Blair: New PA troops will be far better

Peace envoy says personnel training in Jordan will be greatly superior to those who failed in Gaza.

Blair 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Blair 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestinian security personnel currently being trained in Jordan are being prepared far more effectively than those that so signally failed to resist Hamas's military takeover of the Gaza Strip last June, Quartet peace envoy Tony Blair said on Thursday. By the end of the summer, the first battalion of these forces would be deployed in Jenin, the former British prime minister said. And by then, too, other institutions of effective Palestinian governance should also be functioning in that area, with "increased capacity of prisons, courts and the judiciary." Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Blair said the goal was to create a situation in the Jenin area, a district from which numerous Palestinian suicide bombers were dispatched at the height of the second intifada, where Israel could come to rely on the Palestinian Authority's security capacity. And success in Jenin, he hoped, would enable similar progress elsewhere in the West Bank over time, featuring the deployment of further battalions of Jordanian-trained security forces. Blair, who has held his envoy's position for close to a year now, earlier this week publicized details of an agreement he had reached to facilitate the removal of several West Bank checkpoints, free up Palestinian movement, and enable the Jenin "pilot" plan. Palestinian security forces have been deployed for several months in Nablus. "If there is not some credible change on the ground for the Palestinians, it is far harder for them to make the compromises necessary for peace," Blair said. Similarly, "if the Israelis cannot see any prospect of the Palestinians achieving proper governing capability, particularly in the area of security, then it becomes not credible for them to believe that they can accept a Palestinian state." What he was trying to do therefore, said Blair, was to help the two sides clear a "credibility threshold" on the ground that would give the space necessary for real progress in the diplomatic negotiations. Blair, who also met here with President George W. Bush, sounded less optimistic than the US president about the prospects for a permanent accord being reached in 2008. But he stressed that, "From my conversations with both sides, I think they are genuinely trying to make progress [on final status issues]. Whether they can or not is an open question. The view that they are going through the motions is completely wrong. They are settling down and trying to work things out." To buttress that political process, Blair said, he was putting together "the first steps of [Palestinian] economic and social development," aiming for some "moderate improvement in access and movement that is consistent with Israel's security," and arranging for the Palestinians to have more movement in Area C - that 60 percent of the West Bank that comes to the Palestinians in any negotiated settlement. "Unless you change the reality on the ground," he said, "you don't create space for the political negotiations to succeed." He acknowledged that the Paris conference last December had failed to produce the Palestinian security reform plan he had anticipated, but said that since then "a number of streams" were being advanced to "fundamentally alter Palestinian security capability." Furthermore, he said, the Paris conference had ensured that funding was now in place for a range of economic projects to give Palestinians a sense of real change on the ground. "The West Bank economy, after several years of sharp contraction, is now growing," he said, with the World Bank predicting at least 3% growth for 2008. In Gaza, however, the "present situation is unsustainable," he said. "It is imperative that we ease the situation" and a "cease-fire would help." He stressed, though, that Israel was making clear that a cease-fire would necessitate an end to all kinds of terrorism and to the smuggling in of weaponry. "It is important to emphasize to the outside world - and most people don't understand - that we're trying to urge Israel to get fuel into Gaza, and then the extremists come and kill the people bringing the fuel in. It's a crazy situation," said Blair.