Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Dayton Mission

In Thomas Friedman's latest column, he tells the efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton to establish a security institution in the West Bank.
I accompanied him and his little team to Jenin — once the most violent city in the West Bank — to see their work. It was quite a scene: I watched a company of newly trained, proud and professional-looking Palestinian Authority troops, standing at attention, AK-47 assault rifles at their side, listening with obvious respect to the American general telling them: “What you’ve done has done more to advance the Palestinian national project than anything else ... You took care of your people at a difficult time. That is how the security forces of a country behave.”
One of the things I like about Friedman is that if he wants to write about the West Bank, he'll write from the West Bank.
General Dayton was addressing the Second Special Battalion of the Palestinian National Security Force, or N.S.F. It was trained by the Jordanian police in a program overseen by the U.S. Security Coordinator — a k a Dayton. He was originally assigned to help reform Palestinian security by the Bush team in 2005, but only got the funds to do so after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. Some 1,600 Palestinian N.S.F. troops have since graduated, and 500 are now in training. Schooled in everything from riot control to human rights, the N.S.F. is the only truly professional force controlled by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli Army, originally dubious about the Dayton mission, has come to respect it and is now allowing it to expand to Hebron. What really got Israel’s attention was that during the three-week Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, the West Bank never blew up, largely because N.S.F. troops allowed widespread protests but kept Palestinian demonstrators from clashing with Israeli soldiers.

“General Dayton is our friend,” said Col. Radi Abu Asida of the N.S.F. “Now we have excellent training. Now we have professionalism in our security work. We told the people during the Gaza demonstrations, ‘You can protest, but you must do it in a modern way.’ ”

There are many in Israel who would never trust an Arab with a gun or with a ballot. They cite the 2006 Palestinian elections. They fear a Palestinian state which won't be able to stop Hezbollah or Hamas to establish launching pads around Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. This is a reasonable fear. Just look at Lebanon - a country of elections. But the Lebanese Army can't stand up to the Iran backed Hezbollah, and political parties have militias. And the media outlets are each controlled by a different faction.

The NYTimes has a wonderful profile on Lebanese satirist Charbel Khalil.

Mr. Khalil shrugs it off. “We are completely free here [regarding the media] compared with other Arab countries,” he said, sitting at a desk in his cozy, wood-paneled studio office just north of Beirut. “Nothing is forbidden for satire except the president of the republic.”

Then he adds, with faint embarrassment, “and the army. And the judges, and religious leaders. And the presidents and kings of ‘sister and neighborly countries.’ ” All these are specifically protected from public ridicule under Lebanon’s media law, he says.
The reason the 2006 elections were a disaster for the Palestinians is that they didn't have the institutions in place to actually create a democratic state. There is more to democracy than elections. There needs to be a balance of power. Institutions that strengthens democracy such as a free media, labor unions, an independent security force, government transparency and accountability. None of these are just going to pop up or be easy to establish.

Defeating the enemy through sheer force is not the only way to establish security. One can also establish an environment which the enemy can't garner support and operate. Such an environment is one which has strong societal institutions such as those I talked about above.

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