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Next week Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is due to hold another meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. But serious questions remain over Abbas's ability to deliver. Almost every day the Palestinians are reminded of the fact that their Palestinian Authority, which was established 13 years ago, is no longer in control of security in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
On Tuesday, dozens of Fatah gunmen went on a rampage in Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank, blocking many streets and threatening to close down PA institutions. The gunmen were protesting against the arrest of some of their cohorts a day earlier in a raid by the IDF on the nearby Balata refugee camp.
Also Tuesday, masked gunmen in Gaza City shot and seriously wounded Sufian Issa, a senior official in the PA's Higher Council for Religious Courts.
Attacks on PA officials and institutions have been occurring almost on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the past few years. Yet, the Palestinians have never heard of one case where someone was brought to trial for the assaults. In fact, the PA's judicial system has long been in a state of paralysis.
Many Palestinians have long lost their confidence in the PA's ability to impose law and order. As such, they now relate to the PA only as a body that pays salaries and runs their day-to-day civilian affairs.
Today, the PA is not much different from the Israeli Civil Administration that operated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the signing of the Oslo Accords. Apart from paying salaries to over 150,000 civil servants, the PA is continuing to run schools and hospitals. But when it comes to security, the feeling on the Palestinian street is that the PA is no longer in control.
The ongoing power struggle between Fatah and Hamas has created a situation where there is more than one authority for the Palestinians - the Fatah authority in the West Bank and the Hamas authority in the Gaza Strip.
The lack of security is especially evident in the Gaza Strip, where dozens of militias belonging to various factions and clans are now calling the shots.
Forces loyal to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas have been repeatedly humiliated by armed gangsters and militiamen over the past year. In the recent fighting with Hamas, Abbas's supporters suffered major casualties and many senior figures belonging to his Fatah faction are now afraid to sleep in their homes.
The resignation over the weekend of Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak, a top Fatah security commander in the Gaza Strip, is seen by many Palestinians as further evidence of the collapse of the PA security infrastructure.
Abu Shabak quit days after Hamas gunmen raided his villa in Gaza City and killed six of his bodyguards. The attack on Abu Shabak's home was not the first of its kind against a top Fatah security official in the Gaza Strip. Seven other senior Fatah commanders have been killed by Hamas militiamen over the past year in the Gaza Strip.
Shabak's resignation is also regarded by many Palestinians as a severe blow to Fatah warlord and legislator Muhammed Dahlan, who is accused by Hamas of conspiring with the US and Israel to undermine the Hamas-led unity government. Most Fatah leaders are today afraid to openly challenge Hamas, whose forces continue to roam the streets and man checkpoints in different locations of the Gaza Strip.
Many Palestinians, among them Fatah officials, blame Abbas for what they describe as the disintegration of the PA. They say that his failure to display the qualities of a charismatic leader has turned the PA into a "joke" in the eyes of most of his constituents. They point out that Abbas's real problem is not the lack of money and soldiers, but his failure to make controversial decisions.
Abbas and his aides in Ramallah have lost much of their influence over the PA security forces, not to mention the scores of Fatah-controlled militias that are responsible, among other things, for the ongoing state of anarchy and lawlessness.
Under the current circumstances, the millions of dollars that the US is investing in training and arming Abbas's "Presidential Guard" are likely to go down the drain. A security force that can't arrest a car thief will never stand up against Hamas.
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