Palestinian Affairs: Axis of ill ease

After Hizbullah's "victory," the last thing Abbas needs is to be seen as collaborating with Israel, US.

abbas 88 (photo credit: )
abbas 88
(photo credit: )
As they continue to celebrate Hizbullah's "victory" over Israel, the Palestinians are now bracing themselves for a possible Israeli military escalation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The feeling among many Palestinians is that Israel will try to "compensate" for its alleged defeat in Lebanon by launching military operations against various militias in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel, they argue, will try to restore its deterrence capability, which suffered a major blow in the confrontation with Hizbullah. In fact, Israel has already stepped up its military offensive against Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad members. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF since the abduction of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in June. Dozens have also been arrested, including eight Hamas ministers and more than 20 Hamas legislators. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, the war in Lebanon shifted the world's attention away from them. The fact that 15 Palestinians were killed in a single day of fighting with the IDF in the Gaza Strip last month hardly made headlines in the international media. Even popular Arab TV stations like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, which normally highlight events related to the Palestinians, did not seem to care much about Israel's "other war." As soon as the United Nations Security Council issued cease-fire resolution No. 1701, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rushed to the Gaza Strip for urgent talks with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Abbas's aides said he decided to travel to the Gaza Strip after receiving warnings from Israel and the US that he must resolve the case of Shalit as soon as possible or face more sanctions and military operations. According to one aide, Abbas even turned down a request from Washington to dismiss the Hamas government and to reinstall his Fatah party. Abbas's argument is that such a move against a democratically elected government would backfire and make him look like a puppet conspiring with the US and Israel. Besides, Abbas knows very well that his standing has been severely undermined now that many Arabs and Muslims are convinced that Hizbullah won the war. As a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah asserted this week, "The war in Lebanon has boosted Hamas and Jihadists around the world. Most of the people in the Arab and Islamic world are hailing Hizbullah for shattering the myth of the invincible Israeli army. This is a severe blow for all the Arab and Muslim moderates, who are now being ridiculed for talking about peace with Israel." Moreover, Israel's massive crackdown on Hamas, particularly the arrest of ministers and legislators, has made it impossible for Abbas even to contemplate the idea of firing the Hamas-controlled government. Dismissing Haniyeh's government at a time when his ministers and parliament members are imprisoned in Israel would be an extremely unpopular move on the part of Abbas, who would find himself under attack from many Palestinians and Arabs. Abbas has already been accused by Hamas of plotting with the US and Israel to overthrow the Hamas government and, in the wake of the Hizbullah "victory," the last thing he needs is to be seen as collaborating with the Israelis and Americans. THE CURRENT circumstances being what they are, the only option left for Abbas is to follow the saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." His talks with Haniyeh this week focused on his latest initiative, which envisages the establishment of a "national unity government." In other words, Abbas wants Hamas to consider the possibility of allowing his Fatah party to join the government, under the pretext that the Palestinians must unite their ranks to face the coming challenges. Abbas is even prepared to sit with Islamic Jihad in the same government, as long as his party is not kept away from the decision-making process. Hamas, for its part, does not seem to be enthusiastic about the idea, though its leaders have promised (perhaps out of courtesy to the "President of Palestine") to look into Abbas's request. In any case, the final decision on the matter will be made in Teheran and Damascus. The events of the past few months have shown that Haniyeh and his colleagues in the Gaza Strip can do hardly anything without the approval of the Hamas leadership abroad. The decision whether to release Shalit or not is in the hands of Iran's Ayatollah's and Syria's Bashar Assad. In the post-war period, the political and security turmoil in the Palestinian territories will most likely continue to deteriorate. The Palestinian government and parliament are in a state of paralysis as Israel continues its military crackdown, and as the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah appears to intensify despite the talk of a national unity coalition. On the security level, it's now safe to say that there is almost no presence of a central government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - areas that are now controlled by various militias and clans, and where a masked gunman carrying a rifle calls the shots. Even a Fatah-Hamas alliance, no matter how strong it is, won't be able to end the state of chaos and anarchy.