Last Thursday I joined a group of senior Palestinian Authority officials who traveled from Ramallah to Jericho for the dedication of the new Palestinian Security Academy training ground. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was the guest of honor. He had just completed his joint press conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and was stopping in Jericho en route to Jordan. From there he was to fly to the United States, where he will meet today with President George Bush at the United Nations in New York.
Jericho is considered a quiet town. With the exception of the hotel, the closed casino at the southern entrance to the city and the destroyed police building, it looks fairly miserable, as it was when the Israel Defense Forces occupied it over 40 years ago. The Security Academy complex is northwest of the city. It is an impressive structure, with classrooms, computer systems, and a spacious, modern gym, all built with aid money, mainly American.
The first class, 120 officers from all of the PA security organizations, will begin its training in the coming days. The students will learn basic subjects, including administration and law. General Tawfiq Tirawi, the strongman of the West Bank security organizations, is emphatic: "They will also learn Hebrew - there will be no officer here who does not know Hebrew well."
There seems to be a serious effort to revamp the PA security forces in the West Bank, but it is not clear whether the attempt will work. In recent years security control over a number of cities in the West Bank was transferred to Palestinian organizations, which failed.
According to IDF sources, each time the IDF stopped raiding a city in the West Bank it became a safe haven for militants preparing attacks inside Israel, such as the one that was foiled in recent days in South Tel Aviv.
The West Bank security question is governed by paradox. The great concern is that if the IDF withdraws completely from Palestinian urban centers (what used to constitute Area A), terrorist cells will find room to organize themselves. Moreover, Hamas activists will become more powerful and will pose a threat to the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, toppling them as they did in the Gaza Strip.
As such, the IDF and the Palestinian security organizations are now focused on hunting down militants and carrying out extensive arrests in the West Bank. Among those arrested are Hamas activists, and also some who are suspected terrorists. For months now, Israeli news reports announce the number of fugitives arrested the night before. The arrests of Hamas activists in the West Bank by the PA has already caused some discontent in the larger cities.
On the one hand, the intense activity of the IDF in the West Bank ensures that Abbas' security organizations remain in control there and prevents the strengthening of Hamas, but the opposite is also true. The PA is becoming very weakened by Israel's operations. It is increasingly seen as an authority that is managing to survive in the West Bank only thanks to the IDF and the collaborators working for Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service. In the West Bank they joke that Abbas and his men, who also include a group of 200 Fatah refugees from the Gaza Strip, do not dare travel stray too far from Ramallah and the Muqata'a, the presidential complex. Some (Nabil Sha'ath, Mohammed Dahlan and Hassan Asfur) spend most of their time in Egypt , while others appear to have become exasperated with the Palestinian nation-building effort and simply moved to Amman. How long can this continue?
Shortly before his death three years ago, the sociologist Gadi Yatziv wrote that in the IDF struggle against terrorism, victory is part of failure. It is impossible to win because every raid, assassination, arrest and roadblock stir rage and hatred and broaden the pool of conscripts for terrorist cells. But it is also impossible to fail because the spokesmen of the Israeli security establishment will always claim that without these raids and roadblocks, terrorism will be much worse. It is an argument that cannot be refuted.
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