Israel rejects U.S. request to arm Palestinian police

By Aluf Benn

Haaretz

Nisan 22, 5765

Israel has rejected a proposal by the United States to supply the Palestinian police officers in the West Bank with weapons that would assist them in performing their duties.

American officials have told their Israeli interlocutors over the past few days that the Palestinian security forces need weapons to help them maintain order in the territories. In response, the U.S. officials heard a negative reply from Israeli officials: "Let them first take the weapons from the terrorists."

The Americans are assisting in training the Palestinian security forces, and are also interested in supplying them with appropriate materiel.

The American officials also had praise for the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), for the way he has handled himself since being elected. As an expression of their esteem, Abbas will be extended an invitation to the White House in the middle of May. Before then, he will meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

At all of his meetings with foreign dignitaries, Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef brings up the demand to arm the Palestinian police officers in the territories. Yousef says that it is difficult for them to enforce the law and safeguard security in the West Bank without weapons.

The U.S.'s security coordinator in the Middle East, Lieutenant General William Ward, is apparently leaning toward supporting the Palestinian request.

A political source in Jerusalem said in response that the Bush administration envoys, Elliott Abrams and David Welch, raised Yousef's request for arming the Palestinian police during their visit to Israel last week.

"They only reported to us on the Palestinian requests. One of the things was to get weapons; they received a negative answer and that was that," the source said.

A source within the defense establishment responded that General Ward maintains constant contact with the Israeli side and meets every week or 10 days with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

According to this same source, "Ward did not ask to supply the Palestinian police officers with weapons, but merely asked what Israel's position would be regarding Russia's request to give the Palestinian police armored vehicles. He was told that Israel was opposed to this."

Israel made it clear that it would not allow the entry of armored vehicles into the territories at this time.