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The United Nations and Israel

Teaching the Palestinians to Shoot Straight

By NEILL LOCHERY - July 30, 2002

A new United Nations- and European Union-sponsored peace plan that aims to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been pieced together behind closed doors. Its proposals call for thousands of international advisers to be sent to train the Palestinians in areas ranging from security to good governance.

The as-yet-untitled plan enjoys the support of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, several European governments, and key figures in the US State Department. Make no mistake: We are not talking here about a United Nations peace-keeping force, but rather something very new and extremely flawed.

Plans such as the latest are underpinned by the premise that the reason the Palestinian Authority failed was because of the technical failings of the Oslo Accords, not because of poor Palestinian leadership that did not come to terms with the two related prerequisites for success: the linkage of nationalist aspirations to economic and social improvement, and an acceptance of Israel (not as a friend but a reality that could help rather than hinder the achievement of a Palestinian state).

In short, the rationale of the new plan mirrors that of other recent efforts at regenerating the Oslo peace process, attempts which Daniel Pipes correctly likened to applying a Band-Aid to a mortal wound.

Ignoring for a moment the weakness of the rationale for the plan, its methodology is even more worrisome. The self-confessed hardest decision that the late Yitzhak Rabin ever had to take was not recognizing the PLO or whether to shake Yasser Arafat's hand but rather agreeing to let the security services of the PA be armed. Those who have read the Oslo Accords will have noted that the PA policemen were to be lightly armed. Predictability and yes, Rabin suspected this would happen the PA stockpiled weapons to such an extent that a survey suggested last year that there are now more arms per square meter in Gaza than almost anywhere else in the world.

Why does the PA need such high levels of arms? The line is that it had to deal with groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad who opposed the Oslo Accords. History has taught us that this was pure fabrication, and that the real reason was that the PA was preparing for a military confrontation with Israel.

Understanding this point is very important, and sadly it appears that neither the United Nations nor the European Union has yet reached a similar conclusion. Both institutions turn a blind eye to this blatant violation of international accords. Instead, they have forged this new plan, which calls for their security experts to train PA forces to make them more effective.

One wonders: more effective at what, shooting Israelis?

Imagine the scene as Special Forces from European countries teach Palestinian security leaders about tactical warfare and how to patrol their streets. In truth, the PA security forces are already very good at their job. The security cooperation on the ground between some senior Palestinian commanders and the Israeli army is impressive. Nobody likes talking about it, however, because the PA security forces are considered traitors when this cooperation becomes too overt. The real problem lies with the Palestinian political leadership, who misuses its security forces in the name of nationalism.

IN TERMS of good governance, what would the advisers suggest? Both the UN and EU have their own critics in this area and it's doubtful they could offer much in the way of enlightened advice. Don't get caught with your fingers in the till. Be careful not to pad your expense account too much. And remember: Any election can be fixed.

If I were Palestinian, I would find this part of the plan extremely condescending. Good governance needs time and cannot be imposed from the outside. The days of colonial rule in the Middle East are over, and the belief that concepts such a democracy, healthy civil society and effective state bureaucracies can be taught belongs to the age of Lawrence of Arabia, not to the 21st century.

My real concern, however, is that the plan must represent the best efforts of these political leaders. It is a damming indictment of both the UN and EU that they can do no better than this. It is, in effect, a shift from Plan A to Plan Z with no intermediate plans being tried.

To be sure, some will argue that the stationing of some form of international force in the Middle East is the only viable way out of the current impasse. This is nonsense, of course.

What is required at present is the transition of power away from the current leadership of the PA to the younger generation of Palestinian leaders, many of whom still live in exile in Europe and the United States.

Let the Palestinians put their own house in order. Though perhaps a longer path, it is far less dangerous than letting the outside world do it for them.

The writer is director of the Center for Israeli Studies at University College, London.

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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