- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

President Bush, in his June 24 speech, successfully positioned the issue of Palestinian reform as the focus of international discussion on the Middle East. Even skeptics among America's European and Arab allies have today accepted the principle that the reform of the Palestinian Authority is a necessary prerequisite for returning to the political process to secure a stable and lasting peace.

Fundamental reforms are needed in several areas: the unification of the divergent Palestinian security services in order to construct a central command that effectively fights terrorism; the implementation of a democratic, representative political structure that would truly embody the interests of the people of the West Bank and Gaza; the creation of a constitution allowing for political freedoms; the realization of financial transparency as well as an end of corruption, so that international money to the Palestinians no longer lines the pockets of corrupt officials or is spent financing terrorist cells; and the implementation of a truly independent judiciary, so that justice is fair and not merely a function of the dictator's desires.

Together, all these reforms will strengthen Palestinian civil society and benefit the interests of the Palestinian people, and will ultimately form the basis for the creation of a viable Palestinian peace partner. However, the reconstruction of the Palestinian security services is the primary and immediate action needed to produce the environment for which all of the other reforms can be easily regulated. The truth is that security reform is the basis for all other reforms because these new initiatives will only prevail if they can be enforced and protected by the appropriate authorities.

How can genuine constitutional and civil reforms reign as long as terrorists easily abide by their own set of laws in the territories, free to murder and threaten innocent lives? How can the Palestinian community build authentic, representative institutions when terrorists, without restraint, exercise power in the streets through the barrel of their guns? How can international donors hope for accountability and transparency in Palestinian financial transactions when terrorists continue to extort money for their protection?

Of course, Israelis also have a vital interest in successful Palestinian security reform. We have long demanded, and continue to insist, that the Palestinian Authority live up to its commitment to fight against terrorism. The Palestinian security services must be commanded by individuals that are not tainted by terrorism. The PA must immediately combat operations conducted by all of the terrorist organizations that currently seek a safe haven and act freely in the streets of Palestinian controlled areas by arresting their members and collecting all illegal weapons. These actions would substantially prevent the ongoing murder of innocent Israeli civilians.

Security reform must be given the highest priority. The complete destruction of the terrorist groups and their replacement with organized security forces, committed both to the rule of law and to fighting terrorism, are the necessary components to establishing an accountable Palestinian leadership that can guide the integration of these reforms into Palestinian society.

It is not the responsibility of the international community to select the Palestinian leadership. Rather, it is the role of the world community to create conditions that will allow the Palestinians to liberate themselves from their current problematic, dictatorial regime. In his recent speech, Mr. Bush warned against "cosmetic" reforms that would be neither real nor genuine. As long as terrorists continue to exert dominance over Palestinian society, all reforms will remain merely "cosmetic" and the entire reform process will continue to be at the mercy of these terrorists who have not created the conditions of tranquility needed to allow for the implementation of real reforms, and therefore, have shown no interest in promoting the welfare of the Palestinian people.

The success of security reform is vital, both for the prevention of terror against innocent Israelis and for drastically improving the conditions of the Palestinian people. Israel is committed to living in peace with her Arab neighbors. The successful agreements Israel negotiated with Jordan and Egypt exemplify the opportunities for peace that can be reached when serious partners work together to create the lasting conditions in which peace can flourish. Israel is ready to make concessions for a secure peace agreement with her Palestinian neighbors. However, a process of real Palestinian reforms, starting with security improvements, is the only way forward to ensure that Israel can negotiate with a credible Palestinian peace partner.

Daniel Ayalon is Israeli ambassador to the United States.

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