Nathan Thrall has a great article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books on an issue that has received scant attention in the US press – US support for Salam Fayyad’s anti-democratic crackdown in the West Bank.
US support has come mainly through the work of Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, who has been training the Palestinian security forces being used to round up, arrest and intimidate the Palestinian Authority’s opponents. One of the most notable, though understated, points of the article is the continuity from the Bush to Obama administrations in supporting this misguided and dangerous policy.
It’s worth reading the entire piece, but here’s a snippet that describes the beginning of the project and it’s true aims:
The first United States security coordinator, Lieutenant General William “Kip” Ward, arrived in Jerusalem in March 2005. Elliott Abrams, formerly the deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush, told me that Ward’s mission was organized in response to three closely coinciding events: the reelection, in November 2004, of Bush, who wanted to rebuild Palestinian security forces as a part of his 2003 road map to Middle East peace; the death, nine days later, of Yasser Arafat, who had resisted American attempts to reform the Palestinian security services; and the victory of America’s favored candidate, Mahmoud Abbas, in the January 2005 presidential election.
Ward’s mission concentrated initially on security reform but was soon limited to preparing for Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza and four northern West Bank settlements in August and September 2005.21 The withdrawal went fairly smoothly for Israel, but Ward failed to prevent violence on the Palestinian side. Settler greenhouses were looted, empty synagogues were burned, and Palestinians began fighting one another for control of Gaza.
Weeks after Dayton took over from Ward at the end of 2005, Hamas defeated Fatah in the January 2006 parliamentary elections. Overnight, Dayton’s task changed from reforming the security forces to preventing a Hamas-led government from controlling them. State Department lawyers sought ways to continue assisting the Fatah-dominated security forces of the Palestinian Authority, which would soon be led by Hamas, a group the US had declared a terrorist organization. The solution was to send direct aid to President Abbas, who was elected separately and could be considered detached from the incoming Hamas-led government and legislature. In a reversal of its longstanding policy of pressuring the Palestinian president to give power to the cabinet, the US advised Abbas to issue decrees and make appointments that would limit the new government’s rule, particularly over the security forces. Hamas reacted by establishing a security service of its own. Abbas banned the Hamas force in a decree that the cabinet then declared illegal. During the next year, Hamas and Fatah engaged in a series of violent clashes in which leaders on both sides were assassinated.
Dayton, meanwhile, was overseeing the recruitment, training, and equipping of Abbas’s rapidly expanding security forces. Khaled Meshaal, chief of Hamas’s politburo, delivered a fiery speech denouncing “the security coup” as a “conspiracy” supported by “the Zionists and the Americans”—charges Fatah denied. In February 2007, on the brink of civil war, Fatah and Hamas leaders traveled to Mecca, where they agreed to form a national unity government, a deal the US opposed because it preferred that Fatah continue to isolate Hamas. Fayyad became finance minister in the new government, despite, he says, American pressure not to join. The Peruvian diplomat Alvaro de Soto, former UN envoy to the Quartet, wrote in a confidential “End of Mission Report” that the violence between Hamas and Fatah could have been avoided had the US not strongly opposed Palestinian reconciliation. “The US,” he wrote, “clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fateh and Hamas.”
One month before Gaza fell to Hamas in June 2007, Hamas forces attacked USSC-trained troops at their base near Gaza’s border with Israel, killing seven and withdrawing only after three Israeli tanks approached. Testifying before Congress the following week, Dayton claimed that the attack had been repulsed and denied that Hamas was on the rise—a prediction not borne out during the following weeks. “It took [Hamas] just a few days,” said Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, “to flush away a 53,000-strong PA security apparatus which was a fourteen-year Western investment.”
Though several members of the Bush administration later said that the entire strategy had been mistaken, the defeat of American-backed Fatah forces offered a rather different lesson to the small circle that had influence over the USSC. “We didn’t regard this as proof the project wasn’t working,” Abrams said, “but rather that the project was needed.”
This project has more or less amounted to an US attempt to instigate a Palestinian civil war, similar to the contra policy in Nicaragua during the 1980s (Elliott Abrams ring any bells?). The result, as Mustafa Barghouti describes it in the last line of Thrall’s article, is that Palestinians are now having to live “not [under] one occupation but two.”
What has this policy looked like on the ground? Nora Barrows-Friedman wrote in Electronic Intifada how the recent resumption of peace talks had led to an increased crackdown on activists in the West Bank. From her piece Activists face broad PA crackdown in West Bank:
“The Palestinian Authority (PA) forces came late at night and started shooting inside the camp,” Shihab said. “They came in, shooting, acting like the Israeli military. They wanted to make the people afraid. Everyone went to the main street and started throwing stones, because people thought they were the Israelis, not the PA forces.”
Shihab, who didn’t want to give his last name, is a spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist political party, in Dheisheh refugee camp in southern Bethlehem in occupied West Bank. He told The Electronic Intifada that in the last few weeks, the PA’s security services have been waging a campaign of intimidation and violence inside Dheisheh, intent on what he called “destroying the unity and community within the camp.”
According to Shihab, on 31 August, PA forces attacked the camp in an attempt to find a member of Hamas hours after an armed attack by Hamas activists on a car near a settlement in Hebron during which four Israeli settlers were killed. Since then, PFLP members who intervened by negotiating with the PA forces to convince them to cease their attack and leave the camp during the subsequent clashes inside Dheisheh, have been summoned to the PA police stations and subsequently arrested and thrown in jail.
“The PA wants to defend the occupation. They want to show the Israelis that they can control the Palestinian people,” Shihab said.
And here’s a statement from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights that demonstrates the level of impunity the US-backed forces are operating with:
Abdullah Rebhi Abu Se’da, 23, and his brother Sa’eed, 17, from Nablus, were beaten and tortured while they were detained by the Palestinian National Security Forces (NSF) in Junaid Prison. They were detained on the ground of a personal dispute between Abdullah and an NSF member. Sa’eed was transported to the hospital. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) calls upon the Attorney General to seriously investigate this crime and bring perpetrators to justice.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR and the testimony of Abdullah Rebhi Ahmed Abu Se’da, 23, at approximately 21:00 on Wednesday, 22 September 2010, the NSF arrested Ahmed Rebhi Abu Se’da, 26, and his brother Sa’eed, 17, from a car wash shop belonging to Ramzi Mohammed Abu Se’da in Ras al-‘Ein neighborhood in Nablus. They were transported to Junaid prison. Later on the same day, the NSF arrested their brother Abdullah, 23, as well. Abdullah and Sa’eed were subjected to torture and beating on their feet (Falaka) several times. As a result, Sa’eed suffered from severe exhaustion, and was then transported to Nablus Specialized Hospital for medical treatment. A PCHR field worker, who visited Sa’eed at hospital, reported that there were clear blue bruises on his feet. Doctors said that he suffers from spasm of nerves and cannot breathe normally.
It should be noted that detention of the three brothers was on the ground of a personal dispute between Abdullah Abu Se’da and an NSF member that took place in the evening of the same day in the car wash shop.