What Israel and the PA need from each other

Israel wants 'security first' while the Palestinians want 'political progress first.' The needs of both sides must be met.

olmert abbas close 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert abbas close 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad has a serious job to do and a limited amount of time in which to do it. The number-one issue on Fayad's heavy agenda is the stabilization of the security situation in the West Bank. Fayad's main focus is on building a unified security apparatus that has an orderly chain of command and is subordinate to the directives of the political echelon. Fayad is a strong advocate of the concept of "one authority - one gun." He is aware that the single biggest challenge to his government is to ensure that what happened in Gaza does not happen in the West Bank. He is also keenly aware that any acts of terror that emanate from the West Bank and penetrate Israel will derail his attempts to stabilize the West Bank and move forward toward the creation of the political horizon that Secretary Condoleezza Rice talks about. Fayad has inherited a mess. The security forces in the West Bank, never unified, have never been in more disarray. The failure of the Palestinian Authority's forces in Gaza against the more-organized, better-armed and motivated Hamas forces has only helped to point out the disastrous state of affairs within the forces in the West Bank. The proliferation of forces created during the Arafat era as a way to pay off political cronies and loyalists is one of the most serious elements of weakness that Fayad must confront. Together with the total destruction of the Palestinian forces during the years of the intifada, Fayad also has to cope with aging officers leading younger cadres who relate to being a member of the Palestinian forces as a bad job at best. Most of them don't know who they are supposed to be loyal to and lack a real sense of purpose. THE WEST Bank is filled with illegal weapons in the hands of militants from various extremist factions, criminals and warlords who would like to gain control of shady businesses. In addition to this, Fatah loyalists who would like to return to the ranks of the official forces are hunted by the IDF every day, every night and everywhere. The Aksa Brigades, which have played such a dominant role in fighting against the Israeli army and settlers, are viewed by the Palestinian public in the West Bank as the spearhead against the occupation and are therefore protected, admired and feared at the same time. Fayad's mission to unify the forces is almost impossible. He has made a personal and a political commitment to fight against Islamic Jihad and Hamas militants throughout the West Bank. He has also made the same commitments to round up unauthorized weapons. He knows that he cannot succeed in these missions unless certain requirements are met both from his political allies, such as President Mahmoud Abbas, and from Israel. PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert is exercising caution in relating to Fayad and his mission. The level of caution may be too high and jeopardize any chance of success. Olmert and President George W. Bush have provided verbal support to Abbas and Fayad. The more verbal support offered by Olmert and Bush, the less support they will have from the Palestinian public. In other words, the less said, the better. Nothing will be possible without a renewal of the security dialogue and coordination between the sides. Both sides understand that there is no illusion that the Palestinians can provide 100% results in fighting against terrorism or against the infrastructure of terror. Israel has always demanded 100% effort, knowing that the IDF and the GSS cannot provide 100% results. The new security dialogue must be carefully developed; it must be coordinated directly by the two prime ministers. The cooperation must include the transfer of intelligence from Israel to the PA on the basis of the expressed readiness of the PA to take action against potential attacks aimed at Israel and the PA itself. If the PA is ready to receive intelligence information from Israel and to take action on the basis of that information, Israel must be ready to cooperate. The mechanism introduced must include the possibility that the PA will not be ready or capable of taking action in specific cases, and therefore must include an agreement that whatever action Israel takes will be coordinated with the PA. JUST AS Israeli expects real deeds and not only words from Abbas and Fayad, they too expect the same from Israel. Some of their expectations are difficult to meet, just as Israel's expectations from them will be painful and perhaps not possible. Abbas and Fayad need Israel to agree to have Aksa Brigade militants integrated into the Palestinian forces. These are the best-trained, highest motivated forces in the West Bank. If they are asked and agree to declare their loyalty to the Palestinian Authority, to assume positions within a framework of a military chain of command and are subordinate to the political echelon, Israel should agree to have these people removed from the wanted list. If Israel expects Abbas and Fayad to round up unauthorized weapons and to fight against the Islamic Jihad and Hamas militants, they need the Aksa brigade fighters inside the system. Abbas and Fayad need Israel to remove checkpoints, and if Israel demands to have those checkpoints function, in a real way, under PA command, then Abbas and Fayad must assume that responsibility. Abbas and Fayad need and expect Israel to begin to take action on the Sasson Report from March 2005, which called for the imposition of Israeli law against the illegal actions of settlement and outpost construction. Even isolated from the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, with a strong minister of defense in Tel Aviv, it is time for Israel to act in accordance with its own laws. At the same time, this will have a direct impact on rebuilding trust and confidence, just as rebuilding the security dialogue and coordination will have. WITH THE process of rebuilding trust in view, we must also not lose sight that the end game of two states for two peoples must be brought closer. The aim of stabilizing the West Bank and building security for Israelis and Palestinians is not to keep the status quo of Israeli occupation in place, but to end the occupation and to build a Palestinian state that will live in peace with Israel. Israel can advocate the "security first" strategy, while the Palestinians advocate the "political progress first" strategy. Through seeking to answer the needs of both sides, we can both advance out of the darkness of the past six years. The writer is the Co-CEO of theIsrael/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org