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Last update - 03:01 06/01/2005

People and Politics / A new security horizon

By Akiva Eldar

Presumably, it was the first time that the waiters at the Carlton Hotel in Nahariya had seen guests from Tel Aviv sharing a table with tourists from Gaza. One of them evidently noticed General Ribhi Arafat (no relation to Yasser Arafat), the head of the Palestinian security coordination service. Or maybe someone spotted Brigadier General (res.) Shalom Harari or Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Yohanan Tzoref of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, two former advisers on Arab affairs to the military government in the territories who occasionally appear on television as analysts.

The following day, the Israeli Arabic-language newspaper, A-Sinara, reported that in preparation for the disengagement from Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian Authority had secretly renewed security coordination. The report drew local reporters to the hotel, and nearly scared away the Palestinians. The Israeli representatives on the security team of IPCRI (the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information) managed to convince them after much effort that they had not leaked the information. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Dr. Kobi Michael, co-director of IPCRI's strategic affairs unit, recollects that the report of their presence at the meeting drove the Palestinians, all of whom belonged to PA security services, to stake out more extreme positions.

"Apparently they were afraid of the reception back home," said Michael, who once headed the Israeli-Palestinian security coordination service and the joint patrol mechanism, and coordinated the secret talks for the drafting of a joint proposal "for the renewal of the security coordination in stages, and the active involvement of a third party."

The talks took place intermittently from February 2004 until the end of the year, at which point they ended with a concluding document that was released after Arafat's death.

Although Yasser Arafat approved the participation of his underlings in the sessions, and insisted on receiving a report on every meeting, at a time when the Israel Defense Forces is going in and out of Gaza and Nablus, revelations of group weekends spent at a Galilee hotel together with Israeli security experts are not necessarily conducive to the health and well-being of the Palestinian participants.

The discussions showed traces of the skepticism and tension that exist between the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunis, which fears any loss of its power, and the local forces, which wish to correct the distortions of Oslo. Kobi Michael believes that deep down, the Palestinians were convinced that the members of the Israeli group, which included Ron Shatzberg (a reserve battalion commander) and Udi Mizrahi (a former military governor of Bethlehem), were official representatives of the government.

The most irritating aspect

The report that the security document - based on a series of four sessions in Nahariya, Tiberias and Haifa, and on brief discussions held in Jerusalem - was presented to senior political, military and diplomatic figures will no doubt confirm their suspicions.

Gershon Baskin and Khaled Duzdar, the co-directors of IPCRI, related that they presented the document, as well as another proposal (for a border regime in the Gaza Strip), to high-ranking officials in the Prime Minister's Office, the National Security Council, Military Intelligence and the army's Planning Directorate. U.S. and British diplomats, as well as Egyptian security officials, also received a comprehensive summary from the authors. Moreover, other working groups of the organization, which have in the past year discussed economic issues, water problems and other matters that are not "security proper," took part along with businessmen, academics, representatives of government ministries and officers from the coordinator of activities in the territories.

Dr. Michael relates with satisfaction that the document received the blessings of Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub and was adopted by Abu Mazen's advisory staff. Michael says that they shared the feeling that "we are totally missing one another," as well as the decision that was reached last February, a few weeks after the Herzliya speech in which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon revealed his disengagement plan, to open the secret security channel.

"We reached the conclusion that although the disengagement plan necessitates reference to many and varied issues such as border arrangements, economic development, rehabilitation of physical and social infrastructures, freedom of movement, and more, indeed the main parameter and the most bothersome, is the security domain," he said. "Without reducing the violence, with the hope of ending it entirely, and without an improvement in the sense of security of both Israelis and Palestinians, there is no hope and no hope for all the other issues [or] for creating the conditions for leveraging the disengagement toward the renewal of a political process."

The retired Israeli officers and the Palestinian officers in active service, some of whom knew each other back in the (relatively) good days before the second intifada, concurred that "the willingness of the parties to join forces and efforts" is the "most vital condition for lowering the level of violence and improving the security environment."

Nevertheless, while the Palestinian officers clung to fond memories of the joint military patrols, Michael shared his own bitter conclusions drawn from the incidents that broke out between the two components of the patrols. After an argument, it was agreed that the deep crisis of confidence, terror attacks and IDF raids deep into the Gaza Strip draw the sides into "an intensification of the trend of spiraling violence and the Catch 22 of action and reaction."

The report continued: "The confidence crisis and the bad blood between Israelis and Palestinians distort any possibility of the parties to cooperate in any way without external assistance and without real international guarantees through which there might be sufficient incentives to adopt what is needed to advance the process."

Joint Operations Room

From that point, each side presented its position and its detailed proposal. The IPCRI representatives mapped out the consensual areas, bridged the gaps, and eventually formulated a document that is largely based on elements that seemed reasonable to both the Israelis and Palestinians. Kobi Michael comments that, as usual, the main difficulty had to do with the desire of the Palestinians to first determine the principles (full withdrawal, control of borders, etc.), while the Israelis prefer to push off the pitfalls to the permanent settlement stage and to agree on the details. Among the items that were eventually discussed was the future of the settlements slated for evacuation.

At the same time as the settlers were threatening civil disobedience against the government of Israel and the IDF during the withdrawal, Palestinian security officials and retired Israeli officers were discussing the fate of their homes. The guests from Gaza made it clear that they harbored no desire for the Israeli villas. In light of concerns regarding street battles between rival groups that would attempt to gain control of the abandoned property, coupled with the desire to build multistory buildings to house refugees, they asked that Sharon see fit to leave them the infrastructure and send in his bulldozers to level the ground.

The model is based on a consortium of three main partners: The U.S., Britain and Egypt, "the three main actors - well known for their experience in the area of military and intelligence relevancy for this mission - they are thought of as having regional and international influence" and each of them enjoys the trust of at least one of the parties to the conflict.

"The source of authority for the activities of the Security Consortium will be the Coordination Board, whose make-up will be determined by agreement of the parties," states the report. "This body will be the authorized factor in guiding the work of the Joint Operations Room (JOR). The JOR will receive periodic and special reports and will be the source of authority in cases of disputes between the parties regarding the interpretation of sections of the agreement or regarding the assessment criteria for successful and correct implementation of the tasks that each side will be obligated to implement. It is possible to consider the modus operandi of the MFO in Sinai as a model that was endorsed by the UN Security Council."

Baskin and Duzdar explain that the proposed model is intended to minimize the danger of a rearming of the landmines of the Oslo accord, which let each of the sides deal with incidents that occurred as they saw fit, without mechanisms for investigation of complaints, reducing tensions, impeding reactions or drawing conclusions. They assert that their model is resistant to the special interests of Israeli politicians, who tend to enlist every security incident, in the best case, for purposes of propaganda and debate, and in the worst case, as an excuse for another liquidation operation.

Conversely, the proposed mechanism requires the Palestinians to provide reliable information on plans to carry out acts of terrorism and to offer real answers in cases where the alert is not received in time.

The model is built upon "Redeployment of Palestinian forces parallelly in the north of the Gaza Strip and in the south, and then, in the second phase, in the Khan Yunis - Gaza center area, in preparation for the Israeli disengagement."

The document elaborates: "Renewal of security coordination in the north and south necessitates measured and controlled steps, while institutionalizing a set of criteria for assessing the success of a monitoring mechanism, control and reporting to the accepted source of authority for both parties. Attempts to renew wider-ranging security coordination may turn out to be an overly ambitious step whose resounding failure may remove from the foreseeable agenda any future similar possibility."

The document suggests encouraging the Palestinian willingness to "act in the security domain, through the expansion of international involvement in the rehabilitation of the infrastructures and the economy in the Gaza Strip and through the reopening of the Gaza International Airport."

International terminal administration

Operation of the airport and the other ports of entry was the subject of discussion in another IPCRI working group, which also drafted a final document. The two parties to the document concur that given the crisis of trust between the sides, "the active involvement of a third party" is required. "The third party will be any international party whose composition and authorities and roles are agreed to by the sides."

The main roles of this international task force would be aiding in the establishment of the industrial zones and development of the border crossings, along with assistance in the ongoing operation and "mentoring and training of the Palestinian side toward assuming responsibility for operation of these zones;" "monitoring and supervision of the Palestinian security screening procedures, according to the security protocol that will be agreed between the sides;" "assistance and facilitating in developing the coordination mechanisms between the Israeli and Palestinian sides while restoring trust between the sides."

To that end, an international terminal administration would be created, "to coordinate and operate at the various terminals." The administration would include Israeli and Palestinian liaison officers.



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