ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | “Two Kingdoms” 27.7.04

“Two Kingdoms”

27 July 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

There are those in Israel who are reacting with a certain restrained glee over the anarchy reigning in Gaza as those forces loyal to local strongman Mohammed Dahlan challenge Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat. The Palestinian population is much more concerned over economic matters. Constant terror attacks against the Erez Crossing and Industrial Zone on the northern Gaza border with Israel, have brought about its virtual closure. Once 15,000 Gazans crossed into Israel on a daily basis, today there are 1,500; once there were 4,000 Palestinians working in the industrial zone itself, today there are 800. With the Gaza Disengagement the Crossing and Industrial Zone are to be closed. Israeli entrepreneurs are already relocating. Should there be calm, it has been suggested to bring in an international force to operate the Erez apparatus once again. Not bloody likely anytime soon.

But these days of anarchy may be moving towards a close. As the Voice of Israel’s Arab affairs correspondent Avi Yissocharoff reported this morning, there are now “two kingdoms,” that of Dahlan and that of Arafat. While Dahlan is bringing more armed men under his control, Arafat has succeeded in reinstating his government under PM Abu Ala, and is attempting to project control through the appointment of his nephew, Musa Arafat as security chief for the Gaza Strip. The corrupt Musa may be despised by many Gazans, but uncle Yasir is still the beloved symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

Yasir is not only speaking of reforms, he has even relinquished certain powers over the Palestinian security forces to Prime Minister Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei) and given the green light to begin implementation. US Sec. Of State Colin Powell sees the whole thing as a “yoyo” act, saying he will believe it when he sees it. In other words, just a lot of blabble. Any sober observer can only concur.

Often we have spoken of Palestinian anarchy in these columns. But from anarchy rises administrative control. The question is “who”? It appears that Arafat may be losing Gaza, even if not officially. Many hope Dahlan will gain power, enforce law and order and halt terror attacks. But that means he will have to physically confront Fatah, El Aksa, the Hamas, the Jihad and the independent family militias if he wants the stability necessary to crown himself king in Gaza, especially after the Israeli withdrawal. Then to sustain his power he will need economic cooperation from both Israel and Egypt.

And how will Ariel Sharon view all this? Should Dahlan gain power and halt terrorism, Arik would like to see this as a first step towards cantonization or enclavization, where local leaders will do their direct bidding with Israel. Arafat and the PA will exist only in name and ceremony. Tracing the Gaza example onto Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, etc. as independent fiefdoms, will break Arafat’s power and central control.

Arafat will remain a symbol of a united Palestinian struggle in his Mukata isolation, but the real policies will be decided and implemented by the Dahlan types. In the meantime though, Yasir is far from finished and the final outcome is still up for grabs.