`If all proceeds as planned, we will succeed'

Ze'ev Schiff
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Ze'ev Schiff

"The Palestinian Authority plans to move forces from the Gaza Strip to areas bordering the evacuation of the Israeli settlements, in order to enforce law and order. To this end, they are fully coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces and are jointly examining different possible military scenarios. These are some of the steps the Palestinians are taking before the disengagement, and if all proceeds as planned, we will succeed."

This is the main message Lieutenant General William Ward, U.S. security coordinator between Israel and the Palestinians, and security reforms advisor to the latter, conveyed in a conversation with Haaretz.

The disengagement and the reforms have been the focus of Ward's activity since he was appointed six months ago by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He is very cautious and speaks more as a diplomat than a military man. Ward has international military experience, especially in conflict regions like Somalia and Bosnia. Ward certainly remembers the American general who preceded him, Anthony Zinni, whose mission failed. But Zinni was active in the era of Arafat, who led him astray, while Ward is working in the Abu Mazen era and has broader authority.

Ward gently warns Israel against playing out a scenario that senior IDF commanders recently discussed, which would involve moving large Israeli forces into the Gaza Strip before the disengagement. The international community would not want to see this play out, and it should be avoided, he says. Ward says that he knows the Israelis are aware of the need to avoid a deterioration into military action.

When describing Palestinian actions in regard to security reform, Ward focuses on what has already been done. This, however, leads to the conclusion that the big security reform has not yet been undertaken. The requisite commands have been written up, the hierarchy is being drawn up, discipline is being enforced. The process is a prolonged one, and is also tied to economic and social issues, and it will continue after the disengagement.

It is clear that Ward is an enthusiastic proponent of security assistance to the PA. Not only ammunition is necessary, but armored vehicles, arms, new communications equipment and basic construction. He says the Palestinians need to renew their supplies, but he does not know exactly how much ammunition is needed. He doesn't know if it will be supplied by the U.S. or by others, such as the European Union.

He has no desire or intention to meet with Hamas representatives. He is guided by the words of U.S. President George W. Bush, who says that the Palestinians need one political authority, one law and one security arm. "We don't yet recognize Hamas, and for there to be one authority and one arm, certain steps need to be taken," Ward said.

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