U.S. Aid to Palestinian Forces May Assist Hamas

By David Bedein

On February 5, the reconstituted US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa held a subcommittee hearing on the subject of "Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects."

Two senior expert witnesses from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy testified and expressed optimism that US-trained Palestinian Security Forces, affiliated with Fatah, will combat the Hamas terror group which competes for power in the nascent Palestinian Arab entity.

Yet the Fatah policy and attitude toward Hamas can be summarized by an exchange I had with Fatah founder Yasser Arafat at a press conference in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 1994, the night before Arafat became one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

My question: "Mr. Arafat, Israeli prime minister Rabin and Israeli foreign minister Peres said a few hours ago in answer to my question that you deserve the peace prize because you have committed yourself to crushing the Hamas terror organization."

Arafat's answer: "I do not understand the question. Hamas are my brothers."

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The disparity between the stated US goal for a given policy and the given result is large enough to leave the thoughtful observer aghast. Certainly this is the case with regard to the American investment in the security forces of the Palestinian Authority.

When the PA was founded in 1994, president Arafat, by design, established a multiplicity of security forces with overlapping authority and in competition with one another.

The 17 diverse forces of the PA, which often constituted no more than private fiefdoms, were ineffective and corrupt. What mattered to Arafat was that no force was of sufficient size or competency to seize power.

In several instances while Arafat was in power, PA forces turned their weapons on Israel. In September 2000, Arafat recruited security forces to organize attacks on civilians and soldiers in the course of what was called the second intifada, or uprising.

The Israeli military decimated the PA security forces in 2002, with facilities demolished and weapons seized.

Serious involvement by the West began to revitalize the Palestinian Security Forces after Arafat's death in November 2004. Subsequent US support for the PA Security Forces was intended to be a step towards creation of that stable Palestinian Arab entity.

IN 2005, the Office of the US Security Coordinator was established.

The 16 US officers who work within that office are assigned to the State Department. The coordinator reports directly to the secretary of state. Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's successor, reorganized the security services into six main forces, and instituted a policy of mandatory retirement at age 60.

Efforts by the US to strengthen the PA forces were delayed, however, by the Hamas victory in the PA legislative election in 2006. Hamas held a majority of the seats in the legislature and was heavily represented in the government. In addition, it had created its own security forces, with generous funding from Iran and Syria.

In June 2007, Hamas fighters routed a US-equipped and US-trained PA force that was 10 times bigger and captured the Gaza Strip. The failure of the PA forces was plain to see, and the US was prepared to invest more vigorously in strengthening that force because Abbas then ostensibly separated a Fatah-controlled government from direct involvement with Hamas.

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The writer is director of the Israel Resource News Agency and Center for Near East Policy Research, Beit Agron International Press Center.

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