As America’s failed efforts to advance the Middle East peace process fell like debris all around him, Steven White, a major in the U.S. Marines who was shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah, grew ever more upset over what he saw as Washington’s determination to spurn its only success in the field.
That success, in which White played a central role, was the creation of a Palestinian security force capable of working jointly with Israel to curb terrorism originating in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“We were like marriage facilitators, we got both sides to do the work themselves,” said White in a June 6 interview. “For the first time, we had something working on the ground, something that showed real results.”
It is a success whose praises have been sung even by Israeli military officers in formal hearings before the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. But for Washington, whose idea the whole thing was, the Palestinian security force was an unwanted stepchild, White says.
“Nobody thought the mission would go anywhere,” recalled White, who was with the team from its 2005 launch. “They all saw it as just checking the box on security.”
Convincing Washington to support the security mission remains a tall order even today. Despite the undisputed progress the Palestinian security force has shown on the ground, Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives have recently put yet another hold on funds for maintaining and developing the force, as a demonstration of their displeasure with policies adopted by the Palestinian Authority.
Now, White, who has since retired from the Marines, is sitting down with former Army colonel P.J. Dermer, his colleague in the security force project, to pen a book about what they saw.
White spent more than five years as a senior adviser to the United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and was especially close to Keith Dayton, the Army general who headed the USSC mission from 2005 to 2010. Dayton is credited with building Palestinian security capacities and boosting Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation to a level never before seen. Terror and violence have dropped to an all-time low, thanks in part to the work of Americans.
In the process of building this force, the USSC gained for itself a unique footing, White said. Amid increasing acrimony among Israelis, Palestinians and Americans in the political and diplomatic arenas, the Israelis, Palestinians and Americans working as partners under the USSC achieved relationships of deep personal trust.