Security in the Palestinian territories is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for peace between Israel and Palestine. It is a basic and non-negotiable need. In the last three years there has been significant progress in this area. This is mainly due to the training of Palestinian security forces by the USSC – United States Security Coordinators Team (headed by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton). In a keynote address at the Washington Institute 2009 Soref Symposium, Dayton offered his optimistic assessment of the important work that has been recently done.
“Across the West Bank, these security campaigns have featured clamping down on armed gangs amid a visible police presence, dismantling illegal militias, working against illegal Hamas activities, and focusing on the safety and security of Palestinian citizens. Crime is down. Teenage girls in Jenin can visit their friends after dark without fear of being attacked. Palestinian shops are now open after dark—they never were. A year ago they weren’t.
And life is approaching normal in many of these areas. In a report published at the end of February, the International Monetary Fund, which is always critical of everybody, wrote that “During 2008, the Palestinian authority made substantial progress in establishing security in several Palestinian cities in the West Bank by deploying police and security forces. This has brought about a large measure of stability and business confidence, and 2008 was the most profitable year for the Palestinian Authority in the past decade.”
One sure sign that this program has been effective has been the ability of Palestinian security forces to maintain law and order during Operation Cast Lead—the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza in January. It needs to be noted that this was not expected by senior members of the IDF – who predicted major cilvil unrest or a third Intifadah. Dayton explains the success of the Palestinian security forces on two accounts:
The new professionalism and competency of the new Palestinian security forces guaranteed a measured and disciplined approach to the popular unrest. Their guidance from the prime minister and president was clear: allow demonstrations, but do not allow them to become violent, and keep the demonstrators away from the Israelis.
The IDF also felt—after the first week or so—that the Palestinians were there and they could trust them….The Israelis deliberately kept a low profile, stayed away from the demonstrators, and coordinated their daily activity with the Palestinians to make sure they weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time for either an inadvertent clash or just to stay out of the way of the demonstrations that were coming.
The second reason, which is one that I think we need to study a little more — and maybe The Washington Institute can help us with this—was one I didn’t expect. I heard this in the north, I heard it in the south. The consistent theme was that although the people in the West Bank did not support the Gaza invasion—as a matter of fact, they were extremely angry at Israel for doing it—they didn’t support Hamas even more.
What I’m saying here is, they showed their support for the people by blood drives, clothing drives, food drives, things like this. But they were not out there to demonstrate in favor of Hamas. They were out there to demonstrate in favor of the people of Gaza. But Hamas was clearly not on their dance card. Why? Because Hamas was perceived as having brought disorder and disaster to Gaza, and the people in the West Bank simply didn’t want that anymore. Plus they had a security force amidst them that they were beginning to respect. The way I would put it is, the prospect of order trumped the prospect of chaos.”
(During the Gaza war I wrote a piece for Haaretz about the rising and vocal discontent with Hamas in the Muslim world.)
To read more of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton’s keynote address delivered (and it is a must read), click here.