by Ferry Biedermann
(IPS) RAMALLAH --
the ground!" the Palestinian commander shouts at his 30-odd men in a dusty compound in Ramallah. A few of the unarmed youths in civilian clothes drop flat on their faces in the dirt. Behind them a dozen or so of their colleagues pretend to take aim at an invisible enemy.
They are training in their compounds under their commander Hosni Sharaka, pretending their hands are guns. They are the new recruits to the Palestinian Preventive Security Services that will be called upon to implement security arrangements for the tentative new peace "roadmap."
"Arms are forbidden by the Israelis and a uniform is an expression of sovereignty, which we don't have here," Zuheir Manasra, commander of the Preventive Security Services told IPS/GIN. He has retained that position through all the reshuffles following the Israeli offensive last year and the consequent political upheaval on the Palestinian side.
Despite limitations, Manasra looks confident. "Now it is up to us," he says. "This can be a historic opportunity now that Israel has at least verbally agreed to the roadmap. If we in the Palestinian Authority want to carry out our own policies, we have to take steps to control all elements of our society."
This means taking steps against fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad "but also against others if needed," he says, referring clearly to militants in the mainstream Fatah movement.
Israel's acceptance of the roadmap puts new onus on the Palestinians to rein in their violence. New Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas made some far-reaching offers to get Israel to check its own warmaking and agree to the roadmap.
In talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before the Israeli cabinet accepted the plan, he said the Palestinians would start taking action against the militants the moment Israel approved the roadmap.
The plan also binds Israel to new commitments. Israel has for the first time accepted a specific plan for creation of a Palestinian state. The plan also requires Israelis to freeze construction of Jewish settlements during the first stage of implementation.
These are two big Palestinian gains compared to the earlier Oslo accords, Manasra says. "It allows us to get the process back on track. But these political points are not enough. What's important is the implementation that follows."
That may come back to haunt him. Any more suicide attacks against Israelis can be seen now as a breach of trust.
Cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians will be vital, he says. "What's most important is that we share the responsibility together," says Manasra. "We all have to do our bit, not just the Palestinians." But the Palestinian security services are ready to take over where the Israelis withdraw, Manasra says.
He is looking to a ceasefire offer from Hamas. "But they will have to adhere to the rules set out by the Palestinian Authority in the ceasefire that we have proposed." That means an end to all attacks on Israelis.
"If they break those rules we'll have to take action," says Manasra. "The Israelis should then come to us and we'll solve it together. They should not act in the Rambo style they do now." But in the long run Israel cannot live with a ceasefire that leaves the threat of suicide attacks hanging over its head, he acknowledges.
Manasra makes no secret of his close cooperation with the CIA. "They help us as far as feasible, but not enough", he says.
Britain is also helping, but "not very much at all, really."
His service, which was disarmed and effectively driven underground by Israeli offensives, badly needs transport, secure communications and equipment. Above all, it needs arms. "If the Israelis want us to be efficient, we need arms," he says.
For the moment the Preventive Security Service is busy "identifying security threats and drawing up plans to deal with them," says Manasra. That includes plans to deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Sharaka watches his dusty bunch of men retreat to the showers after the training. Asked what they had learnt that was new, he replied: "It was not really new. We went over some anti-terrorist techniques. It's just that we haven't used them in a while."
May 28, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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