'Israel interfering in U.S. efforts in West Bank'
Report submitted to U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs accuses Jerusalem of delaying transfer of military equipment, despite Washington's efforts to train PA forces in West Bank.
A report by a U.S. government watchdog has found that the Israeli government's conduct in recent years - including delaying the transfer to Palestinian security forces of AK-47 rifles, radios, vehicles and uniforms - hampers U.S. efforts to train those forces in the West Bank.
"The implementation of the U.S. security assistance programs faces a number of logistical constraints that are largely outside of U.S. control, and these security assistance programs outpace efforts to develop the limited capacity of the PA police and justice sector," states the report, which was compiled by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and presented to the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and its subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. It was recently released to the public.
The report cited officials from the U.S. State Department and the bureau of the U.S. security coordinator as saying that "the process for obtaining government of Israel approval for the shipment and delivery of equipment for the PASF [Palestinian Authority Security Forces] is lengthy and may hamper the timely arrival of U.S. shipments. Moreover, the USSC lacks the means to hold the government of Israel or the PA accountable if shipments are delayed or approvals withheld."
The Government Accountability Office worked on the report from July 2009 to last May, meeting with American, Israeli and Palestinian officials in Washington, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah. The document examines the extent and effectiveness of U.S. security assistance to the PA since 2007, in the context of the roadmap peace plan requiring security efforts as a prelude to the implementation of the two-state solution.
The report calls on the State Department to define specific objectives and come up with concrete methods of measuring progress, especially given the fact that it has invested $392 million in rehabilitating and training PA security forces since 2007 - more than $160 million to fund certain units of the security forces, $89 million for vehicles and nonlethal equipment, $99 million for the renovation or construction of PA security forces' installations and $22 million in programs to increase the forces' capacity. The State Department has requested an additional $150 million for 2011.
American military consultants are cited as saying there has been an improvement in the security situation in the West Bank, but that it is probably not directly linked to their work.
For their part, Israeli and Palestinian officials praise the training activities, but the document states that the U.S. government doesn't have the means to determine whether such training is actually helping the PA meet its commitments under the roadmap.
Like the State Department, the Israeli government also comes in for criticism. The report quotes top American and Palestinian officials, who describe how Israel delays and hampers the training of Palestinian forces, whether deliberately or because of red tape.
"State [Department] officials stated that the government of Israel prefers not to establish objectives or measures that might limit its flexibility to conduct security operations within the West Bank," the report says.
Despite Israel's demand that the Palestinians act against terrorist groups, Israel has rebuffed American efforts to train Palestinian forces in combating terror, the Government Accountability Office found. The report states that the Americans wanted to set up Palestinian counterterrorist units, a step opposed by the Israeli government.
The document also states that Israel is delaying the transfer of light weapons and ammunition to Palestinian security forces. For instance, a shipment of 1,000 AK-47s was approved by the Israeli government, but detained in customs.
PA officials quoted in the report say the shortage of up-to-date weaponry hampers international efforts to improve the functioning of Palestinian security forces. However, an Israeli Defense Ministry official disputed this, saying the PA forces "had sufficient weapons."
American officials told the accountability office that Israel was delaying the transfer of nonlethal equipment as well, and insists on deciding on a case-by-case basis whether equipment can be transferred to the PA. For instance, Israel approved the shipment of raincoats to the Palestinians, but would not "guarantee the approval of future shipments of raincoats of comparable types and quantities," according to the report.