- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

If there were ever a security force in need of reform, it belongs to the Palestinians. As if to provide evidence to that end, President Bush's announcement last week that he was sending CIA Director George Tenet to rebuild the Palestinian police and security force was punctuated by the news that another suicide bombing killed 16 persons near Tel Aviv. After 19 months of violence between the Palestinians and Israelis, Europe, the United States and moderate Arab states have reached the rare consensus that something must be done to bring democratic reform to Palestinian institutions, and soon. Now some Palestinians are letting their leader, Yasser Arafat, know it, too. The Palestinian parliament adopted a resolution yesterday calling for municipal elections this year and parliamentary and presidential elections next year. This could force Mr. Arafat finally to share power at the very least. It would certainly need the watchful eye of the international community to ensure accountability.

The reform plan would aim to work with leaders who had been sidelined by the Palestinian Authority to build more democratic structures, Israeli Press Secretary Mark Regev said in an interview last week. Mr. Bush's goal is to give the security forces one-command structure and design a force that would have accountability measures to check corruption and poor management. One way to do that would be to work with Palestinians who have already been calling for reform. Many of the Palestinian reformers will also have to prove how they will reform. If this means "reform" to enable the Palestinians to more effectively attack Israel, it is not wanted.

Mr. Bush will also need to remember Mr. Tenet's track record in the Middle East, as he's the man supposed to be in charge of the plan. He has previously caused more harm than good. Mr. Bush will also need the political support of moderate Arab states. In an interview with The Washington Times, delegates from the PLO, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Algeria said they were willing to look at any suggestion to make the security forces more effective, while Egypt said it would provide any assistance needed to build security, infrastructure and the civil service for the Palestinians. The Europeans would likely be given charge of assisting in civil administration reforms in areas such as education and finance, while the Americans would focus chiefly on security, said Mr. Regev. He credited German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer for proposing that the international community become involved in democratic reforms that would bring accountability to the Palestinians.

The biggest challenge now will be to hold the Palestinians accountable for truly reforming institutions that the international community would help them to rebuild. Mr. Arafat cannot be counted on to do so.

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