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Palestinian Security Paradox

By David Ignatius
Thursday, November 15, 2007

JERUSALEM -- Here's a safe prediction in advance of the Annapolis peace conference scheduled to take place in a few weeks: The Palestinians won't be ready to fulfill their obligation to provide security in the West Bank under the "road map to peace."

The Palestinian Authority simply doesn't have the people, the training or the equipment to maintain order in the territories.

Why is this so? The answer, in part, is that the Palestinians haven't built up their security forces because the Israelis haven't permitted them to do so. And they haven't trained or equipped these forces, as envisaged under the road map, because the United States has failed to provide the necessary funds.

Security is the magic word. No peace deal will work until the Palestinians are able to provide security that Israelis can trust. But right now, people are paying lip service to this idea rather than actually helping the Palestinians build a credible force.

If Annapolis is to be anything more than another exercise in frustration, Americans, Israelis and Palestinians should face this problem directly. The peace conference is premised on expectations about security that are unrealistic and can't be fulfilled. If the Israelis really want the Palestinians to take more responsibility for curbing terror and maintaining order, they will have to allow them the resources and training to learn how. That's risky, but the alternative is permanent Israeli occupation, which nobody wants.

The new Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, understands that Israelis want evidence of security in exchange for creating a Palestinian state. So this month he deployed 300 members of his National Security Forces to Nablus, the biggest and toughest city in the West Bank. He wants them to impose order, as the Israelis demand. But so far, the Israelis have hindered parts of this effort. For example:

• Permission was denied for Palestinian security forces to use body armor that had been donated by the British government. The Israelis objected that the armor could stop Israeli bullets.

• Permission was denied for the Palestinians to operate round-the-clock in Nablus to pursue criminal gangs there. The Israelis cited their own need to conduct nighttime anti-terror operations.

• Permission has generally been denied for Palestinian forces to enter "Area B" villages under Israeli control to pursue criminal gangs that use these areas as havens. One exception was made several days ago.

• Permission is unclear for extension of an amnesty program for members of the militant al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. More than 100 Palestinians had taken this deal and agreed to give up their weapons and remain in compounds for 90 days. The 90 days have passed, but the Israelis haven't allowed the men's release and are considering the issue on a case-by-case basis.

When President Bush announced the road map in April 2003, it assumed a tripartite cooperation on security that has never materialized. In Phase I, the plan envisaged "implementation, as previously agreed, of U.S. rebuilding, training and resumed security cooperation plan." In this joint effort, "restructured/retrained Palestinian security forces and IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] counterparts [will] progressively resume security cooperation," the document pledged.

To carry out the road map, the Bush administration in 2005 created the office of U.S. security coordinator, reporting to the State Department. Since late 2005, that post has been filled by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton. But until recently, his office has had little money from Congress to carry out its responsibilities. That's because Congress, mistrusting the Palestinians, wouldn't appropriate the funds.

The spigot was finally opened in August, when the Bush administration persuaded Congress to appropriate $86 million for Palestinian security. That will include $25 million to train and equip a 700-man battalion of the Palestinian National Security Forces in Jordan, starting this winter. Unfortunately, those troops won't graduate for many months. Other projects in the pipeline include $9 million to rebuild training centers in Jericho, $6 million to create a strong Palestinian Interior Ministry and money to train a Palestinian Presidential Guard in Egypt. But because so much time has been lost, the benefits are months away.

Fayyad wants to build a strong security force that can stop terrorism -- but one that Palestinians will see as their own rather than something imposed by America or Israel. That's a goal everyone should share, but it won't be a reality when the Annapolis conference convenes. If people are serious about security in a future Palestinian state, they need to let Palestinians learn to do the job.

The writer is co-host of PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

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