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Aug 12, 2010 | Commentary

The “Roadmap for Peace” plan, outlined in 2002, calls for progress towards a two-state solution as a means of resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.  As part of its obligations, the United States has committed to security sector reform in the West Bank, and has spent $392 million from 2007 to 2010 in these efforts.  A report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), recently made public, examines how effective US-funded SSR in the West Bank has been.  The report finds that while general security conditions have improved, there were no clear or measureable performance indicators that could be used to track direct effects of US SSR programs.  As well, SSR efforts have also been constrained by equipment and land-acquisition delays largely caused by the government of Israel.  Finally, police and justice reform has not kept pace with the US-backed National Security Force (NSF) and Ministry of Interior (MoI) reform, risking future progress.

US efforts have largely focused on the NSF, a Gendarmerie force short of a full military, and the Presidential Guard.  So far, 4 NSF and 1 Presidential Guard battalions have been trained in Jordanian camps, with plans to train a total of 10 NSF battalions.  As well, US efforts have sought to professionalize the security forces by offering leadership and other specialized courses aimed at officers in the West Bank.  The US SSR effort has also provisioned vehicles and non-lethal equipment to the NSF and presidential guard, as well as provided an inventory tracking system for this equipment.  Finally, there has been funding for infrastructure and capacity development— $99 million has been allocated to construct or renovate security installations (largely operations camps for new NSF battalions) and $22 million spent to create a Strategic Planning Directorate in the MOI to plan and oversee long-term SSR.

Security conditions have improved in the West Bank between 2007 and 2010. Palestinian security forces are now better able to handle large demonstrations, and polling suggests a growing confidence in the security forces.  However the report notes that it is impossible to tell if this has resulted from US-funded SSR efforts because of a lack of measurable performance indicators.  The report identifies a number of reasons for the lack of progress measurements.  First, force requirements have constantly changed, especially after the change of government in Gaza.  Second, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel have not agreed on metrics to track Roadmap progress, and Israel has been reluctant to establish objectives that would limit its ability to intervene in the West Bank.  Third, PA management capacity is still developing, and has only recently been able to coordinate international assistance and construct long-term plans.  Finally, the US government has not provided local practitioners with measureable objectives and there has historically been little interest in tracking performance.  The GAO calls for objectives that are clear (one current goal calls for a “right-sized, professional force”), outcome rather than output-based, and have estimated time frames and costs.

SSR efforts have also suffered from logistical constraints.  IDF checkpoints have blocked or restricted movement of both SSR staff and PA officials, and the US government imposes its own restrictions on movement of its personnel in the West Bank.  Israel has also refused to agree on a standardized approval procedure, instead proceeding on an ad-hoc basis.  Approvals sometimes take a year or more, and are subject to modification by Israel.  This has led to unpredictable equipment deliveries, arbitrary withdrawals of approval, and refusals to release approved equipment.  The approval and delivery process in Israel is also not subject to effective oversight, making responsibility for delays impossible to identify.  Resolution often has to occur between high-level US and Israeli officials, resulting in further delays.  Israeli constraints on land-acquisition have also slowed SSR efforts.  Building is restricted to the Oslo Area A, about 20 percent of the West Bank, and is subject to Israeli approval.  This has stalled development of NSF operations camps for new battalions and existing operations camps have had to be expanded to hold more troops than originally planned.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly (though it does not receive much attention in the report), is the slow pace of police and justice sector reforms.  The civilian police force and judicial sector lacks infrastructure, modern equipment (even radios), and vehicles.  There is also poor coordination and role-definition between police, the NSF, courts, and prosecutors.  Current laws are also quite vague, and there is no functioning legislature to update them, restricting the ability of police to detain and prosecute suspected criminals.  We have seen in other SSR operations around the globe how this underdevelopment of a judicial sector frequently leads to a slide towards expediency among security forces, which of course has feedback effects on further underdevelopment of the judiciary.  As Geoff Burt has pointed out, an Arab Reform Initiative report has also identified problems with the lack of focus of US SSR efforts and the underdevelopment of the judicial sector.  As well, the report explicitly highlights the risk of this slide towards expediency and its effect on human rights.  This trajectory must be changed in order not to compromise current security sector improvements