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World help needed in Palestinian rebuilding

By Jarat Chopra, 5/5/2002

ISRAEL'S GOOD Friday invasion into Palestinian cities in the West Bank profoundly altered the terms of the 18-month debate over international intervention in the spiraling crisis in the Middle East. Negotiations over minimal involvement in the form of monitoring and verification have shifted to the need for a state-building enterprise reminiscent of the multifunctional exercises in Kosovo, East Timor, and now Afghanistan. The options are few, and the specifics require a high standard of outside intervention for success.

The Good Friday invasion witnessed medieval-style sieges of Palestinian population centers, depriving more than one million Palestinian civilians of food, water, and electricity. Water supplies are contaminated with sewage, threatening an epidemic of cholera and typhoid. Roads have been destroyed, and Israeli military checkpoints still block civilians from reaching medical care.

Israel has perfected the destruction of essential basic services as a weapon of war. The dimensions of the humanitarian disaster have yet to be fully assessed - international and nongovernmental agencies are still blocked from full access to the sites of destruction.

Complicating relief of the humanitarian disaster, Israel destroyed the Palestinian Authority's governing capacity by the methodical gutting of civilian ministries. Computers at the Ministry of Education, for example, have been smashed, the facilities laid waste and records stolen, setting back the school system indefinitely. Israel attacked the main Palestinian security building with tanks, helicopter gunships, and heavy caliber machine-gun fire, thereby destroying the only instrument available to counter terrorist attacks and rendering visionless and bankrupt President Bush's calls on President Arafat ''to do more.''

Israel's ''war on terrorism'' was in effect a war against the Palestinian capacity for governance while leaving militant groups largely intact and an already embittered Palestinian population more resentful than ever. Ironically, Israel's ''war on terrorism'' will have created more terrorists than it fought.

International intervention is the only means forward.

There are four options. First, the Palestinian Authority resumes full responsibility for security and governance; but this is no longer physically possible. Second, Israel assumes such responsibility; but this would be unacceptable to the Palestinians since it would simply intensify an already illegal and excessively brutal military occupation. Third, the international community assumes full responsibility; but based on past experiences, this will be too burdensome, too dangerous, too slow, and too ineffective.

The only viable option is the fourth, following a needs assessment: An international peace-maintenance mission is deployed to the occupied territories to reconstruct the Palestinian capacity for governance by working with the Palestinians to rebuild police and security services as well as civilian governing institutions.

Unless an international protection force can make a difference in the daily lives of individuals, by defending them against physical harassment or arbitrary detention, it will quickly be dismissed as a fiction. This does not mean the ability to go to war against armed elements, but does mean such a force must be allowed to do more than observe and report.

An ideal operating style would be similar to constabulary units, or police forces with military status such as the Multinational Specialized Units in Bosnia and Kosovo. Alternatively, military forces with a policing capability can do the job, as the British Army has shown in the Balkans.

A critical requirement of the intervention architecture is a dispute-resolution mechanism. At the technical level of implementation, trilateral committees for each task to be accomplished, composed of commanders or civilian officials with line authority, should settle disagreements in the field before they assume political proportions. In exceptional cases, a party may resort to a senior political committee that can finally determine conflicts and interpret any gaps in the mandate.

The mission is bound to fail, as any attempt at a negotiated cease-fire has proven, if its only aim is security stabilization. The scope of the mandate must include, in addition to governance capacity building, such political measures as a complete freeze on Israeli settlement construction, guaranteeing Palestinians freedom of movement within the occupied territories, and a well articulated framework with concrete steps towards permanent status negotiations and a complete end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

It is the political component that will sustain any security effort. The United States and Israel have proposed the opposite attempts at addressing security while ignoring the occupation. The results have been disastrous for both parties.

Jarat Chopra is a professor of international law at Brown University. He was trapped in Ramallah for 11 days.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.