduced the scope of Palestinian terrorism. Many of the armed gangs had become less involved in fighting Israel and more a menace to the Palestinian population.
Beyond the resulting insecurity for the Palestinian population, this situation caused several severe repercussions. For one, the PA continued to rule the West Bank only because Israeli security forces prevented its rivals, primarily Hamas, from taking over by force following their successful takeover of the Gaza Strip. The PA also lost the trust of the West Bank population, which perceived it as a dysfunctional entity incapable of protecting it from common crimes and helpless against Israeli security forces that roamed Palestinian population centers in search of terrorists.
Israel lost trust in its Palestinian partner. Even when Mahmoud Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat as president of the PA and convinced the Israeli leadership of his sincerity in wishing to resolve the conflict and attain a permanent-status agreement, most Israelis felt that it was not possible to conclude any agreement with the PA. It had no security control over the West Bank and therefore could neither implement agreements nor assure Israel that areas under its control would not turn into launching pads for attacks similar to those emanating from the Gaza Strip.
The steps Israel took to fight terrorism have inhibited the freedom of movement of goods and persons in the West Bank. This has caused great damage to the Palestinian economy and a reduction in the standard of living, thereby further damaging the PA's image in Palestinian eyes.
These repercussions are a strong impediment to progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. From Israel's standpoint, any agreement that leads to its withdrawal implies that the West Bank would fall into the hands of Hamas and thereby become a source of security threats to Israel. The geography of the West Bank and its proximity to Israeli population centers would create an unbearable situation for Israel.
The conclusion is that security reform and a build-up of Palestinian security forces that enable the PA to regain security control over the West Bank are a pre-condition for any progress toward stabilization and resolution of the conflict. This is clear to the three main actors involved in the Israeli-Palestinian process: the PA, the international community and Israel. Palestinian security reform is a key item on their agenda.
After a problematic and stormy beginning, when PA forces trained as part of the security reform performed shamefully against Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip, the PA appears to have succeeded during the past year in developing a viable process of security reform and build-up of security capabilities. The National Security Forces and civilian police were reorganized and new units trained. This was done with the assistance of the Dayton mission, which helps in reorganizing the security sector and training the National Security Forces, and the EU-POL COPPS mission that helps train the civilian police. Jordan is also helping by putting its training installations at the disposal of the new National Security Forces.
The best indication of the success of PA security reform is the city of Jenin. Shortly after a newly-trained National Security battalion and civilian police forces were deployed there, they succeeded in establishing law and order in the city. Armed gangs and thugs disappeared from the streets and life returned to normal. The success of this experiment has encouraged the PA to expand these operations to other areas of the West Bank. Forces deployed in Nablus, Qalqilya and Hebron havealso changed the situation on the ground in these places.
Palestinian security organs have also become more proactive in dismantling terrorist infrastructure and preventing terror attacks. Their achievements have generated some economic progress, including a reduction in unemployment. Israel is more willing to ease restrictions on freedom of movement. Some main roadblocks have been removed; new routines at others speed passage.
The main constraint on this expansion is the slow pace of the training of new forces. Only two National Security battalions have finished their training, with a third graduating shortly. At this stage, any further expansion could endanger previous achievements.
And there are additional problems and difficulties. Law and order cannot be fully established without functioning legal and prison systems; here reform is lagging behind. Nor does Israel yet fully trust in the willingness and capabilities of Palestinian forces to prevent terrorism; hence Israeli security forces continue to operate in areas where these new Palestinian forces are deployed, albeit only at night. Consequently, Palestinian forces are perceived as collaborators that not only serve Israel's interests but are also not able to protect the Palestinian population from Israeli troops. And although the newly-trained forces are much more proficient and professional, they are still perceived by segments of Palestinian society as political tools of the Fateh party and of the old and corrupt Palestinian leadership. Indeed, sometimes they act in ways that validate this perception.
All told, the recent build-up of Palestinian forces has several implications. First, it brings the PA closer to a capacity, without Israeli intervention, to prevent Hamas from taking over the West Bank. It is less clear how capable the National Security Forces will be to dismantle terrorist infrastructure and prevent operations by covert terrorist cells, and to what extent Israel can reduce its anti-terrorist operations in the West Bank.
Second, there is still a long way to go until the Palestinian security apparatuses gain the trust of the population as professional, non-partisan security forces.
Third, the improved security situation in the West Bank enables acceleration of the process whereby Israel eases restrictions on freedom of movement in the West Bank. The recent wave of attacks following the fighting in Gaza, perpetrated by West Bank Palestinians using primitive and improvised means and not operating in organized cells or linked with any Palestinian organization, does not justify a reversal of Israel's new policy; it is doubtful whether renewed restrictions can prevent this sort of spontaneous action by individuals.
Finally, there is a strong linkage between Palestinian security reform and the political process. On the one hand, progress in security reform is a strong enabler of progress toward political agreement between the two sides. On the other, viable Palestinian security reform is doubtful without a real Israeli-Palestinian political process that legitimizes it within Palestinian society and ensures it is not perceived as a purely political ploy by a failing Palestinian leadership that has no support in Palestinian society.- Published 11/5/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.
VIEW OF A PALESTINIAN CITIZEN OF ISRAEL
Security transformation dependent on political progress
by Mohammed Najib
Hamas' military takeover of the Gaza Strip in mid-June 2007 was a significant turning point in the job, role, views and priorities of the Palestinian Authority security apparatuses in the West Bank. For the first time since their creation in 1994, found themselves fighting to defend the Palestinian regime from an internal threat.
The highly motivated security apparatuses, with US and European financial and logistic assistance and some Israeli facilitation, have worked hard to boost their control over the West Bank and prevent any attempt by Hamas to repeat the Gaza experience there.
The PA decided to create a better security model for Palestinians in the chaotic West Bank than the Hamas security model in Gaza. But it soon became reactionary: every time Hamas--considered a militia by the PA--arrested Fateh activists in Gaza, the PA reciprocated in the West Bank.
The division between Fateh and Hamas has in fact presented an obstacle in the way of the development of Palestinian security apparatuses whose efforts are now concentrated on the internal conflict and cracking down on Hamas activists rather than on transforming themselves into truly professional apparatuses.
The security apparatuses have in fact already undergone one transformation, from revolutionary forces to semi-autonomous security forces, when they were established in 1994 and until the election of Mahmoud Abbas as president in 2005. The second challenge is to transform them from semi-autonomous to state security apparatuses, something that can only happen once a political settlement is reached.
It is very difficult, in the meantime, to convince Palestinians of the need for powerful and professional security apparatuses that operate under the Israeli occupation. For example, in the latest, highly publicized campaigns to restore law and order in West Bank cities, the PA security forces were allowed to operate only from six a.m. until midnight when Israeli forces came to operate in the same areas until the morning. This harmed the image and the role of the PA security apparatuses and portrayed them as part of the Israeli security system. Palestinian commentators lamented that Palestinian and Israeli forces were now operating a "shift system".
Meanwhile, the continued Israeli occupation of all West Bank cities, the Israeli army's regular invasions and the deployment of hundred of checkpoints throughout the West Bank are also preventing the proper functioning of the PA's security forces, who need prior permission to move into Area C from Area A or to arrest someone in Area C.
Israel is also restricting the kind of arms the security forces can bear to light arms such as AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, helmets and armored vests. In April 2005, for example, Russia presented President Abbas with two VIP Transport helicopters and 50 BTR armored personnel carriers (APCs) but Israel did not allow their delivery for four years despite the intervention at the highest level of Russian officials. In early 2009, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert informed Abbas that he would transfer the issue to the Israeli army, which insisted that Russia remove the heavy machine guns mounted on the APCs. After the Palestinians agreed, the army transferred the issue to the Israeli Security Agency, the "Shin Bet", which insisted that the APCs should be under Abbas' control only and not the interior ministry.
After their creation in 1994, furthermore, the PA security apparatuses were always perceived as being Fateh security apparatuses even though they included elements from other PLO factions. Since Hamas' takeover of Gaza, however, and the infiltration of the security apparatuses there by Hamas, membership is now strictly confined to Fateh activists.
The latest Israeli mini-war against Gaza in late December 2008 and January 2009 posed a serious challenge to these developing security apparatuses in keeping control over an angry West Bank population that wanted to show its sympathy with Gazans suffering from the excessive Israeli assault. Despite being used as an opportunity by Hamas to show that PA security control over the West Bank was fragile, the security forces managed to keep the West Bank largely quiet.
Indeed, the intensive restructuring and training process of the PA security apparatuses under the supervision of Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator who has managed to train thousands of PA security personnel at the Jordan International Police training Center (JIPTC), and the EU-POL COPP mission have had a positive impact on their professional performance on the ground. Nevertheless, in spite of an improved budget and better logistical capabilities, the development toward professionalism by the security forces is moving very slowly.
The election of the right-wing Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, furthermore, will make it harder for the PA security apparatuses to continue their development. This will remain the case for as long as the political process stagnates, indeed is thrown into question.- Published 11/5/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Mohammed Najib is a correspondent for Jane's Defense Weekly.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.