Mahmoud Abbas was preparing to travel to the former settlement of Neveh Dekalim on Wednesday to participate in celebrations marking the Israeli withdrawal when one of his aides advised him to cancel the trip. The excuse he gave was that there were too many militiamen among the crowd that had gathered at the area and it would be difficult to control them.
Abbas did not hesitate to accept the advice, preferring to stay in his Gaza City office for meetings with security chiefs and foreign dignitaries, including a top Chinese diplomat. One of his top aides, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, was dispatched to the rally to deliver a speech on behalf of the Palestinian leader.
Although the event was organized by the Palestinian Authority, many of the participants included gunmen from rival groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as unruly Fatah activists belonging to various local gangs.
Abbas later found out that he had made a wise decision by deciding to stay away. The rally ended in chaotic scenes, as a Hamas activist grabbed the microphone from a rap singer, prompting nervous Palestinian policemen to fire into the air.
"This is not the time for such songs!" the Hamas member shouted. "We still haven't liberated all of our land."
A police officer at the scene said he and his colleagues were relieved that Abbas didn't show up. "Imagine what would have happened if he had been standing on the stage," he said. "I'm sure many of the gunmen would have stormed the area and disrupted his speech. It would have been very difficult to protect him."
Earlier in the week, Abbas made a brief visit to Neveh Dekalim, but his convoy was forced to pass through dirt roads, because thousands of frenzied militiamen and children had blocked the major roads in what was known as Gush Katif.
Wednesday's rally attracted less than 2,000 Palestinians, raising concerns among Palestinian officials about dwindling support for Abbas and the PA. By contrast, rallies organized by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the aftermath of the disengagement saw tens of thousands of Palestinians take part.
On Tuesday night, Gaza City's main streets were almost entirely covered with Hamas's green flags, as tens of thousands of residents heeded calls to attend a rally organized by the Islamic movement.
PALESTINIAN POLICEMEN who have been training for months to prevent looting and chaos in the former settlements failed to stop the torching of synagogues and the looting of greenhouses. More importantly, the 7,500 policemen stood on the side and watched as thousands of Palestinians, including many gunmen, infiltrated the border into Egypt.
Many of the infiltrators are said to have returned with different types of weapons, in addition to cheap cigarettes and electrical appliances.
Palestinian security officials admitted that hundreds of Palestinians and Egyptians living in Egypt took advantage of the anarchy to enter the Gaza Strip.
"We'll never know who many of these people are," said one official. "They may be from Egypt, but they could also be from other countries. We'll have to check them out."
Both Palestinian and Egyptian officials admitted this week that they had not taken such a scenario into account during their preparations for the post-disengagement era. Enraged Egyptian officials demanded that the PA take immediate steps to stop the infiltrations and threatened to open fire at any Palestinian who tries to enter Egypt illegally.
A distraught Abbas sent his national security advisor, Jibril Rajoub, to beg the Egyptians to allow the PA a few more days to impose law and order. The two sides reached an agreement to close the border by the beginning of the weekend. But the move was similar to closing the gate after the horses had bolted.
Abbas's message to his people now is: Let's stop the anarchy and looting and focus on rebuilding Gaza. It's a message only a few Palestinians appear to be taking seriously. The same applies to Abbas's demand to confiscate the weapons of the armed groups. Leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even Fatah militias have been repeatedly mocking Abbas's threats to confiscate their weapons.
Abbas knows that unless these groups surrender their weapons voluntarily a possibility that seems as remote as ever there is no way the Palestinian security forces would be able to carry out the mission. That's because they lack both the will and capability to do so, as was evident by the way the security forces tackled the chaos along the border with Egypt.
Abbas is now hoping that the international community will shower the Palestinians with millions of dollars to help them strengthen their security forces and rebuild infrastructure. The challenges he faces in the coming months are enormous and the security issue is only part of the problem. Most Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are less concerned about security-related matters than they are about the shattered economy. They will rally behind Abbas only if he manages to provide jobs to tens of thousands of unemployed workers.
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