ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Beginning a Fatah Comeback

Beginning a Fatah Comeback

 

21 September 2008

By Yisrael Ne'eman

A little known advance in conflict resolution is taking place in the northern West Bank (Judea and Samaria) as pro-Fatah Palestinian Authority forces attempt to defeat Hamas and terror activities in the Jenin region. Almost forgotten is the evacuation of four Jewish settlements between Jenin and Nablus in August 2005 just a few days after the Gaza Disengagement. Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative elections in January 2006 and overthrew the power sharing arrangement with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in the Gaza Strip in June 2007 when their armed uprising defeated a 22,000 strong Palestinian Authority police force. From that moment on the Fatah controlled PLO led by Abbas has been struggling to gain full control over the West Bank. With a sense of urgency the Americans sent Gen. Dayton to train their forces in one last attempt to stave off a Hamas takeover of the West Bank as well. This first test for the PA is to impose law and order while crushing the Hamas. Everyone knows that to come to terms for peace will only be possible if the PA emergency government sitting in Ramallah and led by Abbas and Salam Fayyad will be victorious in its civil conflict against the Hamas Islamists.

Officially Hamas controls 72 out of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislature and is revving up for the January 9, 2009 presidential elections to replace Abbas who was elected four years ago. A year later there are to be elections to the parliament once again. But Hamas rules by dictate in Gaza and Abbas rules through emergency decrees throughout the West Bank. The Palestinians have a two-state solution among themselves, Hamastan and Fatahland respectively as noted by many commentators. The legislature does not convene and is of no significance even if it is the legal governing body.

The battle is being fought out on the ground in the northern West Bank where there are very few Israeli settlements east of the fence (there are 4 settlements to the west) where reports are coming in of Palestinian police (Fatah) success against Hamas and in restoring the rule of law between rival gangs and family factions. Crime is said to be receding as well. If a true stabilization process is taking place, one might call it a counter insurgency by the PA (with Israeli and American support) against the Hamas.

Israel would like to hand over all of northern Samaria (east of the fence but not including the Jordan Rift Valley) to the PA and continue that policy to include Nablus and then on to the Bethlehem and Hebron hill region. It is back to the 1990s with Oslo I, Oslo II and the Wye Accords implementation. But the timetable is far too short. At the moment the idea is to solidify PA control in all areas east of the fence but excluding the Jordan Rift Valley as soon as possible. Abbas is considering not having the elections, but postponing them for a year by executive or judicial fiat or possibly emergency decree (or whatever) on the grounds that such elections should be held in tandem with parliamentary balloting scheduled for January 25, 2010. It is hoped that within the 16 months allotted Fatah will gain full control over the Palestinian population in the West Bank and be able to prove the economic, political and social benefits of their rule as opposed to Hamas. Such a move could never be managed by this upcoming January.

It would be a good time to construct the Jenin industrial zone whose cornerstone was laid in the summer of 2000 just prior to the explosion of the Palestinian initiated Low Intensity Conflict (often called the Second Intifada). Eight years later the PA might actually stand a chance of rebuilding their shattered economy. With Arafat at the helm until November 2004 one could only expect terrorism and bloodshed. Already in 1993 Shimon Peres and others proposed building seven industrial zones in the Gaza Strip along with major port facilities in Gaza City but the Chairman would have none of it. The dream of a one state solution imposed on Israel through continual war was Arafat’s ultimate goal. It is about time his failure became permanent. Along with security, economic benefits are an imperative. Quick action must be taken if a two-state solution is to take hold.

Since the June 2007 Gaza takeover, the Palestinians have put democracy on a back burner – first Hamas and then Fatah. Palestinians were not ready for such a transition and as is known democracy culminates with elections, it does not commence with them. Sixteen months is a short amount of time to begin reversing Hamas influence by showing the benefits of Fatah cooperation with the US, Europe and Israel.

Should Fatah succeed in securing the Jenin region they may be on the way to success in the remainder of the West Bank Arab populated regions – Areas A’ and B’. The Fatah initiative is just beginning with reports of positive results. Major obstacles still remain, in particular from the Hamas and other Islamists such as the Hezbollah and Iran. But for the first time in quite a while there is some hope for security and development led by Palestinians themselves, even if such optimism is limited.