Dayton’s mission: A reader’s guide

Mark Perry explains what The Palestine Papers reveal about Gen. Keith Dayton’s training mission in the West Bank.

Keith Dayton

The Palestine Papers provide unprecedented access into the internal workings of the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process. But the leaked documents and meetings also touch on other key issues surrounding U.S. intervention in the conflict – including dozens of documents on Palestinian security issues. At the heart of these is the work of the Office of the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), what many refer to as “The Dayton Mission,” – a designation derived from the USSC’s chief, Lt. General Keith Dayton, who retired last October. Among other things they confirm – from Dayton’s own mouth – that Palestinian Authority forces supported by the United States engaged in torture.



The establishment of the USSC – its mandate and purpose — is fraught with misunderstandings. The first is that U.S. military officers are training Palestinian security personnel. That’s not true. Palestinian security personnel were initially trained by American contractors (in this case, Dyncorp) – the same kind of contractors who have given the U.S such problems in Iraq. Later, these private contractors were joined by trainers provided by the Jordanian Public Security Directorate. While the facilities for the training (located outside of Amman) are provided by the United States, the Palestinian trainees were (and are) equipped by the Egyptians.

While the now-retired Dayton was a senior three-star military officer (he was preceded by General William Ward and has been succeeded General Michael Moeller), he never reported through a military chain of command. Rather, he reported directly to the Secretary of State – first to Condoleezza Rice, under the Bush administration and, later, to Hillary Clinton, under President Barack Obama. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that his mission is controversial among senior Pentagon officers, who argue that a U.S. training mission (whose goal is to create a military force that cooperates with Israel), will raise serious objections among Arabs. As a U.S. Army colonel told me in 2009: “This is just a stupid idea – it makes us look like we’re an extension of the Israeli occupation.” This of course is a view that many Palestinians, including Hamas, also take.

There are salient reasons for this criticism. In truth, those Palestinians trained by the Jordanians (under Dayton’s leadership) have been used to suppress dissent to the policies of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmous Abbas. The proof of that is here, in The Palestine Papers. But the suppression of dissent by Dayton’s forces is only a part of the story. For Dayton did not train Palestinians at the behest of the Israelis, but in spite of them. The Israelis consistently opposed the USSC in its earliest days, not because they did not want Palestinians to arrest other Palestinians (they do), but because they believe that any Palestinian with a gun is a threat to Israel.

As recently as May 2010, Israeli Major General Avi Mizrahi publicly warned that a professionally trained Palestinian security service is not in Israel’s interest. “This is a trained, equipped, American-educated force,” Mizrahi said. “This means that at the beginning of a battle, we’ll pay a higher price. A force like that can shut down an urban area with four snipers. It’s not the Jenin militants anymore — it’s a proper infantry force facing us and we need to take that into account. They have attack capabilities and we don’t expect them to give up so easily.”

Israel fears over the USSC reached the ears of the Israel lobby – and the U.S Congress. From its inception, Dayton faced pointed questioning about his program. The result was not supportive: the U.S. Congress funds the USSC’s infrastructure, but will not fund the purchase of weapons. Dayton had to go elsewhere for that. It is easy to find, in these papers, accounts of the Arab regimes he relied on for the weapons – which suggests that the Pentagon’s worries that the USSC will become an extension of the Israeli occupation is not necessarily shared by Abbas’ (to use Hillary Clinton’s phrase) “Arab brothers.”

General Dayton is nothing if not creative. Faced with Israeli and congressional intransigence, he courted Israeli military officers who supported his program. In May 2009, Dayton appeared at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israel advocacy group, to defend his program. His talk, while applauded by the attendees, was not welcomed at the Pentagon: calling WINEP the “foremost think tank on Middle East Affairs in Washington” (only their leaders might agree), Dayton’s speech was an obsequious paean to Israel and its military that made his Pentagon colleagues wince. “We [in the US] have reached new heights of supplication,” a JCS officer told me at the time.

Dayton’s WINEP presentation gave a thumbnail sketch of what he thinks he accomplished: the U.S. and its regional allies, he said, have successfully trained “a Palestinian gendarme—an organized police force or police units,” “have invested considerable funds and personnel into making the [interior] ministry a leading arm of the Palestinian government,” “have worked with Palestinian contractors to build a state–of–the–art training college for the Presidential Guard in Jericho,” and have established a senior leadership training program for 36 Palestinian officers.

The PA and “Dayton’s Men”

Despite Dayton’s presumed accomplishments, the forces he has overseen have been accused of being an arm of both the Israeli occupation and an extension of Abbas’ efforts to crush political dissent in the West Bank. Palestinian security forces have been accused of involvement in torture of Hamas officials detained in the sweeps in the West Bank over the last three years. Accounts of torture and abuse of power, of the willful crushing of political dissent and the shuttering of nongovernmental organizationss associated with movements and political parties opposed to PA policies have plagued the Palestinian security services – the Interior Ministry’s special “General Intelligence” (or “GI”) Service, the PG (or “Presidential Guard” – an elite unit guarding Abbas) and Dayton’s National Security Forcres (NSF). The reports are credible – and even admitted to by PA officials who call them regrettable and who vow to stop them.


Despite this, during his tenure, General Dayton consistently denied claims that NSF personnel were engaged in torture, telling the U.S. Senate that he kept a tight grip on NSF activities. Additionally, as a salve to congressional concerns, Dayton established a human rights component in the NSF training curriculum. Even so, reports persist of the summary denial of rights to Palestinians arrested by all Palestinian security services, including the NSF. The most recent and most sobering account of the denial of Palestinian civil rights – and the use of torture – was documented in a December 2010 report issued by The Arab Organization for Human Rights in the UK. As disturbing, Aisling Byrne of Conflicts Forum recently detailed the emergence of a police state in the West Bank that rivals any in the Arab world.

Across the board, donors — including the UN — are financing the construction of the infrastructural matrix for the security sector — including prisons (UNDP is funding 52 prisons — “more prisons than schools” a security analyst told me during a recent visit to the West Bank), new security facilities and camps in 8 Palestinian cities (each intelligence agency has its own detention center in each town), an academy and a host of training colleges, security force barracks and other facilities. The principal target for this security infrastructure has been Hamas. Campaigns ostensibly to re-establish public order have provided the cover to clamp down predominantly on Hamas: Palestinian human rights groups have documented over 10,000 supporters of Hamas being arrested by the PA security forces since 2007. The current police/security-to-population ratio in Palestine – 1:80 – is not only one of the highest in the world, but is also financially unsustainable.

These are sobering and controversial claims, but they are true. In a shocking public admission of his goals, General Dayton tied America’s support for the NSF to Abu Mazen’s goal of crushing dissent, bragging about the political campaigns launched by his forces. “Across the West Bank,” he told WINEP, “these security campaigns have featured clamping down on armed gangs … dismantling illegal militias, working against illegal Hamas activities, and focusing on the safety and security of Palestinian citizens.” Has Dayton succeeded? A Hamas legislator puts it best: “The PA has succeeded more than the Israelis in crushing Hamas in the West Bank.”

In spite of Dayton’s “success,” however, there are persistent and nagging reports that his mission has been counterproductive – Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad has distanced himself from Dayton (and on several occasions refused to meet with him). Moreover, it was reliably reported that U.S. special envoy George Mitchell was angered by Dayton’s WINEP speech (and skeptical of Dayton’s role), and the shuttering of NGOs affiliated with Hamas has sparked broad dissent among politically powerful constituencies in the West Bank. These problems were catalogued in an important November 2009 report by the Foundation for Middle East Peace’s Geoffrey Aronson:

Regime protection, the incarceration of Hamas supporters – militants, elected officials, and activists alike – has failed to restore Fateh’s [the political movement led by Abbas] lost luster, blunt Hamas’ popularity or challenge its continued commanding presence in Gaza, or compel Israel to lessen its grip on the West Bank. Indeed the pursuit of Hamas militants as part of a broader rejection of armed resistance against Israel, and more importantly, the associated attack on the Hamas’ popular community network of support and education – the Dawa – has gravely compromised the image of Abbas’ forces as collaborating in Israel’s rule.

The Dayton Mission and The Palestine Papers

The Palestine Papers add appreciable information to our knowledge of the Dayton mission, the National Security Force, Israeli views of the force, the chain of command in the forces, details on their training and equipment and, most importantly, their political and security purposes. The papers provide chilling accounts of the Abbas authority’s concern with “working against illegal Hamas activities” – the emerging police state’s code for suppressing dissent.


PA questions Tony Blair’s role

Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad wondered whether Quartet envoy’s initiatives were too small to be helpful.

MI6 offered to detain Hamas figures

British government also provided financial support for two Fatah security forces linked to torture.

Alistair Crooke: Blair’s “counterinsurgency surge”

Former British prime minister’s support for Palestinian security forces contributed to decline of EU influence in “peace process.”

Readers will find information on the formation of the NSF and various Palestinian security organizations outlined in a May 10, 2006 meeting between General Dayton and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. A second official document (a letter to Dayton dated May 25), details responsibility for command of the force. The May 10 meeting features Dayton as detailing the U.S. concern that the Palestinians coordinate their security regime with Israel and focus on strengthening a future Palestinian state – “not to fight Hamas.” Readers who spend the time to read in detail the menu of Dayton-related memos will see that, after June 2007, this focus shifts – toward open suppression of Hamas and other political dissidents.

A number of documents provided herein show the obsession of the Palestinian security services with policing the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and detailing the types of cooperation between the forces and the Israeli military. It’s clear from the documents that the security services are intent to aid the Israelis in policing the smuggling of weapons into Gaza – early evidence that the PA was establishing the force as a weapon in its battle with dissidents to Abbas’ rule. The security situation and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are an increasing concern to Dayton (his letter of June 1, 2006) in detailing the relationships of the various security forces. Dayton’s letter notes the lack of cooperation of Israel on the Gaza border issue. Even so, Dayton continues to build security force capacity (as outlined in the memo of a meeting held with Saeb Erekat on June 9, 2006).

A key document in The Palestine Papers (a Memorandum to “Dr. Saeb Erekat” of 4 March 2007) outlines the problems Dayton faces with the Congress, notes the role of Saudi Arabia in the internal Palestinian political process, speaks on the problems of the crossings between Gaza and Israel and touches on U.S. concerns with reforms in Fatah. A further memo (dated June 29, 2007) expands on this. The relationship with and cooperation between the security services is the subject of a fascinating exchange on 11 March 2007, and most particularly on July 15, 2007 – when Dayton announces that a full training program has been initiated in Jordan, though problems with the training program (outlined in a meeting of July 24, 2007) remain.

The most important document in the Dayton series is dated March 4, 2008. The paper reviews a meeting between Salam Fayyad, the PA minister of the interior, two other PA officials and Secretary of State Rice, White House official Elliot Abrams, General Dayton – with several others – in attendance. Of importance is Fayyad’s admission – “On Gaza, there was only one winner: Hamas” – and his reiteration that an end to settlement activity is the one key way to ensure the PA’s now teetering legitimacy. The cooperation between the security forces and Israel is noted in a memo dated September 4, 2008, including details of specific Israeli-Palestinian security actions.


The difficulties between Dayton and Mitchell are alluded to in a meeting between Saeb Erekat and Dayton in Ramallah on June 24, 2009. Dayton notes that he will depend on the Palestinians for information on what Mitchell is doing because “we’re not necessarily getting this information from him.” Later Dayton, in response to information about increased help from Arab states, notes: “I am glad to hear all this from you because GM [George Mitchell] is not telling me anything.” The notes of this June meeting are clear: the Palestinian Authority and the U.S. Security Coordinator view Hamas as an enemy – “I can say that the security forces have done what AM [Abu Mazen – the name Abbas is commonly known by] has asked them: one authority, one gun,” Dayton says. “The problem now is political – that is, Hamas.”

Interestingly, Dayton notes that while responsibility for oversight of the security force resides with Fayyad (working through the Ministry of the Interior), he seems not to want it, with Dayton implying that the prime minister is attempting to distance himself from his activities. Saeb Erekat is angered: “But the president gave it to SF [Salam Fayyad]!” he says. The meeting notes confirm that Fayyad has consistently attempted to distance himself from acts of political suppression engaged in by Abbas. Here also, Dayton mentions the problem of torture: “By the way, the intelligence guys [from the General Intelligence Service] are good. The Israelis like them. They say they are giving as much as they are taking from them – but they are causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people. Hamas does it . . .” but he is unable to finish his sentence: “That is not an excuse,” Erekat says. “I’ve only started working on this very recently,” Dayton responds. “I don’t need to tell you who was working with them before . . .”

Thus, the claims and allegations and torture on the part of “the intelligence guys” no longer stand as mere accusations – they are confirmed by Dayton. And Dayton confirms that he does not “need to tell . . . who was working with them before.” That would be the CIA.

Mark Perry is a journalist and author living in Arlington, Virginia. He is the author of eight books, including the recently released Talking To Terrorists. He is a regular contributor to Asia Times and Foreign Policy and a frequent guest commentator on Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera