Mick Hume
The Times
December 16, 2008 - 1:00am

The traffic policeman doing Michael Jackson-esque moves outside the Stars and Bucks café in busy Ramallah attracts a lot of attention. To many however, the sight of any Palestinian uniform in the West Bank is still a novelty. The dancing policeman is the face of a new force — trained in Jordan with US and European support — in an attempt to establish Palestinian law and order in the West Bank.

Today Gordon Brown meets Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, after talks in London with Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister, yesterday. Meanwhile, mainly out of sight in Ramallah, senior British soldiers, police officers and officials including Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy, are trying to help to build a new Palestinian state “from the bottom up”.

General Keith Dayton, a US security co-ordinator, leads an international team with a sizeable British contingent helping to train and equip the new Palestinian national security force in the West Bank.

More important than the blue police dealing with traffic in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, is the armed gendarmerie of the green police. Two battalions of these Palestinian police, numbering 900 officers, were trained in Jordan and deployed in the West Bank hotspots of Jenin, Nablus and Hebron.

Israel has confirmed plans for them to police Bethlehem by Christmas. Their focus is on combating lawlessness and the rule of armed clans, while the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) retain overall responsibility.

Officials say that the Palestinian force has already changed the West Bank. “A few years ago, Yassir Arafat would not go to Jenin,” said one, “Now Condoleezza Rice has been there.”

The police force is part of the attempt to turn the West Bank into a showcase for moderate Palestinian society, to contrast with the Gaza Strip — now controlled by the Islamic militants of Hamas.

With the prospect of Palestinian elections and a constitutional crisis next month, the international community is keen to boost the alternatives to Hamas.

The IDF seems unwilling to trust the Palestinian forces to pursue Islamic militants, however. “They are still traumatised by the second intifada of 2000,” one Israeli observer noted, “when Palestinian policemen turned their weapons against their Israeli ‘buddies’.”

On the other hand, the US-led international contingent is sensitive to allegations that the force is an Israeli stooge — or that it is simply helping to train the West Bank-based Fatah wing of the Palestinian movement to police Hamas.

One source insisted that they are “teaching them to be Palestinians”, loyal to more than political factions.

While Israel withdraws behind its security barriers around the West Bank, Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Secretary, who is running for the premiership in elections in February, made it clear that they can only “hand over the keys to an effective and responsible government able to restore law and order”.


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