Security and Defense: 2011 – The year Palestine is born?

By the summer of 2011, Salam Fayyad may finally succeed in totally reforming the Palestinian Authority – and that could spell big trouble for Israel.

fayyad lookin formal 311 (photo credit: AP)
fayyad lookin formal 311
(photo credit: AP)
The summer of 2011. That is when Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has scheduled the unveiling of the new and completely reformed, rebuilt and expected-to-be responsible PA.
While the implementation of this program – widely known as the “Fayyad Plan” – is still more than a year away, it already has Israel extremely worried. This is because it may lead to a third intifada, during which Israel would be fighting a 20,000-strong militia, half of which was trained by the US and EU, and not terrorist organizations like Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
The scenario is quite simple.
Fayyad succeeds in implementing his ambitious plan – ending the PA economy’s dependence on Israel, reforming the security forces, unifying the legal system and downsizing the government – and decides that now is the time for statehood. Work on such a declaration is already being spearheaded by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
The problem though is that Israeli settlements are still located in the West Bank. The solution – an official PA decision to launch a violent terror campaign branded around the world as a war for freedom.
The second scenario heard these days in the corridors of the IDF’s Central Command base in Jerusalem is that Fayyad will succeed in implementing his plan and will decide to take his case to the UN Security Council, where he will ask for his newly-formed state of Palestine to be recognized.
The Europeans will likely raise their hands, as will the Russians and the Chinese. The US is the wild card. On the one hand, Washington has traditionally used its veto power to thwart anti-Israel resolutions. On the other hand, if the current crisis with the White House continues and even gets worse, President Barack Obama could decide to let the resolution pass.
This will automatically lead to calls on Israel to immediately withdraw from the West Bank. When it fails or even just falters, it will come under an unprecedented hail of international criticism and become a pariah state.
There is also a third alternative, which is the one the IDF hopes will materialize.
If the proximity talks that were scheduled to start before the Ramat Shlomo debacle actually begin in the coming weeks, there is a possibility that by the summer of 2011 an agreement will have been reached. If not, there is the possibility that after Fayyad’s plan succeeds – and not wanting to risk losing everything he and Abbas have built in a new intifada or a US veto in the Security Council – the two leaders will decide to launch immediate and direct negotiations with Jerusalem.
IN THE meantime, Central Command is carefully tracking the progress of the Fayyad Plan which, so far, has been quite impressive. Five battalions of 500 soldiers each and trained by US security coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in Jordan have already deployed throughout the West Bank alongside seven regional battalions.
By 2011, another five battalions will have undergone training. Fayyad’s plan is to then dismantle the regional battalions and expand the Dayton-trained battalions to close to 1,000 soldiers each, bringing the total number to around 10,000. Add the police and the presidential guard and the number of armed PA security officers comes out to around 20,000.
The forces are mostly equipped with AK-47 assault rifles and riot gear. There have been some requests, turned down by Israel, for explosive capabilities, as well as RPGs – to be used in anti-Hamas operations. Russian armored personnel carriers are expected to arrive in the West Bank by the end of the year.
Currently, cooperation with the PA security forces has never been better, and defense officials readily admit that the PA is spearheading the war on Hamas in the West Bank with the IDF riding shotgun.
On the other hand, with the summer of 2011 in mind, the IDF cannot ignore the possibility that these 20,000 men will one day turn their guns on Israel and is, as a result, already now beginning to prepare for the day that a third intifada begins.
With success comes the desire for more, and following Operation Cast Lead, which passed quietly in the West Bank, Dayton came to then OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni – currently military attaché in Washington – and asked that Israel transfer security control over Hebron or Tulkarm to the PA. Dayton’s request was based on the way the US military did things in Iraq, where it transferred over to the Iraqis district by district.
The request worked its way up to the political echelon, which in agreement with the defense establishment, decided to turn it down. The reasoning was that as long as Israel is in the territories, it needs to be fully in control.
This full level of control, though, is no longer as secure as it once was. As Fayyad’s plan advances, so too does the disengagement of the PA economy from its long-standing dependence on Israel. When this is complete – made possible by the billions of dollars that the Americans and Europeans are pouring into the economy – Israel will have little leverage over the PA; meaning that while it might still be in the territory, it will have lost control over it.
ONE OF Fayyad’s first challenges will be the upcoming municipal elections slated for July. According to IDF predictions, Fatah will sweep every single council and mayoral race, mostly since Hamas will boycott the elections so it can say later that the results were one-sided.
A few weeks ago, Fatah finalized its takeover of student councils at Palestinian universities in the West Bank – including the Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron, Bir Zeit University near Ramallah and An-Najah University in Nablus – not so long ago hotbeds for Hamas activity and extremism.
While Hamas still tries to recruit new activists on these campuses, the chemical labs that served as bomb manufacturing plants during the second intifada are today focused just on science.
On the surface, the situation looks pretty good. Terror is down to an all-time low, the PA economy is booming like never before and PA security forces are for their guns against Hamas and not Israel.
Under the surface though, Abbas’s and Fayyad’s government is not as secure as some in Israel, the US and Europe would want. The main threat to their rule is perceived to be coming from the Fatah young guard, which is unhappy with the PA and its policies. One example was the silence the PA maintained during Operation Cast Lead when the IDF was, according to Hamas, pulverizing the Gaza Strip.
This perceived moderation has turned off many young Fatah members. Following Cast Lead, for example, mid-level Fatah leaders like Civil Affairs Minister Hussein a-Sheikh, held countless of town-hall style meetings throughout the West Bank to calm the streets.
This discontent is feared to be capable of leading to a rift within Fatah and the break-off of a more radical stream. This could eventually lead to a civil war within the PA and then possibly a campaign of terror against Israel. According to some Military Intelligence analysts, the situation within the PA is today extremely fragile, and such a rift could happen within the next few months.
This occurred following the sixth Fatah conference that was held over the summer in Bethlehem, when old-time PLO official Farouk Kaddoumi accused Abbas of murdering Yasser Arafat, trying to incite other delegates against the PA president without much success.
In the time being, Israel is currently working to formulate a strategy of what to do in these different – but believed-to-be realistic – scenarios. The government, particularly in light of this crisis with the Obama administration, is likely to cave in to Washington’s demands and make a series of goodwill gestures to Abbas in the form of the lifting of more roadblocks – close to 30 have already been lifted – as well as releasing Fatah prisoners.
But the IDF is growing concerned by the trends that it has noticed in the PA and the West Bank. Some officers are questioning the continued cooperation with the PA considering that it is moving forward without Israel, which despite all of the gestures it has made over the past year, has not succeeded in restarting negotiations.