Sadie Goldman
Israel Policy Forum
September 24, 2008 - 8:00pm

"There is no mistaking the fact that this is a different kind of Jenin.? Instead of armed gangs that once controlled the streets, "one could sense the overwhelming presence of the Palestinian security force,? Amos Harel and Avi Issacharov wrote in Haaretzthis week.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad?s plan to establish a unified security service and restore law and order in the West Bank aimed at the most dangerous cities first. In May, when 480 police reinforcement were dispatched under Fayyad?s plan, half of Jenin?s 270,000 residents were reported as living under the poverty line, and 42% of them were unemployed. Many of those unemployed belonged to militant factions or gangs and made their living from crime.

During the first two years of the intifada, which began in 2000, about one fourth of the suicide attacks were committed by suicide bombers from the West Bank town of Jenin. When Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, its forces clashed with armed men there for eight days.

Now, four and a half months after Fayyad?s project began, Jenin?s residents praise the return of law and order to their streets, and Israeli military officials have noted the drastic drop of terror warnings coming from Jenin.

The project, now being called the ?Jenin Pilot,? began in Nablus in November 2007 and was replicated in Jenin in May of this year, where it has demonstrated its greatest success. The hope now is to continue to expand the program to Jenin?s outlying areas, as well as, to the city of Hebron. In order not only to sustain the project but also to increase its reach and scope, however, several components must be maintained and several partners must be coordinated.

Under the supervision of U.S. Lt. General Keith Dayton, and with the assistance of British and Canadian military officials, over one thousand Palestinian police officers and security personnel have been sent to Jordan for training in the last year. They return armed and with a mandate limited, at least at first, to restoring public order by directing traffic, cracking down on the public display of weapons, and going after car theft and extortion. In Jenin, the campaign has become more far-reaching recently, reigning in groups of militants and criminals.

The crackdown on armed factions and gangs has been greatly aided by amnesty understanding negotiated with Israel. According to the deal, certain members of militias and gangs are offered amnesty for past crimes, if they lay down their weapons and renounce violence. Some have even been incorporated into the Palestinian security services. One amnesty understanding had a particularly dramatic effect on Jenin; the city?s most famous gunman, Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade commander Zakariya Zbeidi, gave up his arms, called the intifada a ?crushing failure,? and ended Al Aqsa?s reign in Jenin.

While Israeli officials were initially skeptical that the newly trained forces would be able to move beyond basic police work to conduct counter-terror operations, the change on the streets of Jenin is not being ignored. Israeli cooperation is a critical component of the pilot program on two major levels. On one hand, Israeli and Palestinian commanders can share intelligence, providing Palestinian forces with room to maneuver to begin to conduct the sort of operations for which Israel had taken sole responsibility. At the same time, Israeli soldiers can begin to withdraw from the city streets and even from the checkpoints that have blocked Jenin?s roads and halted the flow of goods and people necessary for a stable economy.

By gradually replacing symbols of occupation?foreign soldiers, tanks, and roadblocks?with Palestinian national ones, the Jenin Pilot aims to provide Palestinians some independence, with the hope that its transformation is but a step toward accomplishing independent statehood.

If the Jenin model could be replicated in Hebron, a city that has also suffered from criminality and gang proliferation, it could be another major step toward that process. However, while Jenin was considered one of the most lawless of West Bank cities, it benefited from some advantages that do not exist in Hebron.

As Israeli Brigadier General (ret.) Baruch Spiegel explained in an August 21 Israel Policy Forum conference call, Jenin?s distance from Israel?s fence and the absence of Israeli settlers nearby, makes it easier for Israeli soldiers to withdraw without endangering Israeli lives (at the time of the Gaza withdrawal in 2005, Israel also pulled settlers from Jenin?s outlying areas in the northern West Bank). The fact that Jenin is more removed from the presence of the occupation could help reduce the calls for resistance against it.

This difference may make a security transformation in Hebron?the West Bank?s only urban area with an embedded population of settlers (and some of the most extremist settlers at that)?much more difficult to replicate. However, it also demonstrates that political steps, such as the withdrawal of settlers, can help change the dynamic on the ground, enabling Palestinian security forces to enforce law and impose order among its citizens.

But there is another reason that Hebron is considered a riskier test case. In Jenin, Hamas has neither the political power nor the popular support that it has in Hebron. Perhaps it is hoped that emboldening the Palestinian Forces there could change that reality by offering Hebron?s residents the benefits of the law and order seen in Jenin. But it also presents a significant challenge.

In recent weeks, the war of words between Fatah and Hamas leaders has become particularly menacing. Ever since Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip in its June 2007 coup, the Fatah-Hamas power struggle has vacillated between periods of violence and threats of violence on the one hand and intermittent overtures of rapprochement on the other. As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? term nears official expiration in January 2009, Hamas? threat to do in the West Bank what it did in Gaza has become more foreboding.

Could unified and effective Palestinian forces take on Hamas? No one seems willing to predict. But there is a hope that if the Abbas-Fayyad government demonstrates an ability to maintain order and offer political benefits in the West Bank?s most dangerous cities, Hamas? posture as an effective alternative to gang rule would be further eroded and its influence within Hebron reduced. Yaakov Kats reported in Sunday?s Jerusalem Postthat Palestinian and Israeli security chiefs are due to meet this week in the hopes of finalizing a ?Hebron Pilot? that would dispatch 150 Palestinian soldiers there.

Hebron could greatly benefit from the kind of restoration of order that has been working in Jenin. But, if ?the Jenin Pilot? is sustained, expanded, and coupled with political achievements, it could become more than a model city. Jenin?s model could become an example of one of the revitalized and safe cities of the Palestinian state.


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