In the eyes of many knowledgeable Israeli observers, improved security in the West Bank and the role played therein by Palestinian security forces is the most important aspect of the Palestinian Authority's successful state-building program of recent years. We pay far less attention to the other aspects: creating judicial, financial and administrative institutions that work and are relatively uncorrupt. We don't particularly care whether the Palestinians have a national bar code system. Only a few Israelis have become involved in the renascent West Bank economy.
Nor is this centrality of security issues unique to Israeli perceptions. The recent unification dialogue between Fateh and Hamas in Damascus has focused, and has virtually collapsed, over the nature and status of a combined security force in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Yet, precisely because the Palestinian security effort in the West Bank has proven so successful and the Israeli man or woman in the street is no longer preoccupied with a Palestinian terrorist threat, there is no strong movement in Israel to make the political sacrifices necessary to reward Palestinians with a state of their own. Thus Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can drag his feet on final status negotiations without paying a domestic political price. Compare this situation to that of the early part of this decade, when frightened Israelis demonstrated and signed petitions in favor of a West Bank security fence to stop terrorist suicide bombers, eventually forcing the hand of a less-than-enthusiastic Sharon government.
This helps explain why the positive security legacy in the West Bank left behind by American General Keith Dayton, who departed last month after five years of efforts, provides a significant wind in the sails for only one of the two parallel peace processes that we confront today.
The first, failing process, is the Obama-Clinton-Mitchell effort to maneuver, pressure and entice the Netanyahu government and the PLO into a renewal of comprehensive final status negotiations. The Obama administration has complicated the process by introducing a problematic preoccupation with a settlement construction freeze, while both the Netanyahu government and the PLO leadership under Mahmoud Abbas appear to be too conflicted and constrained ideologically and too hamstrung politically to commit to a serious negotiating progress. The only security element in this process is Netanyahu's demand that final status talks begin with security--seemingly as if Dayton had never existed.
This is not the case with the second process, the Palestinian and Arab countdown toward an effort to gain United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Here the Palestinian state-building exercise, spearheaded by the successful security effort, is a key factor in persuading the international community that the Palestinian Authority is ready for the transition from autonomy to statehood. True, security has been enhanced only in the West Bank, and the Hamas leadership ruling the Gaza Strip remains a primary threat to PLO designs regarding the West Bank. Nevertheless, the contrasting role of security in each of the two processes highlights the problematic nature of Washington's role in shepherding them.
On the one hand, as the Dayton mission illustrates, the US (together with the European Union) correctly identified the key role of security in setting the scene for progress of any sort. A major investment in funds, training and expertise that commenced under the George W. Bush administration has paid off handsomely. It's fair to say that the Dayton legacy is the engine driving the state-building process.
On the other, the Obama administration's effort to promote a comprehensive negotiated end-of-conflict agreement within a year has foundered. If this flawed venture continues to be pursued, it could well jeopardize the Dayton achievements and plunge Israel and the West Bank back into some form of renewed conflict.
Thanks to Dayton, Washington would be far better off abandoning its construction freeze and negotiations demands and concentrating instead on making Palestinian unilateral state-building work at the international level. It should be seeking to co-opt Jerusalem into integrating Israel's security and political needs within the framework of the necessary UN resolutions. Rather than trying to sit the reluctant sides down to reach an elusive comprehensive solution within a year, the US should be capitalizing on Dayton's achievement in order to foster an indirectly-negotiated but internationally-recognized partial solution that capitalizes on the Palestinian unilateral state-building initiative and concentrates on borders, settlements, water and security.-Published 22/11/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Israel presents security as its main concern and a major component of negotiations with Palestinians. It uses security to rationalize both justifiable and unjustifiable positions and acts.
Palestinians, who live under Israel's military occupation in the least secure conditions imaginable, believe that in most cases, Israel uses the issue of security as a pretext for doing things that the world might not accept otherwise.
As far as Palestinians are concerned, the main issue in this conflict is Israel's illegal occupation and continued control of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Israel continues to acquire more land in these areas for the settlement of Jewish colonists, thus entrenching the occupation.
The manner in which these settlements encroach upon Palestinian villages, eating up their agricultural land and forcing hostile settlers upon Palestinian residents in fact further jeopardizes Israeli security, making Israelis more vulnerable. Israel then justifies the actions of its military--arresting Palestinians, erecting checkpoints, and further interfering in daily life--as necessary to protect these Israeli settlers. Yet the government goes on building more settlements. It's ironic, if not tragic.
The roadmap gave the Palestinian Authority the obligation of ending all types of Palestinian violence against Israelis, at the same time fighting or dismantling the infrastructure of terrorist organizations. By the same token, Israel's obligations under the roadmap were to stop settlement expansion. But Israel insisted that these two parallel obligations were supposed to happen sequentially -- Palestinians must "stop terror" first, in other words.
Over the last three years, particularly given Palestinian security reforms and the stamping out of security lawlessness in the West Bank, Palestinians have completely fulfilled their security obligations under the roadmap and have managed to create the impression among Israeli military and political leaders that they are successfully preventing violent activities against Israel.
Toward the end of last year, several Israeli and non-Israeli security reports testified to that success. These reports indicated that last year was the safest year for Israelis since the establishment of the peace process and that it saw a minimum of incidents against Israelis. Still this Palestinian success was not good enough to convince Israel to fulfill its obligations under the roadmap, namely stopping the expansion of settlements. And thus not only Palestinians but also internationals have been proven correct in the belief that Israel's security is mainly a pretext for continuing Israeli settlement expansion and deepening the occupation.
The international community was a first-hand witness to this, being deeply involved in the recent security reforms. The United States was involved in training and supporting certain security apparatuses, particularly the national security forces, and the Europe Union was involved in supporting the reforms in the police. Thus, not only did the international community help to bring about this Palestinian success, but it also saw that even these sweeping changes brought no change in Israeli policies or attitudes.
Moreover, the international community and many Israeli commentators and officials have been warning that Palestinians cannot continue this security success without political progress. The Palestinian Authority is only able to maintain public support and understanding for this security policy on the basis that it is necessary for the success of the political process intended to bring Israel's illegal occupation to an end. For Palestinian officials to go on preventing what many Palestinians consider legitimate resistance to the occupation at the same time that the occupation is being consolidated will undermine the Palestinian government's public stand and put it in jeopardy.-Published 22/10/2010 © bitterlemons
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Without further movement, everything could collapse
by Amos Harel
The head of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command, Major General Avi Mizrachi, recently visited the center of Ramallah. Together with five additional senior Central Command officers, Mizrachi took note of the city's lively night life. The Israeli officers came in civilian clothes and didn't bother carrying even light arms. The visit and the Israeli officers' safety were the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority heads of security.
The night visit by Mizrachi and his officers passed without incident. None of Ramallah's busy citizens identified them, not even when the general stopped to chat in English with fellow diners in a Ramallah restaurant (though one could argue that these same senior officers would not be identified under similar circumstances in a restaurant in Jerusalem or Ariel). Mizrachi likes these visits, which allow him to take the measure of matters without restriction, even if he isn't Haroun al-Rashid (who, according to legend, liked to move incognito among his subjects in Baghdad). Over the past year, he has made similar visits to Qalqilia, Jericho and other West Bank cities.
Ever-closer security coordination between Israel and the PA is a central element in the legacy left behind by an American officer. General Keith Dayton, who headed the United States Security Coordinator's team in Israel and the PA, completed a five-year mission in October. Dayton registered impressive achievements, particularly over the past three years.
His mission commenced in far more difficult circumstances, at around the time Israel left the Gaza Strip. Dayton mistakenly counted on PA security forces to overcome Hamas in the Strip; Hamas actually executed its violent and amazingly easy takeover of the Strip shortly after Dayton presented particularly optimistic testimony to the US Congress. Nor did a first attempt to transfer Jenin to Palestinian security responsibility succeed. It took hard and patient work by Dayton, gradually integrating the two sides, to arrive at the present reality in the West Bank.
Even today there are senior IDF officers who believe their commanders went too far in accommodating Dayton. "On the evening when Hamas murdered four settlers near Hebron late last August," one of them testifies, "senior IDF and Palestinian security officials enjoyed a festive Iftar meal, breaking the Ramadan fast. This reflects the excesses of the process."
Still, the improved situation is evident everywhere. American and European trainers have readied more than 3,000 Palestinian security personnel in camps in Jordan, the PA has restored its de facto control over West Bank towns, and the IDF has cut back its nocturnal arrest forays into most of them. Israel has removed some of the checkpoints and economic restrictions on Palestinian life, and the anarchy that characterized Nablus and Jenin until mid-decade has ended. The number of attacks on Israelis has dropped dramatically. When Jews enter Palestinian cities by mistake or without permission, they are no longer lynched but are politely returned to the IDF. In short, security coordination between Israel and the PA is better today than at any point since the signing of the first Oslo agreement in September 1993.
Dayton deserves much of the credit, though in Israeli eyes none of this could have been accomplished without forceful action against the Palestinian terrorist wave by the IDF and the General Security Service, from 2002 on. And senior Fateh officials in the West Bank will add, correctly, that had it not been for Hamas brutally expelling their comrades from the Strip in 2007, the PA would never have recognized the need to suppress Hamas activity that endangered its very existence in the West Bank.
Nor is the situation inherited from Dayton by US Air Force General Michael Moeller entirely positive. There is a "catch" embedded in the bottom-up American-inspired new reality in the West Bank: the entire process is predicated on constant progress, however slow and calculated. Without further forward movement, everything could collapse again within a year. Ongoing Palestinian willingness to prevent attacks depends to a large extent on diplomatic progress. Only expansion of the PA's security authority and genuine movement in peace negotiations can maintain the motivation of the Palestinian security establishment to restrain terrorist organizations. Worse, perhaps, in the event of renewed hostilities Israel will confront "Dayton battalions" that are far better trained than their predecessors, some of whom fought the IDF a few years ago.
On the other hand, any American attempt to push Israel into offering further concessions could generate either of two troublesome scenarios: a confrontation between Washington and PM Binyamin Netanyahu; or, in contrast, genuine progress that provokes Hamas to launch a wave of terrorist attacks and the settlers to initiate mass protests against the government. General Dayton contributed to an enhancement of security in the territories but his mission did not address--nor, presumably, was it intended to address--the basic sources of the conflict.-Published 22/11/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Amos Harel is Haaretz military commentator.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Police state in-the-making
by Samah Jabr
Although United States-sponsored security coordination with the Palestinian Authority started in the nineties, the scale and nature of US intervention in Palestinian affairs intensified through the program headed by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton that was launched by the Bush administration in 2005. When Hamas ousted Fateh from the Gaza Strip in June 2007, the atmosphere then became ripe to escalate the growth of this political mutation that transformed former "national heroes" into "terrorists". While Hamas security forces in Gaza are considered illegal, governments in Europe and North America provide generous financial support to the PA and its security forces.
In an address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Dayton said (as if this were a compliment) that his program had created a "new kind of Palestinian man." Three battalions of 500 men each have graduated from the program, and more are currently in training to engage in a series of offensives against members of the resistance groups in the West Bank.
Senior Israeli commanders were so impressed with the Palestinian troops, said Dayton, they asked him, "How many more of these new Palestinians can you generate, and how quickly?" Dayton promised to invest around 1.3 billion dollars in the Palestinian security establishment; to graduate 4,700 personnel; provide training, equipment and basic capacity building for another 15,000 troops; and restore the organizational structure of the PA's security institutions.
The United States does not invest this money in the well-being of the Palestinian population--to build schools and hospitals that support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, for example--but rather uses this money to bribe some Palestinians with power, money and privileges that reinforce internal Palestinian conflict and disunity. It is creating a "Palestinian Contra" to do the dirty work for Israel's occupation and impose the American political agenda and political decision on an exhausted, terrified, impoverished and blackmailed Palestinian population.
In August, the General Intelligence and Preventive Security units rounded up more than 700 sympathizers with Palestinian resistance groups following a deadly attack on West Bank settlers.
One asks: who are the security forces serving? Where do they disappear to when Israeli occupation soldiers invade our towns and cities to abduct, injure and kill Palestinians? Do they intimidate anyone else other than the Palestinians? Do they attack any Israeli military bases or solely Hamas charitable institutions? Have they ever arrested or interrogated any Israeli settler attacking villagers in the West Bank? Are interrogation and arrest and torture only a special treat for Palestinians?
The West Bank is becoming a police state. Al Haq, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and the Guardian newspaper are all credible references for evidence that a significant number of detainees are tortured with impunity during interrogation by General Intelligence and Preventive Security forces.
Dayton may now be gone, but his brutal security arrangements have damaged the credibility of the Palestinian Authority and stirred resentment against it. More importantly, these arrangements have confused and eroded the Palestinian social structure. While there was once a Palestinian consensus denouncing human rights abuses by Israeli authorities, it has been the most heartbreaking, demoralizing, and humiliating experience to witness Palestinians torture and abuse their fellow countrymen.
Security measures impede any possible progress toward a reconciliation agreement between the two dominant Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fateh. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority cannot fulfill the holy grail of economic growth or Palestinian institution-building. The peace negotiations seem to be the last chance for the Palestinian Authority--and they don't seem to be carrying much hope. I wonder how long the Palestinian Authority will survive when the American administration decides it is not a peace partner.-Published 22/11/2010© bitterlemons
Samah Jabr is a freelance writer and a psychiatrist.
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