Security and Defense: The operation's a success, but will the patient survive?

Will the 'bottom-up paradigm' be any more successful at curbing terror and Hamas expansion than previous deployments of Palestinian forces in PA-controlled areas?

PA police patrol 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
PA police patrol 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Slowly, and without a great deal of fanfare, the West Bank is once again being filled with Palestinian security forces. This isn't the result of a peace deal, like the 1993 Oslo Accords, which paved the way for the deployment of PA forces in Ramallah, Jericho and the Gaza Strip. This time, it is being done within the framework of a new program - the "bottom-up paradigm" - which defense officials said this week they hoped would be effective in curbing Hamas expansion in the West Bank. Since the beginning of the year, newly trained and beefed-up Palestinian forces have deployed in a number of cities - Jenin, Nablus, Hebron - and soon they will be in Bethlehem, as well. The plan was the brainchild of Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, who, together with strategic advisers in his Ramallah office, saw a need to deploy strong forces on the ground, to enforce law and order. Its implementation involves cooperation among a number of partners, including Quartet envoy Tony Blair, US security envoy Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The most recent deployment took place in Hebron last month, when some 500 Palestinian police were allowed into the city. This was part of an Israeli effort to bolster PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whose rule will likely be challenged by Hamas when his presidential term comes to an official end on January 9. Hamas has a large presence in Hebron, and the IDF is concerned that the terror group will try to take over the West Bank as it did the Gaza Strip in 2007. The Hebron deployment was the third in a plan aimed at installing Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. The first was in Nablus last November, when Barak accepted a request by Fayad to allow several hundred policemen into the city to enforce law and order. The second took place in May, when a Palestinian battalion - trained under US direction in Jordan - was allowed to deploy in Jenin. This seems to be just the beginning. Today, 500 Palestinian security officers are soon to finish a four-month training program in Jordan, and are scheduled to return to the West Bank in January. Another contingent will head to Jordan in late December, and where they will end up has yet to be determined, though Israeli officials say that Kalkilya and Tulkarm are next in line. Though characteristically wary about the initiative, Israeli officials have expressed cautious satisfaction with the ongoing operations. On Tuesday, for example, the normally volatile city of Hebron was quiet. The residents of the "disputed house" were busy barricading themselves inside the four-story building that Barak has said would be evacuated in the coming weeks. In the Palestinian parts of the city, municipal workers were clearing garbage and sweeping streets, as school girls boarded buses to take them on a field trip to Bethlehem. The newly-deployed Palestinian security forces could be seen driving up and down the narrow alleyways on the backs of pickup trucks. They wore the traditional green PA uniforms and berets, and were armed with loaded Kalashnikovs. Israeli officers say that they are impressed with the operation in Hebron and with its commander, Gen. Sameh al Sifi. Since the beginning of the operation last month, PA forces in the city have arrested close to 300 terror suspects affiliated with Hamas, as well as nearly 200 Palestinians defined as "criminal suspects," wanted for a wide range of activities. "The whole program has evolved in stages, and always goes up a level," one Israeli official involved in its planning said. "First came the Nablus deployment, which was not particularly successful; then came the Jenin deployment, where security forces genuinely began to enforce law and order; and now is the Hebron operation, with security forces enforcing law and order, while cracking down on Hamas terror activity." According to Israeli officials, the objective of this plan is to ensure that if and when the Palestinians establish an independent state, they will have a functioning and effective security force in place. A timeline has not been set up for the rest of the West Bank, but officials said it was possible that by mid-2009, two more cities would receive a beefed-up US-trained battalion. On Wednesday, head of the IDF Civil Administration Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai met with his Palestinian counterpart to discuss the planned deployment of close to 1,000 security officers in Bethlehem ahead of Christmas. Israeli officials said that the force would be assembled from officers already deployed in the West Bank. But deployment of forces is not seen as sufficient in solving the larger issues. This is why US envoy Dayton has also been instrumental in assisting the Palestinians to establish a Presidential Guard training college in Jericho and a strategic planning department at the PA Interior Ministry in Ramallah. It is also why, in an effort to boost the local economy, Israel has permitted Israeli-Arabs to enter Jenin to do business with the Palestinians; has lifted roadblocks in the area, to increase freedom of movement; and has scaled back operations inside the city. In addition, the Gilboa Regional Council and the Jenin Municipality are partnering to establish a new industrial zone, which will provide thousands of new jobs. Still, senior IDF officers say they are skeptical that the new plan will be able to ensure Israeli security in the event of a withdrawal from the West Bank. One said, "We don't know if the forces can even stop a Hamas takeover, let alone protect Israel."