Comprehensive US Plan to Rebuild Palestinian Administration
Without waiting for Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Europe or Saudi Arabia, the Bush administration is forging forward alone with a grand scheme for overhauling the Palestinian Authority politically, economically, militarily and administratively, a scheme so broad that the term “reforms” does not begin to do it justice.
This go-it-alone mode first emerged in the face of European and Arab resistance to US preparations for an offensive against Baghdad. Only at a later stage did some of its opponents climb halfheartedly aboard, like Britain, Russia, Turkey and France – generally on the quiet.
This dearth of support is a recurrent factor in America’s Palestinian blueprint. Yet the White House is confident that support will gather as the plan rolls forward. It is undeterred even by the prospect of Palestinian violence or a row with Israel. The Bush administration is making no stops on the way because its Palestinian plan is not just a local issue, but one brick in a comprehensive strategy for redesigning the Middle East and its national frontiers, a strategy already in motion among the Kurdish and Turkoman minorities of northern Iraq. The Palestinians’ turn has come now.
debkafile, with the help of its exclusive sources and analysts, is devoting to the subject a series of articles this week. The series consists of three articles which appears below. The first, detailing American moves. Subsequent articles will outline the ways in which Israel, the Palestinians and Arab governments accept or reject the prospect of their integration.
I. Only Pro-US Members Allowed
debkafile‘s Washington sources reveal that the White House has entrusted the international development agency, USAID, with the task of rebuilding Palestinian Authority institutions from scratch. The administrator of this body, Andrew Nacios, and his deputy, Frederick Schieck, are presidential appointees. The vice president’s daughter, assistant deputy secretary of state Elizabeth Cheney, has been named overall coordinator of the program, including CIA operations, for overhauling Palestinian governance.
USAID is no stranger to the region. It has been operating on the West Bank and Gaza Strip since before the 1967 war when the two territories were respectively under Jordanian and Egyptian jurisdictions. Its work was to promote economic growth and democracy and oversee proper water supply, as well as public health, community and education services. It subsidized the development of local projects – provided recipients, often cooperatives, were properly organized under responsible management, including an orderly accounting system overseen by a public accountant. In this way, USAID made sure the aid money was not misused for other purposes than those designated.
When the Oslo Peace Framework Accords regime was initiated in 1993, USAID was forced into a minor role by Yasser Arafat, who insisted that every dollar reaching the Palestinian Authority be processed through him personally. His motives emerged much later: the money was being misspent on weapons acquisitions and running his terrorist campaign against Israel.
Nonetheless, though hardly noticed, USAID offices and facilities in Palestinian areas were not dismantled throughout the Oslo-dominated nineties and the Clinton presidency. They now stand ready to be fully reactivated as a central instrument of the American presence in Palestinian areas.
The Bush administration has assigned USAID a leading role in five of its regular spheres, all essential components of the new Palestinian government:
Water, electricity, transport and infrastructure
Democracy: The creation of elected national and local authority.
Public health: Setting up medical and social welfare services.
Education: Creating a new school system whose curricula is not impregnated with nationalist and religious incitement.
This will be America’s first experiment in creating for a Muslim-dominated society an educational system free of the taint of fostering terrorism – suicidal terrorism, in the Palestinian case.
Community Services: To be made the main instrument for creating a judiciary.
Security has been added to USAID’s regular spheres of control.
Our sources report that the United States has begun recruiting Palestinians for the two new systems it regards as pivotal: the judiciary and security.
The CIA has been assigned with creating a single new security force with a single command, according to a plan drawn up by its director, George Tenet, to replace the dozen or more security groups subject to Arafat. None of the incumbent security chiefs will receive appointments in the new setup; all are regarded as contaminated by terrorism or loyalty to Arafat.
According to debkafile security sources, the new security force will number no more than 12,000 to 15,000 men, roughly one-third of the current number. CIA officers have been sent out to hire Palestinian security and intelligence officers from lists vetted in Langley. They are being offered the chance to work in security under “American civilian security personnel”, against a commitment to sever previous ties with the organizations that employed them in the past and to serve in any Palestinian-controlled area in any capacity designated by their employers.
For the first stage, the CIA had hoped to muster a 300-strong force for the West Bank and 200 in the Gaza Strip. However, due to the deep economic distress in Palestinian areas and the officers’ uncertainty about their future paychecks, the response met by the CIA field officers was so enthusiastic that the recruiting target was doubled to one thousand.
Retraining should be short and inexpensive since most of the Palestinian recruits received training in the second half of the 1990s in counter-terror and counter-urban guerrilla warfare, security and police duties in densely populated areas. Their American instructors will din into them that their break with the past must be total; terrorism against Israel must never recur and their past associations severed with terrorist groups and their intelligence bodies, like the Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Islamic extremists. Their primary function henceforth will be to fight those groups relentlessly.
To support the new project, debkafile reports that the US administration has informally asked European and Far East banks holding Yasser Arafat’s accounts to stall on requests for money transfers. Blockage of those accounts is not permissible, so the banks are resorting to technical delays to impede withdrawals. Arafat has appealed for help to overcome this informal freeze on his deposits, especially in Singapore, from his financial adviser Mohammed Rashid, whom he urgently summoned this week to Ramallah from his safe haven in London – despite the threats on his life from elements of the Palestinian Authority and its security services.
II. Sharon Is Supportive, Prepares for Storm
The unconventional makeup of the delegation Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon sent to Washington Saturday night, July 20, betrays his ambivalent attitude on the Bush administration’s plan to restructure the Palestinian Authority from top to bottom. That delegation has two heads: the prime minister’s chef de bureau Dov Weissglass and his former military secretary Maj.Gen Moshe Kaplinksy, who takes up the IDF’s West bank command after his return.
The two men are poles apart on the Palestinian issue.
Weissglass shares the European, Egyptian and, up to a point, the Saudi view that the Palestinian Authority stands in need of only limited reforms. They want to retain Yasser Arafat in a ceremonial capacity and introduce a strong Palestinian prime minister.
Weissglass would like to see as prime minister one of his former Palestinian business associates from the time before he entered public life. His first choice would be Arafat’s financial adviser Mohammed Rashid; former Gaza Strip head of security Muhammed Dahlan, his second, with Rashid serving as deputy and finance minister.
These appointments would go down well with the left wing of Israeli politics: Labor MK Haim Ramon, the dovish new chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee; founders of the social democratic party project, such as 1993 Oslo Peace Accords partisan Yossi Beilin and opposition leader Yossi Sarid of Meretz; the Labor leader and defense minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who favors Dahlan for the prime minister’s post, while his fellow Laborite, foreign minister Shimon Peres, who signed the Oslo Accords, would like to see Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), Palestinian legislative council speaker, in the job. The two men are old-timers of the Israel-Palestinian negotiating league. Peres is not bothered by the notion of a not-very strong ailing and elderly man filling the strongest post in the future Palestinian government.
It so happens that none of these preferences have much relevance to the White House’s Palestinian scheme. The administration Washington is drafting has no prime minister’s slot and, in any case, the Americans will not tolerate any incumbent of Yasser Arafat’s regime staying on (as we explain in the previous article on this page.).
In a sign that the American plan is beginning to bite, the two Israeli ministers, Peres and Danny Naveh, sent to revive the dialogue with Palestinian officials over the weekend, made sure they talked to men not appointed by Arafat. They met the Washington-approved interior minister General Abdel Razzek Yahya and finance minister Salem Fayed. The first is accepted in Amman as well as Washington, while Yahya worked for the World Bank and lives in the US capital.
Arafat shuns them both, leaving them out of his decision-making forums.
So why did the Israeli prime minister send Weissglass to Washington, knowing his approach was at variance with that of the Bush team? First, he decided to let his chef de bureau find out for himself how the land lies in the US capital. Second, he needs to to keep the diplomatic mill grinding for the benefit of Peres, Ben Eliezer, Haim Ramon, the left-wing opposition – and their constituencies at home and overseas – during this interim period in Middle East affairs. Keeping them busy will keep them off his back.
The heavyweight of the delegation to Washington is Maj.-Gen. Kaplinsky.
He is the choice of Sharon, the new chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon and his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, for the post promising to be the most sensitive, demanding and responsible in the coming year after that of chief of staff: OC Central Command, covering the West Bank and Israel’s heartland.
Over the weekend, Yaalon confirmed debkafile‘s timeline for the US attack on Iraq: Fall 2002, shortly before or after the first September 11 anniversary, a date which President George W. Bush, is said to wish for. This leaves six to eight weeks until the onset of a war in which Israeli is bound to be involved. Since the Iraqi-Jordanian frontier regions are the likely arenas for some of the heaviest combat, Kaplinksy in his new job will be in the thick of the action on Israel’s eastern front as well as in the Palestinian arena.
Given the Saddam Hussein’s popularity among Palestinians, their towns will have to be placed under siege during the fighting, above all to keep the routes running east from the Mediterranean to the Jordanian frontier and beyond to Iraq clear for large-scale military movements.
At the same, despite warfare on the Iraqi front, Kaplinsky will be charged with keeping the American Palestinian scheme developing on track and safe from sabotage – especially on the part of Arafat, who is a staunch ally of the Iraqi ruler. Kaplinsky’s appointment, by virtue of its timing, is therefore of vital concern to the US as well as Israel. That is why his liaison task in Washington is so important for tying up the ends of collaboration with American planners both for the coming war and the Palestinian exercise.
While Weissglass talks to the Americans about the past; Kaplinsky will discuss the near future. This two-headed delegation signals that Sharon is not without reservations on America’s master plan for the Palestinians. Some of his aides indicated to debkafile that he sees the potential danger it holds for Israel in the long term. The fact that Washington is going it alone without Israel or the Arabs does not leave his government much leeway for maneuver. Somewhere down the road, Israel could end up at odds with both the United States and the Palestinians. It is conceivable that a year or two after the war with Iraq, the United States will slap down before an Israeli government the accomplished fact of a post-Arafat, terror-free Palestinian government, with the Saddam and Hizballah threats gone, and demand a qui pro quo from Israel. It will be made clear that, for the new Palestinian administration to gain credibility in Palestinian eyes, Israel must withdraw all the way to the pre-1967 borders and uproot Israeli towns and settlements.
debkafile‘s Jerusalem sources say that Sharon prefers to push this prospect to the back of his mind while focusing on immediate objectives: Israeli’s military preparations for the coming showdown on the fronts against Iraq in the east and Syria and the Hizballah in the north; confrontation with Palestinian terror and the end-game against Arafat, which is boiling down to cutting off his financing to obviate his capabilities for launching terrorist attacks.
But the Israeli leader knows much can happen before the long term has to be faced. He believes three earlier developments can wreak havoc with any future plans.
1. Arafat will do his best to sabotage the American program. (This point will be developed in our next article.) His chances of succeeding are not negligible. If he succeeds, the Americans may decide at some point to wash their hands of their New Palestinian scheme.
2. The war to unseat Saddam will free Jordan of its Iraqi bugbear and allow it to revert to the dominant military and intelligence power in the Palestinian West Bank, as the Hashemite throne was prior to 1967. Even today, Sharon would not be averse to this development. He might even be willing to activate a section of the plan former prime minister Ehud Barak put forward at his 2000 Camp David talks with President Clinton and Arafat. The section proposed concentrating 80 percent of Israeli West Bank settlements in large blocks and evacuating the isolated ones. This plan would leave the territory under the joint rule of the Palestinians, the United States, Jordan and Israel – a plan Sharon could live with.
3. In a military confrontation with Syria, Iraq and the Hizballah, the United States and Israel alike face the dangers of mega-terror and attacks by weapons of mass destructions including radiological bombs, chemical and biological weapons. Strategic realities undreamed of today could result from such eruptions.
Considering the unknown factors ahead, the Israeli prime minister has decided for the time being it would be prudent to weave his policies into those of the Bush administration and back Washington’s Palestinian framework. He will hold to this position for as long as it enables him to dominate Israel’s political dynamic and survive as the only politician on the stage capable of filling the shoes of prime minister in Jerusalem.
III. Arafat Threatens Palestinians Joining US Plan
Two events on Monday, July 22, bore crucially on the American Palestinian endeavor: In the first, the new Palestinian interior minister, Gen. Abdel Razek Yahye, sent messengers to Amman to open talks on importing the Jordan-based Palestinian Liberation Army to West Bank towns – both to replace the Israeli forces sitting on the terror lid in Palestinian cities and to displace Yasser Arafat’s motley security forces, many of whose members moonlight as terrorists.
The officers and men of the Palestinian Liberation Army are Jordanian Palestinians who swear allegiance to the Hashemite crown and are on its payroll. Their official number is 20,000, but the real figure may be less than half. Their arrival on the West Bank would put Arafat in a cleft stick. On the one hand, he can hardly object to vigorous young Palestinian fighters coming to evict Israeli troops from Palestinian towns. But on the other, he knows they will be coming to displace the security bodies loyal to him in line with the American scheme for knocking over his support structure.
The arrival of Jordanian Palestinian troops will therefore signal the countdown for the demise of Arafat’s regime in the West Bank together with Jordan’s reinstatement, a process carried forward by Gen. Yahya with American and Israeli approval and financial support.
The second key development was the response drawn from Arafat’s corner by the debkafile series detailing the role the Bush administration has assigned to USAID in building a new Palestinian administration free of terror and corruption. The Palestinian Authority’s news weekly Al Manar, in a furious article, charged USAID with being an instrument of the Central Intelligence Agency and aiming to destroy the Palestinian Authority. The PA has discovered, the publication reports, that certain Palestinians have established ties with the US organization. These Palestinians are accused of being enemies of the Palestinian authority.
Anyone familiar with Arafatspeak, will interpret this statement as a threat on the lives of Palestinians who throw their lot in with Washington – unless they break off all ties with USAID forthwith.
debkafile ‘s intelligence and Palestinian sources report that, a few days ago, Arafat ordered his intelligence units to give the highest priority to marking out the Palestinians collaborating with the Americans. The warning in al Manar followed, hinting that if it proves unavailing, Arafat has every intention of switching over to physical liquidations.
No more than one or two assassinations will be necessary to deter the others and launch his reign of terror in the home camp.
As for Washington’s putative Arab helpers, most published reports convey the impression that at least half the Arab world, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, stand foursquare behind the American plan for the Palestinians. Our sources indicate that this is not so.
The Saudis are strongly opposed to Washington’s Palestinian blueprint and continue to push Crown Prince Abdullah’s peace plan, although it never seems to take off. They persist in making a fuss over the fate of Arafat and his Palestinian Authority, but this is mainly hot air to distract attention from two of their most critical woes:
A. The deepening polar rift in the Saudi royal house between the “Sudeiri Princes” led by King Fahd and Defense Minister Prince Sultan (and their progeny) and their half brother Crown Prince Abdullah, de facto ruler since Fahd succumbed to ill health two years ago. The two factions are pulling in opposite directions. Abdullah, in drawing away from the traditional Saudi alliance with the United States and cozying up to such Arab and Muslim radicals as Iraq and Iran, is resisted by the Sudeiris, who regard his maneuvers as irresponsibly jeopardizing the future of the House of Saud.
B. The Bush administration has a serious bone to pick with Riyadh over its complaisant attitude towards the al Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan and returning to the kingdom. None have been detained or investigated. In fact, Saudi society has welcomed them home.
As for Egypt and Jordan, both favor creating the post of Palestinian prime minister, leaving Arafat in place as figurehead president. Although a prime minister is not part of the American scheme, both Arab rulers are running candidates for the job. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak tips Nabil Shaat, Arafat’s minister for regional affairs, while King Abdullah of Jordan’s candidate is the pro-American Abu Mazen, Arafat’s deputy who is gone to ground in one of the Gulf emirates until the storm clouds clear over Arafat’s regime.
Prime minister Ariel Sharon has never voiced any preference, but members of his cabinet make no secret of their choices. Defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer fancies Mohamed Dahlan, former Gaza Strip security chief; foreign minister Shimon Peres’s pick is Ahmed Qurai (AbuAla), Speaker of the Legislative Council, while other factions want Mohammed Rashid, Arafat’s financial adviser.
In rounding off this three-part series, debkafile notes that the Americans are in earnest about their plan to restructure Palestinian government and will go forward whatever else may supervene in the Middle East. However, the other parties involved, Sharon, Arafat, Mubarak and the two Abdullahs (of Riyadh and Amman), tend to hold back from the final plunge until they see how the Middle East war tentatively set for the coming fall turns out.