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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 08:50 GMT
Doubts over Palestinian aid schemes
Jericho police training centre
The Jericho training centre is crucial to maintaining stability
The Palestinian Authority faces cuts in international aid if Hamas does not renounce violence. The BBC's Matthew Price visits an EU-funded police training facility in the West bank.

"It's not so different from Northern Ireland," said Chief Inspector Jonathan McIvor with a grin, as we stopped to allow a herd of mangy-looking sheep to cross the road in front of us.

The shepherd slowly ushered them to the other side and we were off again.

But any other visual comparisons between Jonathan McIvor's two police beats probably end with the sheep.

He is still a serving police officer based in the green and often rainy landscape of Northern Ireland.

For the last two years though he has been on secondment in the West Bank, and recently he has been concentrating on a new project here in the hot dry desert of the Jordan Valley.

The project lies just outside the centre of the ancient biblical city of Jericho, at a training centre for the Palestinian police based in a large two-storey white building.

It's been paid for with 225,000 ($400,000) from the British government's Department for International Development.

"I've built walls in Jericho," Jonathan McIvor jokes.

Basic training

The walls run around the periphery of the training centre. Inside the compound police in blue uniforms stand to attention.

An officer shouts instructions and they march up and down. Others are inside in the computer room. It's pretty basic stuff.

Jonathan McIvor inspecting new facilities in Jericho
Jonathan McIvor was sent to "fix" the Palestinian police
Classrooms "with fans and drinking water" will help them to learn, Mr McIvor points out.

"Computers aren't going to solve the problems of the police, but it's a start."

A start perhaps, but from a very low level.

Ask any Palestinian about the effectiveness of their police and you're likely to be met with a laugh.

Law and order are almost non-existent in the Palestinian areas.

Ask any Israeli whether the Palestinian police do enough to stop attacks against Israeli civilians, and you'll be told the police do "nothing".

Which is where Jonathan McIvor comes in.

Tough task

He was first sent out to the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the British government to, as he puts it, "fix" the Palestinian police.

The project was recently taken over by the European Union and Mr McIvor is now the head of the mission called the EU Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support - known as EU-Copps.

If there is a resolution to a conflict then it means the protagonists will have sat down together to resolve it. And that means that those who were terrorists will have sat down with those who were not
Jonathan McIvor
It's a tough job, but Mr McIvor's Northern Ireland background appears to help.

For years he dealt with both sides in Britain's long-running conflict.

Even sitting down to talk with people whom the British government at the time referred to as "terrorists".

"I think that many of the lessons learned from policing in Northern Ireland over the last 10 years, where policing is highly politicised, where it is contested... are directly transferable out here," he says.

But of course this is not Northern Ireland. Here there is no real "peace process" to talk of.

Talking to terrorists

Since the recent election victory of the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas, both sides appear further apart.

Ask Mr McIvor about Hamas, and whether his experience in Northern Ireland gives him any perspective on how to deal with them, and he's diplomatic.

Militants parade through Bethlehem
The police have little power to curb militant factions
"If there is a resolution to a conflict then it means the protagonists will have sat down together to resolve it.

"And that means that those who were terrorists will have sat down with those who were not."

We left the heat of the Jordan Valley and climbed up the hills to the side, first to sea level, then beyond to the altogether colder and rainier confines of Jerusalem.

From there it is a short drive to Bethlehem, though it takes longer these days.

At Israel's new crossing into the town even the heads of EU missions have to have their documents checked.

Bomb squad

Bethlehem's police station was looking dreary. A couple of policemen stood outside, hoods pulled up high against the rain.

I think if funding goes... we will not be able to continue the work we are doing
Jonathan McIvor
The commander there, Colonel Issa Hajjou welcomed us with sweet tea.

He has benefited from the EU police mission. Thanks to EU funding Bethlehem now boasts a small "bomb squad" complete with its own fully equipped Land Rover and bomb disposal outfits.

Colonel Hajjou proudly showed off their results, dragging a cardboard box out from under a table and holding up the homemade explosive devices they recently discovered: a couple of crude pipe bombs, and small parcels of explosives with a fuse sticking out.

It is a small find, and the police here do not do house-to-house searches to collect weapons and explosives.

They have had limited success in stopping determined suicide bombers - Israel would say that they have had none at all.

Aid in danger

Still, Jonathan McIvor considers the bomb disposal teams to be one of his success stories.

He says it has not been easy persuading Israel to allow the Palestinian police to have bomb disposal equipment.

It also costs money of course, and Colonel Hajjou is well aware that the money flow could soon be stopped.

After the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, the international community is trying to decide how to treat the Palestinian Authority.

Israel is pressing for direct non-humanitarian aid to be stopped.

Ask Jonathan McIvor, and he says there is no indication the donors are about to turn off the funding tap.

What would happen though if funding was curtailed?

"I think if funding goes... we will not be able to continue the work we are doing. And an effective police is crucial to stability and to peace."


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