Why No Love for Security Cooperation?

Despite Successes, U.S. Wary of Joint Israel-Palestinian Group

Build on Success: U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation is a rare success story amid the failure of the Mideast peace process. Ret. Maj. Steven White wonders why there is so little effort to build on its success.
nathan guttman
Build on Success: U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation is a rare success story amid the failure of the Mideast peace process. Ret. Maj. Steven White wonders why there is so little effort to build on its success.

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 19, 2012, issue of June 22, 2012.
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“It’s as if they think that because they took a graduate course in Middle East history when they were in Harvard or what not, they completely understand everything that needs to be done,” White said.

But Edward Abington, who served as American consul general in Jerusalem from 1993 to 1997, sees nothing unusual in these tensions. In an interview, Abington called White and Dermer’s approach to Dayton’s mission “naive” and said they see only half the picture. “Dayton did a lot to professionalize Palestinian security forces, and that is important, but that won’t bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, because it had to do with land, settlements and much more,” he said.

Dayton, a career Army officer experienced in political-military issues, was the second chief of the USSC, taking over for Kip Ward who oversaw the mission in its first months. Established in March 2005 by the Bush administration, the USSCwas tasked with helping rebuild Palestinian security capacities for both fighting terror and maintaining law and order after trust between the two had almost completely broken down following the second intifada. The USSC is staffed with American, Canadian and British personnel and receives nearly $100 million a year from the U.S. Congress to fund its operations.

White, who is the son of a famed Hollywood police detective and grew up as an evangelical Christian, arrived at the mission after studying in Jerusalem and picking up not only some Hebrew, but also a sense of Israeli concerns and fears. He witnessed a terror attack in Jerusalem in 2001, and during his term with the USSC he argued constantly against a prevailing view in diplomatic circles that ignored Israel’s security concerns.

Dayton was initially greeted with mistrust on the Israeli side. “My grandchildren will still fight this war,” Israel’s chief of staff, Dan Halutz, told Dayton in their first meeting.

But as terror subsided and as the new Palestinian government showed its interest in building efficient security forces and preventing violence, the Israelis came around. As the positive results emerged, military commanders in Israel’s Central Command and in the army headquarters in Tel Aviv became the program’s chief proponents. “You were able to change our mental disk,” Amos Gilad, who served as Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories, told White. “You can send George Mitchell back and forth to the Middle East as much as you like, but expanding what Dayton is doing in the security realm to other sectors of Palestinian governance and society is really the only viable model for progress,” said Michael Oren in a 2009 interview, several months before appointed Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

The Palestinians shared this sentiment. “It’s hard to argue with the fact it was very successful,” said Khaled Elgindy, who was an adviser to the Palestinian negotiation team at the time and is now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute. “It is one of the few bright spots in the situation.”

On the ground, the USSC is still operating and is continuing to show success. On June 8 the Pentagon announced a new commander for the mission. Paul Bushong, an admiral currently with the U.S. Pacific Command, will replace Michael Moeller, the general who took over from Dayton at the end of 2010.

Bushong’s challenge could be in many ways tougher than that of Dayton in 2005. The security cooperation system may seem stable, but the lack of progress on the diplomatic track could endanger its future. “There’s a very strong feeling on the Palestinian side that they did not get enough,” Elgindy said. “We met our obligations on the security side, and still the U.S. has failed in freezing the settlements or in implementing a significant diplomatic process.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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