Report Questions Palestinian Forces in Gaza
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Palestinian security services are overstaffed, underarmed and undermined by both corruption and factional rivalries. That's according to a new study from an independent Washington think tank, and it comes just weeks before Israel begins to dismantle its settlements and withdraw from the Gaza Strip. But the American general charged with overseeing the security side of the pullout is playing down the findings, as NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.
MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:
This study, from the Strategic Assessments Initiative, marks the first independent, in-depth analysis of Palestinian security forces since the death of Yasser Arafat. The news isn't good.
Over 83 pages, the report catalogs problems from weapons shortages to communications failures. A few examples. The study finds such a shortage of vehicles that security units are often forced to take taxis. Ammunition is also in short supply, and even if it weren't, there's only one gun available for every four men. Meanwhile, the security forces can't talk to each. The report finds there's no coherent communications network even within the same service.
At a hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill, David Welch of the State Department acknowledged that all that doesn't add up to a perfect climate for the planned mid-August pullout.
Mr. DAVID WELCH (State Department): Gaza disengagement should proceed in an atmosphere of security and non-violence. That is a challenge. As we've already seen, this is a very volatile and dangerous situation.
KELLY: Welch stressed that the shaky security situation isn't for lack of trying.
Mr. WELCH: It is our judgement that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is certainly willing and determined to do its share to provide security so that disengagement can proceed in an atmosphere of non-violence. Are they capable? That is completely another question, and there are some major issues there.
KELLY: But there's also major progress being made according to the US security coordinator working with the Israelis and the Palestinians. Lieutenant General William Ward told the same House committee yesterday no question the security services have had their problems.
Lieutenant General WILLIAM WARD: There was a legacy in that security structure that's characterized as dysfunctional. It was, in fact, fractured. It was divided. Having said that, the things that we are doing today are, in fact, precisely designed to overcome those deficiencies. And progress is occurring to do that. But, sir, it does not happen overnight.
KELLY: General Ward pointed to an increased number of arrests since the various Palestinian forces began reporting to one central authority. He pointed to new centers where all the security services can sit together and share intelligence. He pointed to growing cooperation between Palestinian forces and their Israeli counterparts. In fact, General Ward was so relentlessly sunny in his prognosis that an exasperated Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, finally interrupted to ask: Was the general forgetting the Israelis are pulling out next month?
State Representative NITA LOWEY (Democrat, New York): Excuse me, sir, with great respect, 'cause I know how hard you're working and we've had some discussion, this is going to take place in two weeks, correct? The disengagement.
Lt. Gen. WARD: Over time.
St. Rep. LOWEY: Are the Israeli troops going to be there? No.
Lt. Gen. WARD: If...
St. Rep. LOWEY: They're supposed to disengage.
Lt. Gen. WARD: ...they will--the Israeli troop disengagement...
KELLY: General Ward said Israeli troops won't leave Gaza completely until September, but he did concede under repeated questioning that Palestinian security is a work in progress.
Lt. Gen. WARD: And so that capability is not fully known nor do I believe it's fully there. And the chance that something could occur that they could not control does exist.
KELLY: Overall, this new report concludes that Palestinian security forces lack the capability to fulfill core functions. That's a sobering judgement as Israel prepares to withdraw its settlers and troops, a pullout that will be viewed by many as a test of the Palestinian's ability to maintain control before any future peace talks.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: And a link to that report can be found at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.