There are plans to add three more battalions to the Palestinian Authority's paramilitary security force, which is charged with keeping order in the West Bank, says Lt. General Keith Dayton, US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Dayton, who has been overseeing the establishment and training of the force, made the comments recently while speaking at Harvard University.
Like existing Palestinian paramilitary units, the new battalions would be trained and equipped in Jordan, Dayton said, adding that there was a spot on the 2009 budget for developing a genuine Palestinian counter-terrorism capability, which the PA currently lacked.
Seeing himself as establishing a Palestinian "gendarme," the US general credited forces he had already trained as having maintained order in the West Bank during the winter fighting in Gaza.
"This was the dog that didn't bark - the West Bank did not erupt into violence... and we believe this is the reason why," Dayton said.
He stated that for the Palestinians, the prospect of chaos was trumped by the prospect of order. "They got a taste of it in 2008... and they liked what they tasted," he said.
Dayton said the troops he trains see themselves as state-builders and believe that if they get this right, they will be rewarded with statehood.
Dayton said even though Hamas accuses the forces he trains of being collaborators and they are often called "Dayton's Army," the paramilitary troops "don't buy it for a minute."
He said these troops have traction with both their families and their communities, and that the performance returns from their training in Jordan had been "absolutely first rate... I'd work with these guys anywhere."
Dayton added that they were highly motivated and that the program appeared to be working very well. He said the Jordanians had inculcated in these troops loyalty to a Palestinian flag and a Palestinian people and "...not to a political movement."
"I see these guys..." said Dayton. "They think they are building a state. They know it's not going be easy, they know they've got a ways to go yet. But they are really out there doing it every day."
Dayton also credited Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad with launching security offensives throughout the West Bank, adding that the PA had been "very, very successful" in reestablishing its authority.
"Right now I would tell you the rule of law is back in the West Bank," he said.
During the Gaza war, the people in the West Bank, while having "tremendous" sympathy for the civilians in Gaza, did not have any for the Hamas political movement, which they felt had led them into "unnecessary crises," said Dayton, adding that there wasn't a lot of appetite to risk chaos again.
On recent visits to the governors and the area commanders in the West Bank, the overall feeling was "pretty positive," said Dayton. He said West Bank Palestinians have high expectations of US President Obama and his administration.