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Jenin: From terror capital to model of peace

Jenin: From terror capital to model of peace
Date: 19.09.08
Source: Ha'aretz
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

JENIN - All military camps are similar, and in the Middle East they also occasionally change hands, without their external appearance undergoing any significant changes. As such, Israel handed Jenin's Muqata compound over to the Palestinian security forces in 1996. Although part of it was bombed in 2001, today the compound once again serves as an active Palestinian Authority headquarters. Even the mirror next to the exit gate, a familiar sight from every Israel Defense Forces base, has remained in place. Only the slogan, "Soldier, Improve Your Appearance," has been removed by the Palestinians. All the rest is still there.

In the base's main square - once visible from the offices of the Israeli brigade commander in charge, occupied by officers the likes of Amos Malka and Yoav Galant - a sluggish Palestinian roll call was held on Monday morning. A mustachioed sergeant bombarded his policemen with orders as they marched together in three columns, still rubbing the sleep from their eyes. The whole thing was reminiscent of an IDF roll call: a mixture of uniforms and berets, uncoordinated marching and a blatant lack of enthusiasm. One policeman even answered his cell phone during the exercises.

Jenin is now the great hope of everyone who is trying to breathe new life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In Washington, the Bush administration is nearing the end of its term; in Gaza, Hamas is consolidating its power (and in the process this week massacred several members of the extremist Durmush clan); in Jerusalem and Ramallah, officials are gradually beginning to understand that the hope of formulating a "shelf agreement" by the end of 2008 has itself been shelved - effectively making Jenin the only source of positive news in the neighborhood. The project in question began in May: Jenin has become the testing ground for the PA to restore its complete control, something it hasn't had since 2001.

The plan enjoys the substantial support of the Middle East Quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - and is being implemented under the close supervision of the Americans. Israel, for its part, has significantly reduced its military activity in Jenin and its environs, eased the traffic restrictions to and from the city and is assisting in the effort to revitalize the northern West Bank's economy, by allowing Israeli Arabs to visit Jenin, among other things.

Change from the bottom up

Four and a half months after the Jenin project began, it is proving a big success. The Shin Bet security service has received very few intelligence warnings about attempts at terror attacks emanating from the region, and clashes with the IDF have almost subsided. Commerce and industry have improved slightly, and - what is most important, from the Palestinian perspective - order has returned to the streets.

In Israel, too, the realization is slowly dawning that something positive is happening here. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi recently praised the changes taking place in Jenin. The city that once saw itself as the spearhead of the intifada, from which dozens of deadly suicide terrorists emerged, who carried out murderous attacks in Israel, is now a source of relatively good news.

There is no mistaking the fact that this is a different Jenin. Visiting the city this week, it was markedly apparent that there were no armed gangs prowling the streets. Instead, one could sense the overwhelming presence of the Palestinian security forces. Three vehicles of the various security services were deployed at a central junction on the southern approach to the city, containing a total of 12 policemen. Their commander, Sgt. Ibrahim Habas of the Palestinian National Security force, explains that his men's main job is to maintain order. "We operate both against car thieves and against what you refer to as terror organizations. If we see someone walking around with a Kalashnikov without a permit, we will arrest him and confiscate the weapon."

His men look alert and disciplined, but their equipment and uniforms are still a motley mix. The instructions regarding the bearing of arms are also flexible (the safety catches of some rifles are released whereas others are closed). Even in the Jenin refugee camp, sight of the bloody battle during Operation Defense Shield in April 2002, there is no trace of armed wanted men. Zacharia Zubeidi is retired and his successors are nowhere to be found. It is impossible to compare the way the camp looks today with how it looked from an Israeli armed personnel carrier the day after the 2002 battle. At what was then "ground zero," where Israeli bulldozers demolished dozens of houses, new houses have been built, gleaming white in comparison with the battered facade of the older houses.

The changes can largely be accredited to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is proving to be the most impressive politician we have seen on the Palestinian side for years (and who is more successful at delivering results than even many of his Israeli counterparts). But there is another important patron of Jenin's success: the U.S. administration, and mainly its two senior security envoys to the region, Gen. James Jones and Gen. Keith Dayton. Israel, which initially treated the American ideas with suspicion and even disdain, is gradually being forced to admit that it is the Americans who have helped bring about the impressive change.

The above is an exceprt from a longer article published in Ha'aretz. To read the full article, please click here