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Three Way Battle in Palestinian Authority

12 October 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

A three-sided battle is now heating up in the Palestinian Authority.  Moderates led by the number two man Abu Mazen speak of PA Chairman Yasir Arafat in much the same terms used by Israeli PM Ariel Sharon or President Bush.  He accuses Arafat of initiating the two-year cycle of violence and bringing disaster to his people as a result.  As reported in the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv he made this clear in a meeting with Arab ambassadors in Russia, just days after Sharon met with Russian President Putin in Moscow.

On the other side are the Hamas and Islamic Jihad demanding radicalization and more terror activity against Israel.  They are challenging the PA to a showdown in the Gaza Strip as the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is almost entirely under Israeli military control.  This began with the execution of Palestinian police colonel Rajah Abu Lichiah and the ensuing violence between the PA and the Hamas.

Arafat is self-confined to the Mukata in Ramallah watching from the sidelines.  Should he leave the compound the Israeli army will pounce on the ‘wanted’ terrorists still hiding out with him.  Israel’s Channel One reports Arafat aides are desperately trying to negotiate the surrender of these men, either to be jailed in Jericho with Ahmed Sa’adat and Fu’ad Shubaki (responsible for Minister Ze’evi’s murder and the Karine A’ arms shipment, respectively) under British and American supervision or to be exiled to European countries as was done after the Church of the Nativity siege in Bethlehem.  PM Sharon demands they surrender to Israeli security forces.

Arafat and the Abu Mazen led moderates belong to the same secular Palestinian national grouping, the PLO, and are the two top men in the PA.  But Abu Mazen agrees with Sharon and demands an end to Palestinian violence including all terror attacks against Israelis.  Although politically the Hamas and Jihad are Arafat adversaries, he agrees with their continuing campaign of violence against Israel.  It is thought that should Arafat get to Gaza he could negotiate an end to the future clash brewing between the PA and Islamic organizations.

Arafat’s National Security Advisor Mohammed Dahlan is supposed to impose law and order thereby going for an all out battle, better known as a civil war.  Should he do so Islamicists the world over may seek his head, but should he back down the PA could lose all control over the Gaza Strip leading Israel to a major clean-up like in the Defensive Shield operation in the West Bank this past spring.

In the first round it is the Arafatists versus the Islamic groups as Abu Mazen and his supporters have few weapons and no real ability to go to war.  Should Arafat’s PA police win or even come to a settlement, the ‘moderates’ will have a chance, otherwise the Israeli army will be forced into action.

Much of Palestinian society is already in the depths of despair and on the political military level the explosion may not be far off.  All this may take place just as the Americans move on Iraq.

In both cases Israel will have to deal with the ricochets.