New National Security Adviser Sparks Talk of International Troops in West Bank

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 04, 2008, issue of December 12, 2008.
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Washington — The selection of retired Marine General James Jones as President-elect Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser has reopened discussions over deployment of international forces to the Palestinian territories, an idea fathered by Jones last year.

Jones, a former commander of NATO forces, raised the suggestion in talks with Israelis and Palestinians last year, but did not push for its implementation. One reason might have been strong Israeli opposition to entrusting international military forces with the country’s security.

Jones’s appointment to Obama’s national security team won praise from Israelis who point to his work in the past year as the administration’s special envoy to the Palestinian Authority. He is credited with bringing about the Jenin security arrangement that enabled the handover of responsibility to Palestinian forces in the city and is considered knowledgeable of the intricacies of West Bank security arrangements.

But Jones also raised concern during this mission, when he argued against having Israel keep full security responsibility for the West Bank after an agreement is reached. Jones proposed that an interim international force led by NATO would take over until Palestinian forces are prepared to maintain security.

The proposal was not made in writing and did not become part of the American policy in the region. Israeli and Palestinian officials confirmed that Jones raised the proposal in his talks with Israelis.

“The idea wasn’t to give over all security issues to NATO, but rather to reassure Israelis that their security concerns would be taken care of even after withdrawal,” said an Israeli official who was briefed on Jones’s work.

Still, Israelis saw the proposal as a warning signal and turned it down immediately. Traditionally, Israel’s security establishment has opposed placement of foreign troops in the region, worried about their impartiality and effectiveness. Israelis are also concerned that increased involvement of foreign players, other than Americans, in the Israeli–Arab conflict will tilt the balance in favor of the Arab side. For this reason, Israel insisted that the multinational peacekeeping force in Sinai will be under American command. Israel reluctantly accepted the presence of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon and of a small international monitoring group in Hebron.

According to Israeli officials, Jones did not insist on pursuing the idea of putting international forces on the ground. “It is my understanding that once the Israeli view on this was made clear, it was taken off the table,” the official said. Nonetheless, the Jerusalem Post on December 2 quoted an unnamed senior IDF officer calling Jones’s idea of deploying NATO forces to the West Bank “very bad,” arguing that “NATO will not want to endanger its soldiers on behalf of Israeli citizens.”

NATO leaders have made it clear in the past that the alliance will not send troops to the region without an explicit request from both sides and after an appropriate resolution passes the United Nations Security Council.

Jones himself did not go back to the idea in a lengthy interview he gave last month to “Inside the Pentagon” — a professional newsletter tracking the business and politics of the defense establishment. Jones did, however, stress in the interview the need for the next administration to build on the success of his work in Jenin, saying, “nothing is more important” than continuing to lay the groundwork for a two-state solution.

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