On May 7, 2009, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton delivered the Michael Stein Address on U.S. Middle East Policy at The Washington Institute's 2009 Soref Symposium. General Dayton currently serves as U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a position he has held since 2005. He recently accepted his appointment to the post for another two-year term.
The following is a selection of excerpts from General Dayton's address. Download a complete transcript of his remarks (PDF).
"I will talk about opportunities and I will touch on challenges. And all of us on the security coordinator's team share the conviction that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the national interests of our respective nations, and for that matter, of the world. Let me state at the outset a few bedrock principles that guide me in my work. First, as I just said, I profoundly believe that it is in the national security interest of the United States to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
"Second, I am one of those who firmly believes in a two-state solution: a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside the state of Israel is the only solution that will meet the long-term needs of Israel and the aspirations of the Palestinian people. This has long been the policy of our national leadership, and I share it.
"The third principle, let me state very clearly my deep conviction -- and I tell this to my Israeli friends all the time -- that as President Obama said last year, the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, it is unbreakable tomorrow, and it is unbreakable forever. . . .
"The idea in forming the USSC was to create an entity to coordinate various international donors under one plan of action that would eliminate duplication of effort. It was to mobilize additional resources and to allay Israeli fears about the nature and capabilities of the Palestinian security forces. The USSC was to help the Palestinian Authority to right-size its force and advise them on the restructuring and training necessary to improve their ability, to enforce the rule of law, and make them accountable to the leadership of the Palestinian people whom they serve. . . .
"Another strong point is that we were given permission from the outset to work with all sides to this conflict except the terrorists. That means we work on a daily basis with both Palestinians and Israelis -- something that is unique in the region, believe it or not. My team and I frequently visit Jordan and Egypt and we've even been granted permission to coordinate with the Gulf States. We are also networked with all the other missions in the region work the Arab-Israeli conflict. And we meet with a variety of other international actors in the region in the course of our coordination, ranging from individual countries, nongovernmental organizations, or officials of the United Nations. But perhaps the most important thing about who we are is that we live in the region. We do not parachute in for a few days and then go home. We stay there. In a region where understanding the reality on the ground while building relationships is the cornerstone of getting something done, you have to invest the time, and we've done that. . . .
"We don't give any guns or bullets. The equipment ranges from vehicles to socks. We have also graduated, now, three battalions -- an average of five hundred men each -- from JIPTC and another battalion is currently in training. The graduates have also been extensively schooled by the Jordanians, who have really stepped up to this task, on loyalty to the Palestinian flag and the Palestinian people. And what we have created -- and I say this in humility -- but what we have created are new men. The average age of the graduates is twenty to twenty-two years, and these young men, when they graduate, and their officers believe that their mission is to build a Palestinian state. So if you don't like the idea of a Palestinian state, you won't like the rest of this talk. But if you like the idea of a Palestinian state, listen on. . . .
"The second area we focused on has been capacity building in the Ministry of Interior. That may seem like a mundane task, but it is absolutely vital, because we are trying to form a normal government. In the Palestinian Authority, the minister of interior is responsible for all the security forces to the prime minister and president. In the last eighteen months, we have invested considerable funds and personnel into making the ministry a leading arm of the Palestinian government with a capacity to budget, to think strategically, and operationally plan. As I said, it's the key to normalcy for Palestine. Security decisions in Palestine are no longer made by one man in the middle of the night. In this we have come a very long way. . . .
"The USSC security partnership with the Palestinians and Jordanians and the Israelis is now in its eighteenth month. The results are beyond our most optimistic expectations and they relate directly to the title of this talk, 'Peace through Security.' The facts on the ground have changed, and will continue to change. The situation may be fragile; there are many challenges ahead. But this is real progress in changing facts on the ground.
"Do we have a long way to go? You bet we do, and the challenges along the way are formidable. Time may not be on our side. Very serious work needs to be done on terrorism, and we are actively exploring options with the Palestinians, with the Jordanians, and with the Israelis. If we are to have a Palestinian state, there is also serious work ahead on borders and crossings management, something which the Canadians on my team are in the lead. And then of course there's Gaza and the armed formations of Hamas that present an enormous challenge to the future of a Palestinian state.
"So again, the theme of this talk, 'Peace through Security' -- the road to peace in this region is a very difficult one. All of you know that. I would say it goes through forests of misunderstanding, lack of trust, old wounds, political and institutional weakness, and spoilers who would like to see us all fail. And there are dangers every step of the way. But compared with past years, we are now on that road, and we can make out the outlines of the destination ahead. We are moving forward. Peace through security is no longer an impossible dream. I think it was Herzl who said, 'If you will it, it is not a dream.'"