Weeks before Israel's planned evacuation of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and a portion of the West Bank, the U.S.-appointed coordinator for reforming Palestinian security forces is describing the task as a "long term proposition." Army Lieutenant-General William Ward testified at a congressional hearing as an independent report critical of the Palestinian Authority's law enforcement capabilities was being released.
The report, issued by the U.S.-based Strategic Assessments Initiative, describes Palestinian security forces as bloated, weak, under-armed and poorly motivated.
General William Ward did not dispute that characterization in an appearance before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.
"The thingsl said the international community is playing a vital role in promoting the professionalism and capability of Palestinian security forces. But he suggested much remains to be done.
"The Palestinian security sector is attempting to emerge from a corrupt, dysfunctional structure with separate fiefdoms and power centers, with no clear lines of control," described General Ward. "I believe there is a genuine acknowledgment by the political leadership that fundamental changes in providing law and order are essential. The challenge now lies in turning this realization into actions on the ground."
The Associated Press quotes Palestinian officials as saying the independent report, which was financed by the Netherlands and Canada, did not take note of recent achievements regarding their security forces, including providing pensions for veteran officers. Palestinian officials have also pointed to a lack of funding for security forces as well as Israel's destruction of police facilities.
But U.S. representatives say they are interested in results, not excuses. Pennsylvania Republican Don Sherwood said he worries that Israel's pullout from Gaza could spark lawlessness and chaos similar to what Iraq experienced in the weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"No matter how good everything else is, it will all rise and fall on the security," said Mr. Sherwood. "We all know in Iraq what happened when the existing government fell and we [allied forces] did not have anything to put back in place, and how much that set us back. And I could see that [happening] in Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza."
The independent report lists several potential threats to next month's scheduled Israeli pullout, including attacks by militant Islamic groups as well as incursions by Israeli settlers.