About two kilometers west of the Jordan Valley road, in the heart of the city of Jericho, Abu Mazen’s army is at this time being built. When the process-all of whose stages are supported and being paid for by Washington-is over, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority is meant to have a large, trained force, one that is largely clean of the influence of any terror organizations. His Hamas rivals are following tensely, fearing that on the day the order is given, the new army will be directed at them.
The basis of the future army is the Presidential Guard, which is absolutely loyal to the rais. “The goal is for the Presidential Guard to become the main security organization, and later for it to be the only one, and for there to be a real Palestinian army one day,” said a high-ranking Palestinian source closely associated with Abu Mazen, who is familiar with the subject.
To this end, the recruitment and absorption processes for new combatants are taking place. A high-ranking source close to Abu Mazen said that the existing security organizations are tainted with irregularities, commander problems and politics. He said that the goal is to take the best and most loyal soldiers from them and to gradually dismantle the old organizations, such as the police and the National Security Service.
Nonetheless, not everyone can be accepted to the new and prestigious organization, even if they now serve in one of the security organizations. A high-ranking Israeli source revealed that the soldiers go through a security screening in which all those with connections to Iran, to Hizbullah, to Hamas, to Islamic Jihad and to other terror organizations are weeded out. “Political affiliation is a consideration,” said one officer at the training base in Jericho, but refused to explicitly say that there is no entry to people from Hamas. “I do not have permission to say that. Ask the headquarters in Ramallah,” he said.
The establishment of the organization is fully coordinated with the American administration, which wants Abu Mazen to have a strong force in case a free-for-all begins in the PA. The budget for supporting Abu Mazen includes about USD 300 million of Palestinian Authority money that was confiscated when Hamas came to power. Some of the money is now being released for the new organization.
American General Keith Dayton is working with the members of the Presidential Guard. Dayton drew up and even presented a security plan for reorganizing the Presidential Guard with 6,000 to 10,000 soldiers. Diplomatic sources say that Americans oversee the drills of the Presidential Guard and do the actual training.
A few weeks ago work began on a large training base in Jericho, on an area of over 60 dunams, which will serve the Presidential Guard. The entire compound is encircled by a wall, on some of which there is barbed wire. The work is going slowly at the moment because of Ramadan, although it is already possible to see classes taking place and some of the living quarters are at an advanced stage of construction. The cost of building the camp is about USD two million, which comes from American aid.
Top Palestinian sources said they hoped that the new version of the Presidential Guard will be able, in the future, to be responsible for the cities that Israel evacuates. But Israel, on the other hand, is still not approving the transfer of weapons and equipment to Abu Mazen’s guard, certainly not security authority. In the meantime, the new recruits walk around without guns, and concentrate on fitness training.
This article ran in the October 16th, 2006 edition of MAARIV