Security key to Palestinian development

When Palestinian police conducted a security swoop in the northern West Bank recently, they were forced to release some of the criminals they caught because there was not enough prison space to hold them.

One of the reasons was the huge backlog in the creaky courts system which has left around 80 per cent of the prisoners in Palestinian jails still awaiting sentence.

Upgrading the police force and judicial system are two of the issues that will be addressed at a ministerial conference on Palestinian security that takes place in Berlin on Tuesday.

More than 20 foreign ministers from the Arab world, Israel, Russia, the United States and the European Union will be looking at ways to help the Palestinians prepare for the time when they run their own state.

Without a functioning judiciary and security apparatus, there can be no Palestinian state and without a Palestinian state there can be no resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, experts agree.

But a lot of grass-roots work is necessary. This is clear to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the conference host, who visited the West Bank at the beginning of this month.

In the town of Jenin he helped Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad shovel tar for a new road, opened a vocational school and presented local police with German patrol cars.

"We need visible symbols of statehood," was the request voiced most often by his Palestinian hosts. This includes modernizing police stations where officers not only work, but, in some cases, also live.

Building new prisons, upgrading courthouses, setting up a forensic institute and establishing a judicial records system also fall under the category of "state-building."

"From a political point of view it is very important to ensure that the basic things of daily life function," said one German diplomat who travelled with the foreign minister.

European funding and training has already started to have its affect on the 7,000-strong police force in the West Bank as it seeks to enforce law and order after years of chaos and armed struggle.

But more is needed, according to Colin Smith, the head of the European police mission to the Palestinians. Smith has drawn up a list of nearly 30 projects which require funding.

The Berlin meeting is expected to raise 183.6 million dollars over three years, of which 56 million dollars is for judicial projects and the rest for police training, equipment and construction.

Smith oversees 33 EUPOL COPPS police advisers in the West Bank, but the number could soon by augmented by 20 legal experts. The Gaza Strip, which is under the control of the militant Hamas movement, is not covered by the programme.

Israeli troops have erected hundreds of road blocks in the West Bank as a precaution against terrorist attacks, making economic life difficult for the 2.4 million Palestinians living there.

Analysts say improved security will benefit Israel as well as the Palestinians and could speed up the pace of peace talks.

Israeli-Syrian talks over a return of the occupied Golan Heights and the truce between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militants have brought some movement to the peace process.

"The conditions for a peaceful solution are better today than they have been for the last 10 years," Steinmeier said this month, while at the same time pointing out that "time is running short."

Germany hopes the Berlin Conference in Support of Palestinian Civil Security and the Rule of Law can take advantage of the favourable situation to make a contribution to Palestinian stability, dpa reported.

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