Chaotic Palestinian Politics Are About to Get Radical
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hold on power has always been sketchy. Because Hamas and other terrorist organizations enjoy widespread popularity among Palestinians, Abbas is essentially at their mercy.
Last week, however, he suffered another blow. The crisis within the Palestinian Authority (pa) grew worse when, on October 3, legislators voted to dissolve Abbas’s cabinet, giving him two weeks to appoint a new cabinet if he wants to stay in office. A lack of confidence in the government’s ability to govern is being exposed on every level.
The Palestinian legislature vote was seen as a vote of no-confidence in the government’s ability to curb the violence and anarchy that has prevailed in the Gaza Strip following Israel’s withdrawal. “We are on the verge of civil war if the situation remains out of control,” said one pa legislator.
In the most sustained round of clashes, three people were killed and dozens injured in a shootout between Palestinian policemen and Hamas members Sunday of last week. The following day, in the middle of a meeting by pa lawmakers to discuss the anarchy problem, Palestinian policemen barged in and began firing shots into the air—in order to protest the pa failing to provide enough resources to fight Hamas. (Associated Press reported that one police chief was killed when he ran out of bullets during the clash with Hamas.) Shortly afterward came the vote against Abbas.
In what is seen by some as an sos, Abbas has agreed to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. If something is not done to quell the fighting and chaos—and stop Hamas from participating in January’s parliamentary elections—the current Palestinian Authority leader knows he could well be out of a job.
At the meeting, originally scheduled for October 11 but now postponed until the end of the month, Abbas is expected to request more “good will” concessions from Israel in order to salvage some support among the Palestinians. These demands would include withdrawal of Israeli troops from more towns in the West Bank, and the release of more Arab prisoners—including terrorists.
These actions were actually agreed to in an Israeli-Palestinian summit in February—on the condition that the pa end incitement and terrorism against Israel. Despite an utter failure of the pa to disarm Hamas or curtail terrorist actions since then, Israel has already freed 900 Palestinian prisoners and withdrawn from Jericho and Tulkarm. By all appearances, however, these measures have done little or nothing to increase Abbas’s popularity. It is questionable whether further concessions would. They would certainly not help Israel defend itself from terrorism.
Middle East expert Prof. Rafi Yisraeli gave a realistic picture of the situation when he said last Thursday: “[I]f there are elections and Hamas wins, then we really will have accomplished nothing at all [by leaving Gaza]—we’ll simply have a very hostile state on our border, with rocket attacks and terrorism ….” He went on to say that, on the other hand, if Abbas did gain enough support from the Palestinians by securing the release of Palestinian prisoners, Hamas won’t take it quietly but will instigate more violence. “In short, the situation is quite volatile, and Israel does not appear to have anything to gain, as usual” (IsraelNationalNews.com, October 6).
It appears the only way to possibly prevent Hamas’s participation in January’s elections would be to postpone them (which could also be counterproductive by giving Hamas reason for more violence). But it may be too late. The United States—without whose backing Israel has little room to act—has already indicated it is resigned to the inevitability of Islamists taking over the pa.
Middle East Newsline (menl) reported October 2 that the Bush administration will continue its support of the paeven if Hamas gains control of it. “Officials and congressional sources said the administration has been quietly bracing for a Hamas takeover of the pa,” menl wrote. “They said the State Department has been briefing Arab and Western allies of the prospect that Hamas would dominate either the Palestinian government or pa areas by mid-2006.”
America’s waning ability to influence events in the Middle East is revealed by the fact that, originally envisioning democracy in the Middle East as a tool to thwart terrorism, it is now prepared for democracy to bring terrorists to power, thus legitimizing them. Its shift regarding Palestinian politics mirrors a reluctant acknowledgement and acceptance of the likelihood of Islamist influence taking over politics in other countries such as Iraq and Egypt.
U.S. officials believe that Abbas is powerless to stop Hamas vying for power. Lacking support from the U.S., Israel itself has started to back down on its earlier firm stance of preventing Hamas’s participation in elections unless it disarms first. “We have to confess that we failed to block Hamas from running in the elections,” a senior Israeli official said.
Chairman Abbas increasingly lacks the legitimacy to lead the Palestinian people. He has failed to curb violence or improve the economy and lacks the confidence of his security forces and lawmakers.
In contrast—following the pattern in a number of Middle Eastern countries—the opposition Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, is gaining in popularity, which comes as a result of its provision of food, housing and community services, and its populist message calling for the destruction of Israel.
The prospect of Hamas—which is supported by and to a large degree ideologically aligned with Hezbollah, Syria and Iran—gaining control of Palestinian politics does not bode well for Israel’s future. As we have explained in other articles, the pressure that will come to bear on Israel by Islamic forces—increasing even now—will bring it to the point where it loses half of Jerusalem, and looks to the European Union for its defense.
This, however, will trigger a chain of events leading to World War iii.