By Yves Engler
Current peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials are unlikely to end, let alone reverse, Palestinian dispossession. The power imbalance between the sides is simply too great. While Canada could be part of the solution, so far it has been part of the problem.
The largest Palestinian political force, Hamas, has been excluded from these U.S.-sponsored talks, while the electoral mandate of the Palestinian representative, Mahmoud Abbas, expired 20 months ago. Abbas, who arbitrarily extended his term as Palestinian Authority President, is heavily dependent on countries such as the U.S. and Canada, and this has undermined his negotiating position.
After Hamas won Canadian-monitored and facilitated legislative elections in early 2006, Stephen Harper made Canada the first country to cut its assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The goal was to sow division among Palestinians, and it worked. Immediately after the Palestinian unity government collapsed in mid 2007, the Canadian International Development Agency contributed $8 million “in direct support to the new [Abbas-led] government.”
Ottawa pumped millions of dollars into training a Palestinian security force “to ensure that the PA [Palestinian Authority] maintains control of the West Bank against Hamas,” as Canadian ambassador to Israel Jon Allen was quoted as saying by the Canadian Jewish News. U.S. Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, in charge of organizing the 10,000-member Palestinian force supported by Canada, never admitted that he was strengthening Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah against Hamas, but to justify his program Dayton argued that Iran and Syria funded and armed Hamas. Bolstering Fatah to counteract the growing strength of Hamas was the impetus for Dayton’s mission, yet the broader aim was, and is, to build a force to patrol Israel’s occupation.
“We don’t provide anything to the Palestinians,” noted Dayton, “unless it has been thoroughly coordinated with the state of Israel and they agree to it.” For instance, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin-Bet, vets all of the Palestinian recruits.
Brigadier-General Michael Herzog, chief of staff to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, explained the Israeli military’s position: “We’re very happy with what he’s [Dayton] doing.”
The Israelis support Dayton’s force because it keeps the population in the West Bank under control. On August 25, Abbas’s security force suppressed a demonstration in Ramallah against the current negotiations, which are taking place without preconditions and while Israel continues to build the wall as well as Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Similarly, 20 months ago, “Dayton’s men” (as they are derisively called by Palestinians) disrupted demonstrations in the West Bank against Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza that left 1,400 dead.
The new Palestinian security forces are primarily trained in Jordan at the U.S.- built International Police Training Center (created to train Iraqi security). In October 2009 the Wall Street Journal reported, “[Palestinian] recruits are trained in Jordan by Jordanian police, under the supervision of American, Canadian, and British officers.”
In the West Bank, 18 Canadian troops work with six British and 10 U.S. soldiers under Dayton’s command. “The Canadian contribution is invaluable,” explained Dayton. Canadians are particularly useful because “U.S. personnel have travel restrictions when operating in the West Bank. But, our British and Canadian members do not.” Calling them his “eyes and ears” Dayton said, “The Canadians … are organized in teams we call road warriors, and they move around the West Bank daily visiting Palestinian security leaders, gauging local conditions.”
Ottawa has invested heavily in Dayton’s mission. In January 2007, then foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay offered an immediate $1.2-million for Dayton’s mission, and during a joint press conference in Jerusalem, then U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said Dayton “has a Canadian counterpart with whom he works very closely.” When Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier traveled to Israel in January 2008, he met Dayton, and last October Canada’s chief of defence, Walt Naynczyk, visited Canada’s “road warriors” during a trip to meet Israeli military officials.
Part of the U.S. Security Coordinator office in Jerusalem, the Canadian military mission in the West Bank (dubbed Operation PROTEUS) now includes RCMP officers as well as officials from Foreign Affairs, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. According to deputy Foreign Aaffairs Minister Peter Kent, Operation PROTEUS is Canada’s "second largest deployment after Afghanistan" and it receives "most of the money" from a five-year $300 million Canadian “aid” program to support the security apparatus of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.
As the weaker side, Palestinians need countries like the U.S. and Canada to pressure Israel to return land it occupies against international law. Unfortunately, the current negotiations have begun with Canada and the U.S. undermining Palestinian unity and strengthening the long-suffering population’s most compliant leaders.
– Yves Engler’s most recent book is Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: http://yvesengler.com.