U.S. official doubts ability of PA to police West Bank
General Keith Dayton praises PA efforts, is pessimisistic about security; PA agrees, blames lack of infrastructure.
The United States security coordinator in the Palestinian Authority said he does not believe Palestinian security forces in the West Bank are capable of enforcing security needs in cities there, according to statements made recently in private talks.
General Keith Dayton's views are seconded by the PA, which recently informed Israel that it lacks the necessary infrastructure to deploy police officers in Nablus.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said during talks in Washington last week that Israel is interested in furthering a process to enable Palestinian security forces to deploy in the West Bank. Barak added that Israel lifted 25 roadblocks in the West Bank recently.
During a meeting with Israeli officials, Dayton expressed his deep appreciation for Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad and his efforts to rebuild the security forces. However, Dayton's assessments about the capabilities of the Palestinian security forces are a great deal more pessimistic than his earlier statements.
Prior to the collapse of Fatah in the Gaza Strip and the expulsion of the PA's security forces from there by Hamas forces in June, Dayton had expressed greater confidence in the forces affiliated with the PA and Fatah. Nonetheless, Dayton says these forces may be ready for operational deployment after they complete more training during the next six months.
Dayton's pessimism is shared by Israeli intelligence officials. The Military Intelligence Research Division has predicted, in a document presented to the political leadership, that the PA will not be able to assert security control over the West Bank cities in the near future.
During the summer the Palestinian prime minister also said that the PA's forces are not ready for assuming such responsibility at this time.
However, Israel is continuing with its plans to allow the PA to deploy police officers whose role will be law and order and not anti-terrorist activities. Last week in Washington, Barak informed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that Israel is considering allowing the PA to deploy hundreds of policemen in another West Bank city, in addition to Nablus.
However, Israel also informed the Americans that even though it had authorized the deployment of 500 policemen in Nablus, the PA informed the defense establishment that it is not ready to carry this out.
Palestinian sources explained that the Interior Ministry of the PA would like to first have in place the necessary infrastructure - such as housing and vehicles - that can support the policemen in their task.
During the summer, the Palestinian National Security organization sent selected soldiers from various units for two months of training at a camp near Jericho. This was done in anticipation of having to deploy in Nablus. Now, the force is waiting for deployment.
According to various estimates, in the coming weeks the PA will complete the preparations of the necessary infrastructure for the deployment of the 500-strong force.
The Palestinian Interior Ministry and senior officials in the PA security forces in Nablus plan to initiate a major operation immediately upon their arrival to the city in an effort to check criminal activity, which is common place in Nablus. Among the more common crimes that they intend to tackle are car theft, drug trafficking, extortion and robbery.
Israeli security sources believe the PA is concerned it may find it difficult to meet the task of gaining control over Nablus, especially when they will be asked to confront armed gangs, some of them affiliated with Fatah.
There are also concerns in the PA that IDF soldiers, who will continue operating in the city in an anti-terrorist capacity, will also target the armed policemen.
Barak also told American officials during his meetings that Israel has lifted 24 dirt roadblocks and one permanent obstacle on West Bank roads in an effort to make it easier for Palestinian civilians to move in the area.
The roadblock changes are being made without publicity, as was common in the past.
Most of the roadblocks lifted are in the area of Bethlehem and Hebron, and are meant to prevent vehicles from exiting or entering the villages in the area. Some others are in the areas of Ramallah and Qalqilyah.
Barak told American officials Israel is also weighing a series of measures that would make it easier for Palestinian businessmen and traders to conduct business.
Also, recently, senior PA officials announced they intend to withdraw their request to allow the Badr Brigade, a Palestinian force in the Jordanian army, to deploy in the West Bank.