Adam Entous
March 25, 2008 - 5:54pm

Israel said on Tuesday it would allow up to 600 members of a Palestinian security force trained in Jordan under a U.S. program to be deployed in a West Bank city once considered a hotbed of militant activity.

Israel hopes the Defence Ministry decision, announced ahead of a weekend visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, will help blunt Western and Palestinian complaints that it was not doing enough to bolster U.S.-backed peace talks and a Palestinian "law and order" campaign in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak will inform Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the decision when they meet on Wednesday. A defense official said the Palestinians will decide how many troops, now on the U.S.-funded training course in Jordan, to deploy in Jenin, a city in the northern West Bank.

Fayyad said he would "wait and see" what comes out of his meeting with Barak, adding that the Palestinians already had forces in Jenin and other West Bank cities. "The Palestinian Authority is capable of achieving security," he said.

Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel-Razak al-Yahya told Reuters: "We will deploy those forces that are training in Jordan where our security conditions require them to be and based upon Palestinian decisions."

Palestinian forces originally began patrolling West Bank and Gaza towns under the 1993 Oslo peace deal but they were forced off the streets after the start of the violent uprising in 2000 when Israeli troops re-took security control of the cities.

In November, Palestinian forces deployed in the larger West Bank city of Nablus as part of Fayyad's law-and-order campaign.

Fayyad and some U.S. officials have accused Israel of undermining Palestinian Authority security efforts in Nablus by refusing to curtail army raids into the city.

In the latest incident, Israeli troops clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians in a Nablus refugee camp on Tuesday.

Israel has long seen both Jenin and Nablus as centers of anti-Israeli militant activity, though both cities have been relatively calm in recent months.

During the uprising, Israel targeted all Palestinians bearing arms as some members of the Palestinian security forces actively participated in attacks against Israeli forces.


Israel has been under increasing U.S. pressure to take steps to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose authority has been restricted to the occupied West Bank since Hamas Islamists routed his more secular Fatah forces and seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

U.S.-sponsored peace talks, launched at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland last November with the goal of reaching a statehood agreement before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office next January, have shown little sign of progress so far.

Rice leaves for Israel on Friday, where she is set to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. She will also visit Amman, Jordan where she plans to meet Abbas.

In addition to the Jenin deployment, Barak has backed easing some travel restrictions for Palestinian business owners in the West Bank. Ahead of Rice's visit, Barak voiced a willingness to take "a calculated risk" in some areas but he has balked at removing West Bank checkpoints, citing security concerns.

"It is clear we need to exhaust every possible option -- if it does not conflict with Israel's security needs -- to help the chances of improving the atmosphere in the talks with the Palestinians," Barak told reporters.

Rice said neither Israel nor the Palestinians have done enough to fulfill their obligations under a long-stalled, U.S.-backed peace "road map". Under the plan, Israel is required to halt all settlement activities and uproot Jewish outposts. The Palestinians are required to rein in militants.

Nearly 700 members of Abbas's National Security Forces traveled to Jordan in January to begin the four-month-long training course. A separate group from Abbas's Presidential Guard has also gone to Jordan for training.

Washington wants to train the backbone of a Palestinian gendarmerie that can both police civilians and rein in militants who could try to block any future peace deal.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017