The Palestinian Authority has quietly been getting its act together. Now Israel must tooby John Deverell / August 27, 2009 / Leave a comment
The deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians during Israel’s brutal winter 2008-2009 offensive in Hamas-run Gaza sparked outrage across the world. Yet to the surprise of all—including the Israeli security establishment—the West Bank did not explode in violent protest against the war. After 40 years of occupation it seemed as if many West Bankers had finally lost faith in violent resistance.
They may have lost faith in peaceful negotiation too, no longer believing that the international community is serious about getting Israel to lift the yoke, while still wary of anything that could result in yet more retribution at the hands of Israel’s army. The peace process seems deadlocked. President Abbas was keenly aware of this at the Fatah party conference in early August. “Although peace is our choice, we reserve the right to resistance,” he said.
Yet despite the widely felt pessimism, there is grounds for some hope. Part of the reason the West Bank didn’t dissolve into anarchy during the Gaza conflict was the little noticed improvement of its own security forces. Just two years ago, towns like Nablus, Jenin and Hebron had a “wild west” feel to them. But in 2007 Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad ordered a clampdown on gangs and illegal militias. Today, those cities are much safer. Children can go to school unaccompanied, and cars stop at traffic lights.
There is, of course, a strategic objective behind this: improving security helps economic growth in the West Bank, which in turn encourages the all-important moderate Palestinian voice. In the long term, better security should also help the Palestinian Authority to secure its own territory and to ready it for full statehood.
These efforts have been aided since 2005 by a US-led mission, headed by a US general—Keith Dayton—with British and Canadian support. I have spent the past 15 months involved in this bottom-up approach, helping to transform the Arafat-era hotchpotch of security forces. We have provided professional advice, training and non-lethal equipment to many key areas of the security forces, excluding the intelligence services. At my suggestion, we have set up a senior leaders’ course—a sort of high-level Palestinian staff college—helping the Palestinians to establish a core of effective leaders, imbued with the values of human rights, good governance, accountability and the rule of law. Some of the graduates are now in key positions and are keen to reform their own forces.
But the security…