WASHINGTON – Yasser Arafat's interior minister told CIA Director George J. Tenet on Saturday that Palestinian security arrangements on the West Bank were in chaos as a result of Israel's military incursion but were being reformed and rebuilt.
Palestinian policemen trying to do their job face arrest or worse at the hands of Israeli soldiers, Abdel Razak Yehiyeh told Tenet at CIA headquarters in northern Virginia, said sources close to the Palestinian delegation.
Yehiyeh, a former Syrian army officer appointed to his post by Arafat in June, told Tenet he was revamping what remains of a Palestinian security force and firing officers he found to be incompetent.
President Bush has accused Arafat and the authority of assisting rather than opposing terrorists who strike at Israel from Palestinian-held areas of the West Bank and Gaza.
Bush wants the attacks curbed and corruption within the authority checked before moving toward the Palestinian state whose establishment he has endorsed.
The White House and the Palestinians are eager for Tenet to approve new security measures. Tenet is moving deliberately, consulting with Israel and the Palestinians and with his own assessment team that was in the region last week.
Yehiyeh presented his plan for bolstering security to Tenet, who said he would evaluate the findings of the CIA assessment team, said people close to the Palestinians, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The CIA director assured Yehiyeh in their 90-minute meeting that he would have agency officials resume the discussions in the areas soon, they said. It is a commitment to follow up, and the Palestinians consider the meeting with Tenet to be a positive one.
The meeting wound up three days of talks that Yehiyeh and two other Palestinian Cabinet ministers held in Washington with senior Bush administration officials. It was the highest level contact since Bush on June 24 called for Arafat's ouster.
A decision by Tenet on security could hold the key to Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, long demanded by the authority as a first step toward transforming the territory into a state.
But even with White House pressure to finish the job, differences between Israel and the Palestinians on the scope of an Israeli pullback could hamper completion of a security blueprint by the CIA.
Egypt and Jordan have offered to provide training to Palestinian recruits.
Diplomatic officials said Friday that Tenet and other senior CIA officials are not convinced the situation is ripe for a new security effort by the United States.
In any event, Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to send officials of the State Department's Near East Bureau to the area this month to work on reforming the authority and providing assistance to Palestinians.
Israel has informed the CIA it is willing to withdraw from Gaza, provided violence is checked, and clear the way for Palestinian security forces to take over.
The Palestinians want a parallel withdrawal from Ramallah, where Arafat has his headquarters. There could be a compromise that entails Israel pulling out of one or two other West Bank towns.
An initial pullback is supposed to lead to a rolling withdrawal, provided terrorists do not resume their armed assaults on Israeli civilians.