‘The stupidest program the U.S. government has ever undertaken” – last year that’s what I called American efforts to improve the Palestinian Authority (PA) military force. Slightly hyperbolic, yes, but the description fits because those efforts enhance the fighting power of enemies of the United States and its Israeli ally.
First, a primer about the program, drawing on a recent Center for Near East Policy Research study by David Bedein and Arlene Kushner: Shortly after Yasir Arafat died in late 2004, the U.S. government established the Office of the U.S. Security Coordinator to reform, recruit, train, and equip the PA militia (called the National Security Forces or Quwwat al-Amn al-Watani) and make them politically accountable. For nearly all of its existence, the office has been headed by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton. Since 2007, American taxpayers have funded it to the tune of $100 million a year. Many agencies of the U.S. government have been involved in the program, including the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Secret Service, and branches of the military.
The PA militia has in total about 30,000 troops, of which four battalions, totaling 2,100 troops, have passed scrutiny for lack of criminal or terrorist ties and undergone 1,400 hours of training at an American facility in Jordan. There they study subjects ranging from small-unit tactics and crime-scene investigations to first aid and human-rights law.
With Israeli permission, these troops have deployed in areas of Hebron, Jenin, and Nablus. So far, this experiment has gone well, prompting widespread praise. Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) calls the program “extremely encouraging.” and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times discerns in the U.S.-trained troops a possible “Palestinian peace partner for Israel” taking shape.
Looking ahead, however, I predict that those troops will more likely be a war partner than a peace partner for Israel. Consider the troops’ likely role in several scenarios.
No Palestinian state: Dayton proudly calls the U.S.-trained forces “founders of a Palestinian state,” a polity he expects to come into existence by 2011. What if — as has happened many times before — the Palestinian state does not emerge on schedule? Dayton himself warns of “big risks,” presumably meaning that his freshly minted troops would start directing their firepower against Israel.
Palestinian state: The PA has never wavered in its goal of eliminating Israel, as the briefest glance at documentation collected by Palestinian Media Watch makes evident. Should the PA achieve statehood, it will certainly pursue its historic goal — only now equipped with a shiny new American-trained soldiery and arsenal.