Is Mahmoud Abbas Facing a Revolution?

In late 2000, the so-called “second intifada” began with the killing of an Israeli policeman by his Palestinian "partner." (This occurred before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s annual visit to the Temple Mount.) It turned out that a great many “police” were moonlighting as terrorists, and U.S. training only made them better at it. (U.S.-supplied radios were particularly coveted by groups of terrorists.) U.S. training and support was halted until 2005, after the IDF had re-established security control of the West Bank and ended what was, in fact, a Palestinian war against Israel in which U.S.-trained personnel were active enemies.

LTG William (Kip) Ward was the first American general to command the restored training mission, which naturally enough took on aspects of military rather than police training.

In July 2007, Hamas and Fatah turned their guns on each other. After a short and brutal war, Hamas threw Fatah out of Gaza and acquired the American arsenal that had belonged to Abbas. The loss of Gaza prompted the U.S. to double down on the PA, and in 2009 LTG Keith Dayton announced he would train three additional battalions of Palestinians loyal to Abbas. U.S security assistance rose from $75 million to $130 million per year.

Concerned about the rise of Hamas in the West Bank, Israel backed the program. The Palestinians ran daily police and security functions in the cities and the Israeli security services arrested targets at night -- sometimes in cooperation with the PSF, sometimes not. “Cutting the grass,” the Israelis called it.

LTG Michael Moeller, USAF, replaced LTG Dayton in 2010.  LTG Moller came to the position from the U.S. Central Command, which has no dealings with Israel or the Palestinians, so his learning curve was steep. But with reasonable economic progress in the West Bank and reasonable cooperation between Israel and the PSF, he didn’t have to do much except continue to train, advise, and equip the Palestinian force.

However, the PSF was using its broad latitude in the West Bank (and the absence of objections from Israel, the U.S., or the EU) to amass power, influence, and money, rather like the Egyptian, Tunisian, Jordanian, and Syrian security services as well as Hezbollah and Hamas. And the Palestinian people reacted very much like the other Arabs in protest of dictatorial regimes, so much so that Abbas was forced to conduct a purge of his security services last month and to promise reforms.

But Abbas walks a fine line. He needs the PSF to survive both Hamas and his own people. Buoyed by the Obama administration’s support for Palestinian independence, he has been trying to placate the PSF by seeking an independent military force without international supervision and able to import weapons from Russia and Egypt.