(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is exploring the idea of allowing Jordanian forces, and not NATO troops, into the West Bank to help the Palestinian Authority fight terrorism, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
What Olmert has in mind, and what has been raised in recent meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah II, is not the Badr Brigade - a group of Palestinian soldiers inside the Jordanian Army - but rather "regular" Jordanian Army troops, Beduins who have experience fighting terrorism.
The Badr Brigade is a unit in the Jordanian Army composed of 1,500 to 2,000 Palestinians who receive salaries from the PLO. The introduction of the Badr Brigade into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to support Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has been talked about endlessly and without any concrete results for years.
But Olmert, in recent meetings, has raised the possibility of introducing regular forces from the Jordanian Army. He has said this could be an effective way to help Abbas create a semblance of security in the West Bank.
The idea is likely to be raised when Olmert and Abbas meet next week, just days after Wednesday's planned visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Olmert and Abbas met two weeks ago and - in addition to discussing day-to-day security issues - reportedly discussed final-status issues.
"We have started very seriously to talk with Mr. Abbas on a peace process and questions that can allow a Palestinian state to be established," Olmert said last week. The "discussions will continue at the pace we have agreed upon, and we are in agreement for them to continue until they bear concrete results," he added.
If security arrangements can be worked out, the Olmert-Abbas meeting may take place in Jericho, which would be the first time the two men would meet in the PA.
Olmert, during a speech last Thursday at the National Security College, was asked about the possibility of an international force in the Gaza Strip, an idea that has been raised on numerous occasions but is deemed unrealistic at this time. In his answer, he chose to talk instead about the possibility of an international force in the West Bank.
Olmert said the performance of the expanded UNIFIL peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon since the Second Lebanon War had shown that an international force could be effective, given the right mandate and the right make-up of forces. He added that the German, Italian and French units had been much more effective in southern Lebanon than forces from Muslim states such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
Olmert further added that the south Lebanon model was encouraging in looking at future scenarios for the West Bank.
"Perhaps when we leave the territories in the West Bank, an international force could be one to think about," he was quoted as saying by one of the participants in the meeting. "Perhaps an Arab army in the West Bank."
When Olmert has talked in recent weeks in closed meetings about an Arab force, he has meant a Jordanian force.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Israel Radio on Friday that Israel should withdraw from most of the West Bank and that NATO forces could replace the IDF in the areas evacuated. Although Ramon is a close Olmert confidant, this idea is not considered to be one that Olmert is pushing or even necessarily supports.
While there is widespread speculation a NATO force would be deployed as part of a peace agreement, Olmert's idea for an Arab force in the West Bank is something that could be implemented well before a final-status agreement would be finalized.