Dayton: New PA forces are most capable ever

US general to Post: Nothing I'm doing will jeopardize Israel; says he has no idea how Gaza can be reclaimed.

Muheissen dayton 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Muheissen dayton 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Keith Dayton, the US army general who is overseeing the training in Jordan of the Palestinian Authority's National Security Force for the West Bank, has praised the new recruits as "the most capable Palestinian security forces that have ever been fielded here," and firmly played down the notion that they might one day come to turn their weapons on Israel. In a rare interview, marking the third anniversary of his arrival here to head the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) hierarchy, Dayton told The Jerusalem Post that the trainees are taught over and again that "you are not here to learn how to fight against the Israeli occupation." Their focus, rather, he said, is "totally on the lawless elements within Palestinian society." Unlike many Middle East envoys, who fly in and out, Dayton has spent the three years on the ground here, maintaining thorough oversight of the American-funded training programs, which are carried out by the Jordanians. Several hundred graduates have already been deployed in the West Bank, notably in Jenin and Hebron, and several hundred more are in the middle of training programs. The ultimate goal, said Dayton, is for the deployment of seven battalions of the NSF. The three-star general, a 38-year army veteran who was formerly the US defense attaché in Russia, led the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and served as the US army's chief strategic planner, said there were "long-term" plans for two battalions of the NSF to deploy in Gaza as well. But he said there was no likelihood of this at present, and that he had no answer to the question of how Gaza might be revived under the control of Mahmoud Abbas. Dayton stressed that the training program he oversees began only after Hamas came to power in Gaza in a coup in June 2007. "We had no responsibility for training anyone in Gaza," he said. But he spoke in defense of the Palestinian Authority security forces who fought there at the time. They "lost 250 dead," he noted. "These aren't people that just simply, immediately raised their hands and surrendered. I know this. It took five days. One could say, 'Well, they overran them in five days.' Baloney. They were clearly outgunned and still they stood their ground for five days... So this wasn't the surrender that is often portrayed." What the failure in Gaza had shown, he said, "was that the Palestinian security forces need to be organized, well led, well trained, responsible to a civilian authority." Hence, he said, the PA's embrace of the idea "of sending their young men to Jordan" for proper training, as a critical element of future statehood and to prevent "something like June 2007 from occurring again." Dayton repeatedly stressed in the interview that none of his work here - which also includes training courses for senior Palestinian leaders and various infrastructure projects - would harm Israel's security. Indeed, the reverse was true, he said. Organizing competent Palestinian security forces, within the framework of President George W. Bush's vision of two states living side by side in peace and security, he said, was intended to enable "improved law and order in the territories, increased safety and security for the Palestinian people, and improved security for Israel." He went on: "Nothing I or my team do here will jeopardize the security interests of the State of Israel. Period. Full stop. We won't do it. It's not what we do as Americans." He also stressed that while some of the $161 million approved by Congress for his programs had been spent on equipment, this included nothing lethal. "If you ever hear or read that the USSC has been equipping people with guns or ammunition, it is simply not true." Asked whether he could unequivocally state that the new NSF personnel would never use their weapons against Israel, he responded: "What I can say is that so far, in their operations since May, there has not been a single incident of Palestinian security force engagement with Israelis. Either Israeli civilians or IDF, even in Hebron, a very complex environment with settlers. OK? I think that speaks for itself." The training "has emphasized human rights. It emphasizes the appropriate use of force. It emphasizes the rule of law," Dayton said. "I've got to tell you, and my [Israeli] Ministry of Defense and IDF colleagues feel the same way, that something new is out there," said Dayton. "It's worth encouraging. And yeah, we can all be skeptical, but let's not stop it. Let's keep it going." The full interview with Gen. Dayton will appear in Friday's Jerusalem Post.