You have to wonder who thought this would be a good idea. A company closely linked to Blackwater has just landed a one-year, $84 million contract from the State Department to provide security for American officials in the West Bank. Many of the employees of International Development Solutions (IDS), which scored the contract, once worked with the now disgraced Blackwater. IDS has the opportunity to extend the contract yearly for up to five years.
The American press hasn’t really picked up on this story (there was a brief mention of it in the Post earlier this week), but the Arab press definitely has. Al Jazeera dedicated a recent episode of its evening news program (not yet posted online, so I can’t link), Ma Wara Al Khabr, to the news that Blackwater employees — notorious for their reckless and unaccountable behavior in Iraq — will now be operating in the Palestinian Territories. As the reaction in the Arab press has made clear, the decision will have a few obvious consequences: first, it’s likely to further inflame public opinion against the United States. Blackwater is a known quantity in the Arab world as the perpetrator of numerous acts of violence against Iraqi civilians. If these private security contractors engage in their usual civilian target practice, the blame is likely to be directed not merely at the company itself but at the hand that feeds it.
Second, by granting a former Blackwater affiliate the contract to oversee America’s private security in the West Bank, the State Department has — again — undermined the credibility of the Palestinian Authority which comes off looking like a puppet government, not to mention a poor representative of the interests of the Palestinian people. Speaking on Ma Wara Al Khabr the other night, the spokesman for Hamas, Fawze Barhoom, made an argument that is likely to be viewed sympathetically by many Arab viewers: “This decision,” he said, “confirms that who rules the occupied West Bank is not the Palestinian Authority, but a multinational authority whose goal is to protect the occupation and wipe out those who defend the Palestinian cause.” (my translation) Barhoom also said: “This new scandal has come about through the collaboration of the Fatah authority, the American intelligence agency, and Zionist occupation (authorities) in order to suppress our people in the West Bank.”
The incident is reminiscent of the Goldstone Report, when the Obama administration disgraced its partners in the Palestinian Authority by urging them to downplay the findings of a UN panel charged with investigating war crimes in the 2009 Gaza conflict. Abbas, ostensibly trusting Obama’s intuitions, went along with the edicts of Washington and agreed to defer discussion of the report at the UN — with catastrophic results. Torn apart by Arab media outlets and Hamas officials for “capitulation,” Abbas’s popularity and that of his Fatah party took a nose dive. Once again, we see officials in Washington making decisions that, depending on the type of play they receive in the Arab press, have the potential to further weaken the already emaciated Fatah leadership.