General Keith Dayton
Al-Ayyam (Interview)
October 26, 2008 - 8:00pm

Interview with General Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator, by Abd-al-Ra'uf Arna'ut;

Dayton: These Are the Objectives of My Task, Truth of What I Did in Gaza

[Arna'ut] You are very well known in the Palestinian arena, but few people actually know what you do. What do you specifically do?

[Dayton] I have been serving in the US army for the past 38 years. I am an artillery man but my last task in that arm dates back to 13 years ago. I have been carrying out political and security tasks since then. For example, I was the US military attache in Russia. I was tasked to look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I was a strategic planner in the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army Command. When former US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld asked me to come here to work with the PA, I saw this as an important and beneficial challenge. I have been here for the past three years, as I arrived in the Palestinian territories in December 2005. I am committed to this important and advantageous task.

This Is Our Basic Task

[Dayton] I believe it is very important to understand our task. We are an international team comprising Americans, Canadians, and Britons. Our work is unique in that we speak with all the parties that have anything to do with the Palestinian-Israeli issues. Therefore, I do not work with Palestinians only, but I work closely with the Israelis and I also work with the Jordanians. I worked also with the Egyptians in the past. This is a unique situation, because, as you know, our diplomatic missions focus only on one aspect. But in a normal week, I might meet with Dr Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, or with Interior Minister Abd-al-Razzaq al-Yaha. I also meet with the head of the Strategic Planning Department in the Israeli army or with the Israeli military commander in the West Bank. Thus, it is important for one to realize that I am in contact with all parties. I believe this helps me in my basic task of working with the PA security services.

We maintain close contacts with Quartet envoy Tony Blair as well as with the European mission that deals with the Palestinian Police. We also closely adhere to efforts of General Jim Jones, launched within the framework of the Annapolis process.

It is important to note that we live here. We do not come for a few days and then leave like many visitors. The fact that we live here enables us to establish relations with people from all sides, to win their trust, and seek to change things for the better. When we see that we can improve something, we carry this out, because we are here and we monitor the situation round the clock. I believe this makes a great difference.

How do I describe my mission? Simply speaking, I was sent here to work with the Palestinian security services to ensure a more safe and secure future for the Palestinian people. In other words, the changes and the professional rehabilitation of the Palestinian security services will lead, in my opinion, to the enhancement of law and order and will bolster the Palestinian people's safety and security. I strongly believe that this will directly lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Palestine has new and dynamic security commanders who can achieve this. I would like to tell you quite frankly that I am honored to work with these people and I highly value their courage and strong personality and professionalism.

We began serious work with the Palestinian security services in 2007 when the US Congress gave us $86 million to work with the Palestinian security services in the West Bank. Thanks to this sum, we have accomplished many things.
In the field of training, the International Police Training Center in Jordan graduated more than 1,100 members from the Presidential Guard and National Security Forces [NSF]. Many of these forces are now deployed in the streets of Janin and will be deployed in Hebron soon. I have to tell you that I do not have any doubt that the members of the Palestinian security forces are very capable people.

With our help, the Palestinian security services conducted a training course for drivers, another course for English language, and a training course for teams in Jericho. One of the events that satisfies us the most is the Senior Commanders' Course that is currently being held in Ramallah composed of 36 senior commanders from all the Palestinian security services, such as the Civil Defense, Preventive Security Service, NSF, Presidential Guard, and the Police. They will work together over a period of eight weeks in small working groups to analyze and study the Palestinian security policy for the future and place it within a larger regional framework. They have foreign lecturers who have come from abroad and they are learning together how to carry out joint work. We believe that matters are proceeding smoothly. I was there yesterday and I must say that what I saw exceeded my expectation. I saw the commanders from the Preventive Security Service, the Presidential Guard, and NSF talking together and exchanging ideas on how to build Palestine. This action calls for admiration.

Completion of Infrastructure Projects

We also used part of these funds to carry out infrastructure projects in Jericho in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Works. One of the biggest two projects is the Presidential Guard Training Academy, which is the highest level Palestinian facility established so far. It is a very splendid place and has not been completed as yet. But it will be a beautiful place. It is worth mentioning that the Palestinians were the ones who did all the plans, carried out the construction work and decided for what it will be used. We only supplied the money for its establishment and sought some advice from our experts.

We started the construction of a camp for the operations of the special NSF 2d Battalion and I was there yesterday. There is an officer called Nidal, who is so proud of what he is doing there. The place can accommodate 800 persons. The place was just a vacant plot of land one year ago. But we have now completed the infrastructure. I met with people from the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of Public Works, and the NSF who are working expeditiously on the project. Therefore, one can expect it to be completed by the end of January, and it was established by the Palestinians themselves.

We also use part of the money to work with Interior Minister Al-Yahya to set up a strategic planning department and budget department. This is in progress and we are also very happy with this work and effort.
The Congress decided to disburse an additional $75 million this spring. Part of this money is being used to train a new NSF battalion of 500 members in Jordan. The NSF will dispatch another battalion for training there at the end of December. With our help, the NSF will carry out training exercises in the West Bank, particularly in Jericho, and we will complete the infrastructure work that we have already started. We have another infrastructure project that has been planned but its location has not been decided as yet and we will do this.

Training in Jordan is being carried out by the Jordanian police. I must tell you that I visited Jordan more than 10 times during the training period. The Jordanians are enthusiastic about this project and are not the only ones to admire the Palestinian trainees. The Jordanian trainers are tough trainers. They are very happy with the graduates. The commander of the Jordanian police is very committed to the training; he and King Abdallah II had reiterated their commitment to train the required number of Palestinians. They are very happy. Also, the Palestinians who are receiving their training are very happy with the training they are getting. As a military man who has been observing training courses all his life, I find it extremely important for me to observe members from the Jordanian police speak with Palestinian young men whose ages range between 19 and 20 years telling them what they did right and where they have gone wrong with such a personal interest.

Having spent three years here, I am proud to work side by side with people I believe are dynamic and have vision. I am speaking of Palestinian leaders like President Abu-Mazin [Mahmud Abbas], Prime Minister Fayyad, and Major General Abu-al-Fath [alias of Dhiyab al-Ali], commander of the NSF in the West Bank; Major General Hazim Atallah, police commander, who carried out excellent things in the police service; Major General Munir from the Presidential Guard; and many other commanders. I am familiar with their viewpoint because we have been discussing it. They believe that through changes and professional training of the Palestinian security services, the Palestinian people will enhance law and order and will attain security and safety for the Palestinian families and this will lead to a free and independent Palestinian state that will live in peace and security with its neighbors.

If there was not this vision, I would most probably be not here. However, this is the vision that they share with the United States. I strongly believe that each one of these elements who went to Jordan for training or even the 500 new elements from the Presidential Guard whom I met in Jericho -- each one of them believes that he is a builder of a state and that his generation will build this state. I believe in this too. They realize what this requires. The performance of these units after their return from Jordan was wonderful and exceeded the expectations of many, including Israelis. They will deploy in Hebron, because they have proved that that they are capable of what we said they could do. Their leadership is wonderful. I am proud of working with them.

We Will Strengthen Our Work in the Future

[Arna'ut] During the term of President Clinton, the tendency was to maintain direct contacts between the CIA director, who was then George Tenet, and the security commanders. During the era of President Bush, the tendency was to send you to the region to work directly with the security commanders. Sometimes you mix with the elements themselves. Shall we expect this tendency to continue under the coming US administration?

[Dayton] It is not possible for me to predict. However, I have not received any indication from any person that the current tendency will change, because both Abu-Mazin, Fayyad, and the higher political leadership in Washington, think that this tendency achieves results and is successful. I believe that there is a feeling that it is necessary to strengthen this tendency and not change it.

When President Bush announced his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, this was the first political announcement of this sort. This consolidated a position that I believe no US political leader will back off from. That is why the United States has shown long-term interest in this Palestinian national project. I do not want to seem arrogant, but the US Army has only 35 three-star generals. We have a huge army, which has but 35 generals. Nevertheless, the United States has committed that one of these generals will be here. I have been here continuously without my family for three years. This indicates a high level of commitment by the United States to this project. There is nothing to cast doubt on the wisdom of this decision.
Look at the Janin Example

[Arna'ut] Everybody is aware of the link between the political-economic situation and the security situation. Everybody says that there will be no [peace agreement] by the end of the year. However, the process is continuing. There has been a slight improvement in the economic situation. The Palestinians say that Israel must do more on the ground to help in this regard. To what extent does this affect the security situation?
[Dayton] First of all, I would appreciate if you do not ask me political questions, because as a soldier I do not speak in politics. I believe that we should look at what we see in Janin. I know that some might ask: Why Janin? But Janin is the place that it was decided to focus on. We have noticed an improvement in the security situation there. This has resulted in greater opportunities for improving the economic situation. I work closely with Tony Blair's team, which is basically working on a number of economic issues. We are cohesive. Therefore, I am sure that when I work with the governor of Janin and the commander of the region, what we do in relation to the security issues strengthens what Tony Blair is trying to do in relation to the economic aspect. Dr Fayyad was on a visit last week to Washington where he participated in an economic conference that resulted in greater interest in the economic development in the West Bank. He told the conference that the situation had greatly improved in the Janin Governorate.

Security is the inevitable first step. Economic growth and stability cannot be achieved in an environment of organized crime and racketeering or of people who ignore the power of the PA. This is one of the biggest successes in Janin, namely, the capability of the security forces, led by the Police, to make the people respect the power of the PA. Therefore, we are talking now in Janin about how to improve the economy more than we are talking about the imposition of law and order because this matter has been achieved to a great extent. We are very pleased with the performance of the security services.

We Work To Return to the September 2000 Situation

[Arna'ut] However, ordinary Palestinians say the Palestinian Police and security services are doing a brilliant job during the day, while during the night there is fear that the Israeli army will carry out incursions and arrests. The question that begs itself is when will we return to the situation that prevailed before September 2000?

[Dayton] It is a fair question. It is a very complicated subject. It is a matter on which I work constantly with the Israeli side. The United States works constantly with all sides on this matter. I believe matters have improved in Janin. In this regard, I refer to an opinion poll conducted by the Khalil Al-Shiqaqi Center in August. The poll asked respondents whether there was better security now than there was a year ago. In some governorates respondents said they felt there was no improvement, but in Janin and Nabulus respondents said they felt there was improvement in security. In Janin, this rate reached 50 percent, which is a high rate. Therefore, things do not change overnight. Believe me, as I said, I meet with everybody. I believe I and my Israeli counterparts have achieved some progress. The issue is difficult. Let us wait how things will develop.

The performance of the security forces in Janin has prompted the Israelis to say something good is happening here. This has prompted senior Israeli officials to say let us have another look.

[Arna'ut] But how can you help the Palestinians to improve the situation even more through your contacts with the Israelis?

[Dayton] Let me give you an example. When the seriousness of the PA in assuming security responsibility in Janin became clear, one of the things that were done was the establishment of a hot line between the two commands: the [Palestinian] commander of the region of Janin and the Israeli commander, so that they could solve problems quickly. The Israelis considerably reduced their operations in Janin, but they did not stop them. Believe me this is a topic that we continue to follow up. There are matters on which we are still working and on which we will continue to work. We do this through meetings, conversations, and emphasizing the brilliant work these youths are doing.

I Am Not Responsible for What HAMAS Says About Me

[Arna'ut] You know that HAMAS officials utter your name a lot. They say that you want to eradicate HAMAS. An American magazine has said that you are pushing toward a Palestinian civil war. What is your comment on this?

[Dayton] I am not responsible for what HAMAS says about me. But I can say that during my discussions with the Palestinian security command, Abu-Mazin, and Fayyad, we do not talk about HAMAS, but we talk about law and order and the safety and security of the Palestinian people. What HAMAS says is its business. But, sincerely speaking, look.... As far I am concerned, HAMAS is a political issue. I do not interfere in this matter. As you know, I do not deal with HAMAS. This is accepted internationally and everybody knows it. During the training of the security services in Amman, Interior Minister Al-Yahya told the participants: "I want each one of you to know that you are not here to learn allegiance to any faction, clan, or political movement. You are here as builders of the Palestinian state and your allegiance is to Palestine." The message was that you follow the orders of your command but you allegiance is to the Palestinian people. The name of HAMAS was not mentioned once.
What I am interested in is whether an ordinary family in Janin can walk in a street in evening hours and buy ice cream without fear of an armed clash taking place in the street. The Palestinians have achieved this with US assistance. The PA has achieved this.

What Happened With General Jones

One of the stories that happened in this small world was with General Jim Jones (appointed by the US Administration to supervise the security arrangements after peace is established). He told me that while he was visiting North Carolina last summer, he went to visit a physician whose wife happened to be a Palestinian from Janin. [Actually] this happened this summer. General Jones asked the physician about the situation. The physician said that his family returned to Janin for a visit during the summer. Here, General Jones asked him: "Really to Janin? Is it not safe there?" So the physician answered: "No, the children loved it. They went to see their family and they used to go out in the evening to the street, safely and without any fear." A year ago, this would have been unimaginable.

When people feel safe and secure, they act in a different way. They are not exposed to crime and fanaticism but simply live their lives, just like all of us.

I always wondered when I read what HAMAS says about me, because it is clear that its people never talked to me. Similarly, they do not talk to people who know what I do. I think that the entire thing is just rumors and propaganda because what I do is intended to establish law and order.

This Is the Truth About My Role In Gaza

[Arna'ut] Before the coup in Gaza, you did some work there.

[Dayton] Let me tell you what I did there, because what is being said is nothing more than rumors that are not correct at all. Let me tell you a few facts. First, after the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Quartet asked me not to work with any of the security apparatuses except for the Presidential Guard. The reason for this is mainly that the Presidential Guard is directly affiliated with President Abu-Mazin. In addition, President Abbas ordered the apparatus to assume responsibility for the crossings, especially in Rafah. Nevertheless, it had some work to do in Kerem Shalom and we were looking to do work in Qarni.

I worked on the crossings in Rafah and Qarni (Al-Mintar). To say the truth, we established in Qarni an extremely advanced crossing in cooperation with the PA and the Israel Ports Authority. This was the way to keep Gaza alive. I spent a long time in meetings with the Egyptians, Palestinians, and Israelis to keep these crossings functioning because the way we described the situation was that Gaza should be allowed to breath. Until that time, I had no funds because Congress did not allocate any funds for me until 2007. Hence, when HAMAS said that I am building the security apparatuses, I had no available money at the time. I did not receive any funds until after the coup in Gaza. So, could you explain to me how I could have done that? I was not even allowed to enter Gaza because this was part of a US policy following the killings that took place there in the past.

We used to do a good work because we were working to help the people of Gaza. Believe me when I say that HAMAS knew this very well, and it knew perfectly well what we were doing. For instance, Congress approved $40 million and I intended to spend a little more than half of this money on the establishment of the Qarni crossing that would ease the transfer of goods from Gaza to Israel. The other part of the money was intended for the Presidential Guard. However, we never received this money because HAMAS carried out its coup before the funds arrived. I leave it to the readers to decide on whether HAMAS wanted to undermine something or not because if the crossings were opened -- and the contract was ready for the Palestinians to start the work -- Gaza would have been a different place.

[Arna'ut] Were you surprised by what HAMAS did because many people were?

[Dayton] I think that what Gaza has proved is that you need strong security forces under a clear authority. These forces need to be well-trained and well equipped with the equipment they need. This was a lesson that Gaza has taught me.

As for the surprise, a person can never be surprised. Things happen here and I stopped being surprised during my first year of service here.

[Arna'ut] I remember that for some time you worked with the Arab Security Quartet. However, it has disappeared. So what happened?

[Dayton] I am not sure what the reason was behind its disappearance, but it disappeared. It disappeared a short time after the coup in Gaza. But you are right. We worked with them for some time and they stopped. However, there was no political reason whatsoever for this.

[Arna'ut] You are working with the NSF and the Presidential Guard while the Europeans are working with the civilian police. As for the intelligence apparatus, it works with the president. How do you coordinate your work in order to achieve better results?

[Dayton] This is a very good question because one of the basic principles of what I am doing is to work with the PA on establishing forces to support the police. The United States believes strongly that the police are the most important Palestinian security force. This is the reason why I do not only meet continuously with the head of the European commission that deals with the police but I also constantly meet with Maj Gen Atallah. I have a permanent European coordination officer on my staff in order to coordinate on a daily and direct basis with the European commission. In other words, we do not have to go daily to their headquarter to talk with them about what the police is doing because we have close contacts with each other.

If you accept what I believe in, which is that the police are the cornerstone on which everything we are doing is built on and that the rest of the national security forces are there to support the police whenever there is a need, then, you would not be able to achieve that if the relationship was not so close and this is exactly the kind of relationship we have.

[Arna'ut] For the first time, the Palestinians have three US generals: you, General Johns, and General William Frazer. How do you make sure that the generals are achieving their required tasks? For instance, what is the task that General Jones is doing and which General Fraser is not doing?

[Dayton] My mission is to work with the Palestinian security forces in order to establish security and order as well as two states that live side by side in security and peace. I am the only one of the three generals who continuously lives here and who has budgets allocated by Congress to help the Palestinians. I am working with the Palestinians to build from the bottom upward. In other words, it is like building the foundations for the first floor of the house. The Palestinians are the builders but I am standing with them because I represent the tangible commitment of the United States.
General Jones is working on the political level and he works more on issues of trust building. Consequently, he is working on a strategic level while I am working on the operative one. As for General Fraser -- who incidentally left his position and has been replaced by General Selva -- his task is limited. I have worked with General Fraser for some time on following up on and evaluating the implementation of the Road Map. However, the results he reached are extremely confidential and this is between him and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Our Tasks Do Not Clash But Rather To Complement Each Other

[Arna'ut] To use your words, you are helping the Palestinians to establish the state of Palestine. When will this happen?

[Dayton] I do not know. I wish I did, but I do not think that this issue is far. I know that this generation of young men who are training now in Jordan is the generation that would establish the state. They will be looked upon in the years to come as the builders of Palestine. I told them: "Look, I cannot tell you that this will happen on 1 January 2009.

However, what I can tell you is that if you implement what you are learning, if you follow the orders of your leaders, and if you bear in mind that what you are doing is establishing law, order, and security for your people they then will follow you. You will be looked upon by the future generations as the lucky ones because you are the ones who will turn the Palestinian national enterprise into a reality."

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