RAMALLAH, West Bank - Hundreds of Palestinian gunmen have
signed pledges to halt violence in exchange for government jobs, and
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hopes to bring many more militants
on board before he meets President Bush in May, Palestinian
officials said Monday.
SAVE MONEY ON TRAVEL DEALS
The new jobs-for-guns program, which offers the biggest
rewards to those who've spent the longest time in Israeli prisons or
on the run from the military, is meant to counter Israeli and U.S.
complaints that Abbas is doing little to control the armed groups.
The program is the most far-reaching step Abbas has taken so
far to rein in militants, and fits in with his desire to control
them through dialogue, rather than direct confrontations. The
Palestinian leader has promised wide-ranging reform of the security
services and recently fired the West Bank security commander,
mentioned widely in corruption allegations.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raised Abbas' perceived
foot-dragging in a meeting with Bush on Monday.
While Abbas has begun to act against terror organizations,
recent violence against Israel shows that "terror is still
continuing" and that Abbas "must take more steps",
Sharon said at a joint news conference with Bush in Crawford, Texas.
Sharon sent stern warnings to Abbas after Palestinian
militants in Gaza fired dozens of mortar shells and rockets at
Israeli settlements in Gaza in response to the weekend killing of
three Palestinian teens by army fire.
The jobs program, launched a week ago, was mainly aimed at
gunmen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, affiliated with Abbas'
Fatah movement. The militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad
reiterated Monday that they will not be co-opted but will keep their
weapons out of sight and respect a February cease-fire with Israel.
Under the plan, Al Aqsa gunmen will join the security
services or be hired by Palestinian Authority ministries. In recent
days, committees formed by Abbas summoned hundreds of militants for
job interviews and most signed a pledge to respect the law, said
Abdel Fattah Hemayel, a Fatah official who oversees the program in
the West Bank. Dozens more filled out applications in the Gaza
Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath said Abbas
wants to go to the United States with security achievements in hand,
to shift the emphasis of his meeting with Bush away from U.S.
complaints about the militants and toward Palestinian demands,
including U.S. pressure on Israel to halt settlement expansion.
Abbas "doesn't want to go to be interrogated",
Shaath said. "He wants to go with his demands with regards to
Israel appears ambivalent toward Abbas' plan and insists the
militant groups be dismantled at some point - as stipulated in the
internationally backed "road map" peace plan - but has not
sought to impose a deadline.
"We'll continue to be patient, as we have been until
now, but our concern is that ... if he (Abbas) doesn't deal with
Palestinian terrorists, they will turn on him", said Daniel
Seaman, an Israeli government spokesman.
As part of the truce, Israel decided to stop hunting
fugitives, but it continues tracking those it believes pose an
immediate danger. On Monday, Israeli troops entered the West Bank
city of Nablus and arrested a wanted militant they said had ties
with Lebanese guerrillas and planned a bombing attack. In a
statement, Palestinian officials called the raid a violation of the
The recruitment committees set up by Abbas initially were
asked only to find jobs for those on Israel's wanted lists - 495 in
the West Bank and 28 in Gaza. However, it quickly became apparent
that other militants also would have to be lured with a promise of
Hundreds of gunmen have filled out job applications in
recent days. Hemayel said jobs would be awarded according to a point
system to determine who gets the highest ranks in the security
forces and the best positions in the civil service.
A high school diploma, for example, is worth eight points,
while a year in an Israeli prison or on the run counts for two
points each. Gunmen don't get credit for time served in Palestinian
lockups, but they win extra points if they were wounded by Israeli
army fire or had their homes demolished.
After filling out a questionnaire, gunmen were asked to sign
a pledge to observe the law and all Palestinian Authority decisions,
which implies they agree to halt violence.
Nasser Jumma, an Al Aqsa leader in Nablus, a militant
stronghold, said he and the vast majority of more than 200 Al Aqsa
gunmen in the city have signed the pledge. Jumma, 36, stands a good
chance to win a top job: he spent eight years in an Israeli jail and
four years as a fugitive.
Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyad is in touch with
the recruitment committee and would have to allocate the money
needed for paying hundreds, if not thousands, more salaries.
However, the public payroll is already bloated, a legacy of the
Yasser Arafat era, and it is not clear where the additional funds
would come from.
Hemayel said the gunmen would be disarmed gradually. Former
members of the security forces who joined Al Aqsa during the
uprising and are now returning to their jobs could keep their
government-issue rifles. Those who bought weapons on the black
market could sell them to the government, he said.
As part of the nonviolence pledge, the gunmen are asked to
list serial numbers of their weapons. Hemayel acknowledged there is
no way to know if militants are hiding some of their guns.
Ala Sanakra, a gunman in the Balata refugee camp near
Nablus, said he'd like to get a job in the Preventive Security
Service and has gone for an interview, but he won't register all his
The future is uncertain, Sanakra said, citing Monday's
arrest raid in Nablus which he initially believed targeted him.