How Obama Missed an Opportunity for Middle East Peace
There aren’t many reasons for optimism regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict these days. But amid the failed negotiations, diplomatic maneuverings, and occasional spasms of violence, one unsung initiative has been an unalloyed success: The mission of the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This hodgepodge staff of military and civilian advisors, working together in the spirit of Lawrence’s words, has trained more than 5,000 members of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF), rebuilt Palestinian security institutions, and fostered a renewed sense of relevance in the Palestinians’ nascent moves toward statehood.
The achievements of the USSC, which began operations in 2005 and commenced training Palestinian security forces in 2007, have formed the foundation of every claim of progress made by successive U.S. administrations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The mission has been integral to the re-establishment of stability and security in the West Bank for Palestinians and Israelis alike — militias are off the streets, crime is down, and basic order has largely returned.
The mission has been lauded by such leaders as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But it is perhaps the opinion of Palestinian citizens themselves that is most telling. A community leader in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, once a center of conflict,compared the period before 2007, when “the camp was controlled by militias and thugs who partially financed their regime through theft and extortion,” and after new security forces’ return, when “life changed for the better.”
The work of the team headed by Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, who was its second coordinator and guided the USSC from December 2005 to October 2010, continues to reap dividends to this day. The efforts of a professional, motivated, and well-trained Palestinian security establishment have allowed West Bank business enterprises to flourish and local economies to boom. These successes have facilitated Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s efforts to reconstruct government and local institutions. Perhaps the greatest mark of its success is that, even as the political impasse between Israel and the Palestinians widens, security coordination between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian security forces continues at levels unseen since before the Second Intifada, which raged from 2000 to 2004. This development was unimaginable just a few years ago.