‘Businessmen posing as revolutionaries’: General Dayton and the “new Palestinian breed”
|Saturday, November 14,2009 04:23|
“Sincerely speaking” said General Dayton, “…as far I am concerned, Hamas is a political issue. I do not interfere in this matter”. “I would appreciate if you do not ask me political questions”, he continued, “because as a soldier I do not speak in politics”. Such innocuous protests from General Dayton – who, since 2005, has been the US Security Coordinator for the Palestinians – are untrue: Dayton is a political actor who essentially is overseeing and facilitating a process of political cleansing in the West Bank, the consequences of which for the Palestinian national project, for political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, and for political engagement and prospects for peace are damaging, if not disastrous. In essence, Dayton’s work serves to enforce Israel’s occupation, even if this is not its explicit intention.
Dayton’s initiative has gone well-beyond helping Palestinians build a future state through institution-building – the aim, it is claimed, of the initiative. And far from bringing peace closer, Dayton’s ‘capacity-building’ initiatives are facilitating the creation of an autocratic and totalitarian ‘state’ led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad: political debate is almost non-existent, criticism not allowed, and the extent of collusion between the Abu Mazen/Salam Fayyad government and their security forces with Israel is so extensive that both the Palestinian public and members of the security forces themselves are beginning to question and criticize “what they see as the PNA’s attempt to increase repression and curtail freedoms”1: “We have security forces serving the United States Security Coordinator and Israel. Where is our executive authority? Who decided to bring in the United States Security Coordinator?”, a resident of Nablus asked. 2“It is known to everybody”, said another, “that we have the occupation at night and the Palestinian forces during the day”. Another commented: “Now we start to live under the same conditions as our brothers in other Arab countries: oppression, unlimited power and fear”.
Not only are members of the Palestinian security forces themselves beginning to question their role — an article in the Wall Street Journal last week quoted one Palestinian major who said: “We didn’t join the Palestinian security forces to fight Hamas or train with the Americans”, he said; “we came here to serve our homeland and build our state”3 – but, as the Wall Street Journal warns: “the more the Palestinian Authority Security Forces cooperate with the US and Israel to suppress Hamas, the more they threaten to undermine popular support for [Mahmoud Abbas] – who is key to Washington’s Mideast peace effort”. A senior Hamas leader endorsed the Wall Street Journal’s view that the continuing suppression of Hamas only served to further delegitimize and undermine Abbas.
Dayton has been clear about his aim: to reduce the “IDF footprint” in the West Bank by developing Palestinian capabilities and “proven abilities”; that is, capacity-building and training of the Palestinian security forces (“paramilitaries”, as the Wall Street Journal describes them); turning them, as he explained, into the “new men of Palestine”: “What we have created – and I say this with humility”, he said at his first public talk on his work in Palestine, “are new men… [men who] believe that their mission is to build a Palestinian state… Upon the return of these new men of Palestine, they have shown motivation, discipline and professionalism, and they have made such a difference – and I am not making this up – that senior IDF commanders ask me frequently: ‘how many more of these new Palestinians can you generate, and how quickly, because they are our way to leave the West Bank’”.4
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, to date 2,100 “paramilitaries” have been trained as part of Dayton’s initiative and the plan is to train “over 5,000 men, out of a total West Bank security force of roughly 25,000 men”.5 According to various sources, it is planned to take two years for ten “Dayton” battalions to be established “which the American general says will be made up of combatants of the “new Palestinian” breed that he is creating”.6 Funding for the training, arming and employment of these new forces is provided by the US, as well as the British and Canadian governments, and Arab countries from the ‘moderate axis’ – Jordan, Egypt and the UAE. On the ground, Dayton is assisted by a private security firm – Libra – which according to Palestinian analyst, Abdel Sitta Al-Qassem, is essentially a firm of mercenaries.7 A recent report in the British newspaper, the Mail on Sunday, exposed “the horrific torture of hundreds of people by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank [which] is being funded by British taxpayers”.8 The report documents how “not only are PA forces carrying out torture… but that the authority [also] ignores judges’ orders to release political detainees”, and how one victim was beaten to death during his interrogation by the security forces.
Up to 70% of these new forces are made up largely of second and third generation Palestinians born and brought up in Jordan; they therefore are not from communities in the West Bank and without social or community connections, they are seen as ‘outsiders’. On the street in the West Bank, they are known as the “Palestinian sahwa” after the Iraqi sahwa (awakening councils) – the militia forces set up and armed by the US in Iraq with the aim of taking on Al-Qaida. Needless to say, recruits to the “Dayton battalions” cannot previously have been involved in resistance activities against Israel and the occupation– including the second intifada – and preferably should not have a tawjihi (end of high school) certificate – i.e. who, for whatever reason, did not complete their high school education. One Palestinian commentator described the new recruits as being “saturated with ideological ideas against the resistance”. This is how, he explains, the PLO army has been molded to be the security forces that “…protect Israeli settlements… and who protect the Israeli army from Palestinians and all forms of resistance”.9
The criteria to not recruit anyone who might have previously been involved in any resistance activity against Israel or against the occupation has meant that to date, under Dayton’s auspices, over 7,000 Fatah members have been removed from their jobs as members of the security forces as many had participated in resistance activities against the occupation during the second intifada. So unlike in Northern Ireland where a key component of the peace agreement has been the setting-up of a police force that represents both communities, and in Iraq where the policy is to have all sects and communities represented in the security forces, there are no ‘Catholics’ in the security forces in the West Bank; what Dayton has created is a polarized political enforcement militia. When it comes to Palestine, the policy is for the security forces to be as sectarian and ‘occupation-friendly’ as possible.
“The Palestinian Authority changed in front of our eyes”
The Officer continued: “We redefined the enemy. Previously we talked about terror organizations. Now we said: Hamas. [Palestinians] now had a state within a state. Our approach was to destroy it”. He explained how this has been done, systematically and collaboratively: “We took the 200 wanted men in Judea and Samaria and marked 15 who were the explosives experts. We assassinated most of them and arrested the others. What ensured our success was the cooperation between the IDF and the [Palestinian] GSS… We discovered that [Hamas’ supporters] owned malls, cow farms, bakeries, clinics, residential buildings. By means of investments they produce the money that feeds terror. We created a legal infrastructure to confiscate their assets. We made arrests”.
“[A key] turning point”, the Officer explained, “was the intensification of American involvement. This also happened in wake of the failure in Gaza. The Americans trained four battalions of [Palestinian] soldiers who obey their commander and not the clan. This was a rare combination of interests… We learned the lessons that the Americans learned from the fighting in Iraq. You take one place, Jenin for example, you crush terror there, you put a strong police force there and move on. We started with Jenin because there was a fence there and no settlers. At first, it failed. Fayyad said, let’s try again. We tried again, and it caught. We needed a lot of patience… The greatest achievement was that the moderates defeated the extremists”.
“We have a common enemy”
In the summer of 2008, Nahum Barnea, was, to his surprise, allowed to sit in on a joint liaison meeting between what had been hitherto unpublicized meetings between the heads of the Abbas/Fayyad Palestinian security forces and the IDF. The extent of what he heard shocked even him: “Such far-reaching willingness to work with Israel is something that I have never heard from the Palestinian leadership, with the exception of a brief period in the spring of 1996”.13 One of the people present at the evening’s meeting that he attended in Beit El settlement just outside Ramallah was Abu al-Fatah, commander of the General Security Service, the Palestinian military force – Abu al-Fatah is the most senior Palestinian security service commander. His words reassured the IDF officers present: “There is no rivalry between us… We have a common enemy”. Majed Faraj, director of Palestinian military intelligence, who was also present, concurred: “We’ve decided to put all our problems on the table. Everything is aboveboard: there are no more games. Hamas is the enemy. We have decided to go to war against it. I am telling you, there will be no dialogue with them: whoever tries to kill you, kill him first. You made a hudna with them. We didn’t”.
Faraj continued: “For the sake of fairness, it should be said that in the past we behaved differently. Now every name of a Hamas institution you give us is handled. You recently gave us the name of 64 institutions—until today, we have finished dealing with 50 of them. We closed some. In others, we changed the management. We have also laid a hand on their funds”. Barnea explained that Israel gave the PA numbers of 150 bank accounts that were suspected of being connected to “terror organizations” — the PA closed 300 accounts. “Once we used to think 1,000 times before entering a mosque”, explained Faraj. “Today we enter every mosque when necessary. Don’t understand from this that you are also permitted to enter. On the contrary: because you don’t enter, we are able to”.14
The extent of collusion, explains Palestinian analyst Ramzy Baroud, illustrates how the Palestinian Authority functions “more than ever before as a subcontractor for the IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the Civil Administration” – part of what he describes as the post-Oslo culture of ‘contractors’ – “businessmen… posing as revolutionaries [who have] encroached on every aspect of Palestinian society”.15
Dayton has said publically that he is “working closely with the Israeli military commanders in the West Bank” – it is, wrote one Israeli commentator, “an ideal relationship”. It is clear too that Dayton is working with others: despite denials, “the selection of those entering Dayton’s [training] units is conducted initially by three external intelligence bodies: the CIA examines the candidates, the Israeli [General Security Services] goes through the names, and in the end, when the new recruits arrive at the training facilities in Jordan, the kingdom’s security mechanism conduct yet another thorough examination. To all these must of course be added the internal examinations of the Palestinian security forces themselves”.16 The training of these new forces takes place in a training facility close to Amman where a life-size model refugee camp has been built; incidentally, this is also where the US is involved in training Iraqi security forces. The training programme is prepared jointly by the US and Israel (Israel has veto rights over the content of the programme) and training is done by Jordanian and American security and intelligence officials. Each training course is four months long and includes such things as “handling of riots, the correct use of force, human rights, maintaining law and order, and the arrest of opposition forces … When graduates return to the West Bank they undergo additional professional training such as driving, providing medical care, and other logistical matters”.17
It is not only the recruits and training programme which are individually vetted by Israel: a second batch of 1,000 Kalashnikovs was transferred to the Palestinian security forces in July 2009, and as with the first batch, all weapons provided to the Palestinian Authority undergo ballistic testing by the Israel Police forensic lab – the aim being “to prepare a precise list so that in the event that these weapons are involved in terrorist activity aimed against Israelis, [each weapon] can be identified”.18 In addition to Jordanian and Egyptian-provided weapons, Israel has also provided Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition, as well as “crowd control measures such as gas grenades and rubber bullets”. And as one Israeli report explained: “The Palestinians have already made use of these measures”.19 Examples abound of how the Palestinian security forces undertake “Hametz removal” operations on behalf of the IDF; an editorial in June 2009 in Al-Quds al-Arabi exposed that a Palestinian security forces’ patrol “…came to arrest the two men and surrender them to the Israelis forces [who] had been pursuing them for seven years after they carried out operations against Israeli targets”.20 The editorial concluded that the Palestinian forces “…acted as though they were an extension of the Israeli security troops and were carrying out their dirty acts on [Israel’s] behalf”.
And as well as vetting all new recruits and testing each and every weapon that is given to the security forces, Dayton has confirmed that no item or weapon is given to the Palestinian forces unless Israel agrees to it – when Jordan recently requested that the Palestinian forces be supplied with RPGs to use against Hamas, the request was turned down by Israel. Israel decides where, when and for which hours of the day and night the Palestinian security forces can operate – on occasion they are allowed to operate at night “…and [they] report on every unusual movement sighted [to the Israelis]. The many successes are all listed in the [General Security Service]and IDF operations logs”. It is also agreed that Israel should turn over to the PA any security information that could require an Israeli intervention in Palestinian territories (in some areas Israel prevents the Palestinian forces from operating between midnight and 5am “among other reasons so that the armed policemen would not encounter IDF forces entering to operate against terrorists”) and that Israel has “a supervisory system that guarantees that the Palestinians battalions will only take on predefined assignments”.21
Speaking for the first time publically about his work, in May 2009, General Dayton addressed an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in the US. He told of how the ‘new breed of Palestinians’ had “caught the attention of the Israeli Defense establishment for their dedication, discipline, motivation and results”. Describing Dayton’s talk in the Israeli press, Alex Fishman explained how: “…the Jewish audience responded with a wild surge of applause. Dayton was not satisfied with this, and went for another climax: ‘We, (the Americans) are creating a new Palestinian’, he declared, ‘with motivation, discipline and professionalism’. The Jewish audience was thrilled”.22
“Sheep and wolves living together” — the shape of things to come
Despite being dressed up in language of ‘state’ and ‘institution-building’ — the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described the training as enabling “senior [Palestinian Security Force] leaders to feel as though they are entering the community of nations”24 – the reality of what Dayton is coordinating is an initiative aimed at securing Israel’s position in the region in the wake of the US withdrawal from Iraq in two years time – only indirectly is the project aimed at helping Palestinians. His initiative is but one part of this wider jigsaw.
‘Everything will fall apart’ refers not only to the US’ plan for Palestine, but also to the part that the Dayton initiative plays in the wider American plan for ‘peace’ in the Middle East – such would be the domino effect if Palestinians were to turn against their masters: “It would be a collapse”, explains Alex Fishman “of the entire political-defensive system Washington has constructed in recent years in preparation for the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq two years from now. This system is intended to protect the interests of moderate Arab states alongside those of Israel amidst the threat of Muslim fundamentalists. If Israel does not play along with the United States, this would mean standing in the way of American interests with all that this entails”. To this end, Dayton was recently promoted to be US Envoy George Mitchell’s deputy on security matters and with this “…his influence is even greater. He is not only dealing with the establishment of a Palestinian army, but rather with the entire region’s security arrangements in preparation for the moment to come some two years from now: the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq”.
The leading figure in this wider strategic picture is US General James Jones, Obama’s National Security Adviser. A year ago, Jones prepared a comprehensive report on “Israel’s security needs for the day after the American pullout from Iraq, from the Iranian threat to the Palestinians” – the aim was to ensure Israel’s “security” in case all falls apart in Iraq after the US withdrawal and to ensure that Iraq is not again antagonistic towards Israel. The plan – which was only officially presented to the US State Department at the end of July – has been “taken apart and examined for several weeks at the Pentagon, the White House and the foreign ministries of France, Egypt, Great Britain and Jordan”.25
In an article in the Israeli press on 24 July, Alex Fishman, revealed that during recent months, a team of Israelis and Palestinians (all close associates of Mahmoud Abbas who gave his approval at each stage of the discussions), together with a former member of Dayton’s team, have been meeting in a Track Two process to draft a detailed annex - essentially the security annex to the Geneva Agreement. This annex essentially “resolves the relations between the state and the state-to-be”.26 This is how, Fishman says, “sheep and wolves are supposed to live together”. It is the only detailed security document that exists to which the Palestinians have agreed and will, it is reported, form the basis for the final status arrangements that will be proposed by President Obama for his final status agreement to be completed within two years. “This document”, explains Fishman, “is the closest thing to a practical and actual plan that was drafted by agreement by the Israelis and the Palestinians”.
The main components of the security annex are: the principle of non-militarization of the PA27; precise details of what weaponry and equipment Palestinians may and may not possess28; a third security force to be brought in “as a balance”29; the stationing by Israel of an Israeli infantry battalion in the Jordan Valley (for “…politics, psychology and public relations than real operational need”)30; the stationing of three multi-national battalions to be deployed along the Jordan Valley with one battalion to be deployed along the Philadelphi Road in Gaza; and an “Israeli presence” – two early-warning stations - in the non-militarized Palestinian state. The Israel Air Force would be able to carry out training flights over the West Bank and Israeli “involvement” at the border crossings between the Palestinian state, Egypt and Jordan would continue.31 And in terms of timing, the agreement is supposed to be implemented in full within 30 months.
“An American peace event with Hollywood trappings”
Sometimes, it is said, that those on the right speak clearer and more bluntly than others; and so it was with Dr Uzi Arad, Netanyahu’s national security adviser – “the strongman of current Israeli policy”32 – who was candid and frank in a recent interview: Israeli journalist Avi Shavit asked: “Will a Palestinian state be established on the watch manned by you and Netanyahu? “That is a different story”, explained Arad. “I don’t see among the Palestinians a process of truly drawing closer to acceptance of Israel and peace with Israel. I also do not see a Palestinian leadership or a Palestinian regime but a disorderly constellation of forces and factions. But possibly”, he continued”, “someone might come along and say I am an engineer of events; the depth doesn’t interest me – I am going to produce an event. And within three years – presto – four Annapolises, two disengagements, global pyrotechnics. And then suddenly, in 2015, there is a Palestinian state. Stamps, parades, carnival. That could happen. A fragile structure, yes; an arrangement resting wholly on wobbly foundations. But it could happen. There could be a Palestinian state”33 – nothing more, wrote Shavit, than “an American peace event with Hollywood trappings”.34
The ‘new Palestinians’ are not only the security forces; these are complimented by a political class – also ‘new Palestinians’ (“businessmen… posing as revolutionaries”) who have “no destructive element like Arafat to prevent the effect of their actions” writes one Israeli commentator.35 There is, however, one basic flaw in the jigsaw: it is all based on one overriding objective, that is: Israel’s security. The wider aim is to save Israel and the region in the wake of the US withdrawal from Iraq. Institution-building and Abu Mazen and his ilk are simply parts of the jigsaw – brought in to destroy resistance to the US project; both components have become means to this wider end. The outcome, however, is that Dayton’s initiative has only served to undermine finding a political solution in Palestine and prospects for a Palestinian state, and Palestinians increasingly see this. And, as one senior US commentator wryly noted, the Europeans are holding the door open for Dayton and his initiative – and indeed helping to fund it.
Dayton’s straw man stands in contrast to Hamas and the resistance bloc’s vision – theirs is not a vision aimed at building confidence for Israel and ensuring the status quo, but is about liberating Palestine. As Khaled Meshal explained in a recent interview: “The Palestinian problem is not about autonomy, government, flag, anthem, security services, or money from donor countries”. The problem of Palestine, he explained, “is about homeland, identity, freedom, history, sovereignty, Jerusalem, and the right of return. Land for us is more important than authority and liberation comes before the land”.36 Some Israelis see the wobbly foundations and impending collapse of the Abbas/Fayyad authority and have called for dialogue with Hamas: former head of Mossad and national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy, is one such person: “Neither Netanyahu nor Obama can avoid having to decide whether the investment in the creation of a “new Palestinian” is a realistic policy”, he wrote, “or whether channels of dialogue with the homegrown “new Palestinian” [he is referring to Hamas] should be examined. Is this not worth a serious examination at least?”.37
Aisling Byrne is Projects Co-ordinator with Conflicts Forum and is based in Beirut.