Analysis: Bad for PA doesn't mean good for Israel

The reasoning of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" may not be so relevant here.

October 3, 2006 23:31
4 minute read.
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Some people, under the influence of the Middle East's unique logic that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," may look at the signs of a brewing civil war in the Palestinian Authority and conclude that the internecine fighting there is in Israel's interest. According to this reasoning, what difference does it make if Hamas and Fatah men are killing themselves, the important thing is that they are not killing us. While this type of logic may have made a degree of sense when Iran and Iraq - both bitter enemies of Israel at the time - fought a long war in the 1980s, it is important to remember that their battles took place a few thousand kilometers away. But when a fire is raging right on the doorstep, it is impossible for those inside the house not to inhale some of the smoke. Israeli officials are, formally, not commenting on the situation in the PA, saying it is "an internal Palestinian affair." Nevertheless, the situation will loom large at meetings US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will hold in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday, and with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Thursday. Rice came to the area in an attempt to forge a coalition of moderate Arabs, and to help PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Sunday's events have only underscored the urgency of her mission. The problem, however, is how to boost Abbas without either making him look like an Israeli or American stooge, or compromising Israel's security. Israeli officials will be going into the Rice meetings wary that Jerusalem might be pressed to pay in Israeli currency for the problems in Gaza, and that Rice may expect concrete Israeli steps as a way of defusing internal Palestinian tension. While Israel has indicated it would like to take steps to strengthen Abbas, such as opening up the border crossings in Gaza and the West Bank, and releasing Palestinian prisoners - all steps that conventional wisdom holds would increase the chairman's popularity among his people - Israel's own security interests could be harmed. Israel, clearly, would like to see the Hamas-led PA government disappear. But Jerusalem is also well aware that if that were to transpire, if Abbas would dissolve the Hamas government - as he has threatened - and if Hamas would be left outside the next government, then the organization's rage would be directed not only against Fatah and Abbas, but also against Israel. No party willingly gives up power, and Hamas - a terrorist organization with a party apparatus - would obviously not go gently into the night. According to recent security assessments, the Kassams currently being fired from Gaza onto the western Negev are largely the handiwork of Islamic Jihad. Were a politically frustrated Hamas to be kicked out of the government, it is more than likely that it would join wholeheartedly in the fray. That's in the long term. In the short term the flare-up of Hamas-Fatah tensions means that any talk of releasing Cpl. Gilad Shalit has been placed on the back burner. With Hamas on the warpath with Fatah, the last thing they would likely do now is release Shalit. Olmert, in an interview Friday with The Jerusalem Post, was asked whether a civil war in Lebanon - between Hizbullah and forces aligned with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora - would be in Israel's interest. His response was telling, and it seems safe that it could be applied to the Palestinian situation as well. "I am never enamored of violent confrontations," he said. "But if there is one, I'd rather it end up with the moderate side changing the situation, rather than surrendering to it." But according to the briefings the security establishment has been giving the government over the last couple of months, there is no guarantee that in a battle between Hamas and Fatah, the moderates - Fatah - would come out ahead. In fact, at last Wednesday's cabinet meeting, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin warned that Hamas was emerging with the upper hand in the intermittent clashes that have been taking place between the sides in Gaza and the West Bank. In the meantime, chaos looms, and chaos in Gaza does not serve Israel's interest. First of all, the anarchy in Gaza opens an opportunity for elements like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hizbullah and even al-Qaida to increase their influence and move into the breach. If a full-fledged war were to break out, and Hamas felt that it was fighting for its survival, it would need money and weapons, and would inevitably turn - through its branch in Damascus - to Hizbullah and Iran. And secondly, in this type of battle, both sides - Hamas and Fatah - would likely try to prove their bona fides as the true representatives of the Palestinian cause by doing that which for so long has resonated so well with much of the Palestinian public: attack Israelis.

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