Palestinian Affairs: Guns and poses

The West accepts the fable that Fatah needs boosting in the form of bullets.

Palestinian shoot 298.88 (photo credit: )
Palestinian shoot 298.88
(photo credit: )
Last week, security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas provided evidence that they were still around and functioning. One of the branches, the much-feared Preventative Security Service, announced that its members had arrested two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on charges of "collaboration" with Israel. Another, the General Intelligence Force, boasted that its men managed to break a ring of criminals who allegedly swindled thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank. The announcements came at a time when several Kassam squads were continuing to launch rockets at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, on an average of 8-10 per day. They also came at a time when Israeli political and security officials were - and are - embroiled in a debate over how to stop the Kassam rockets: by reoccupying the entire Gaza Strip, stepping up the policy of assassinations, or launching a limited, large-scale military operation against the terrorists and their leaders. But almost no one in the Israeli political and security echelon raised the possibility of asking Abbas to instruct his security forces to try and stop the rocket attacks. That's because the assumption in Israel and the West is that Abbas is too weak, and that his security forces have been crippled as a result of repeated Israeli military attacks. The facts, however, suggest otherwise. Abbas has control over at least 45,000 members of a dozen or so security forces in the Gaza Strip. This is in addition to thousands of gunmen and activists belonging to his Fatah party. Hamas, by contrast, has less than 5,000 militiamen, who are not as effective as Abbas's policemen and security agents, some of whom were trained by American and European security experts. Here one needs to be reminded of the fact that although Hamas is in power, the Islamist movement actually has no control over the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian security forces. Almost immediately after Hamas won the parliamentary election earlier this year, Abbas issued a "presidential decree," placing all the security forces under the jurisdiction of the "commander-in-chief" (who happens to be none other than Abbas himself]) WHY, THEN, doesn't Abbas simply order thousands of his policemen to deploy along the border with Israel to halt the Kassam attacks? How come he hasn't even made the slightest effort to stop the smuggling of tons of explosives from Egypt into the Gaza Strip? The answer is simple. Abbas lacks the will - not the ability - to take harsh decisions. In fact, he appears to be comfortable with the image of the weak leader low on funds and resources. Abbas's message to the outside world is: If I only had more weapons, policemen and money, I'd be able to move against the terrorists. This was the same excuse that his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, used to give whenever he was asked why he was not doing anything to stop suicide bombings against Israel. Judging from his actions over the past year, it is clear that Abbas is not interested at all in a confrontation with Hamas or any of the radical groups in the Gaza Strip. His strategy is based on the notion that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Although he has repeatedly condemned the firing of the "primitive" rockets at Israel as "harmful" to the interests of the Palestinians, he has never ordered his security chiefs to go after the rocket squads - not even when the miserable residents of Beit Hanun, who are continuing to pay a heavy price, begged him to take action. Abbas's claim that he is lacking in weapons and money is ridiculous given the facts on the ground. Just last week, thousands of PA policemen and Fatah gunmen staged paramilitary parades in various parts of Gaza, during which they reportedly fired more than a million bullets into the air. The cost of each bullet ranges between NIS 1-NIS 5, depending on the type of rifle or pistol. Also, it is worth noting that some of the weapons and ammunition that are being smuggled from Egypt goes to Fatah militias and Abbas's security forces in Gaza. With regard to the funds, millions of dollars continue to pour into Abbas's office almost on a weekly basis. Just last week, Kuwait transferred $29 million to Abbas's bank account. The US, which is eager to bring down the Hamas government, has also been arming and funding Abbas and his Fatah party. One report cited an official US document as revealing that Washington had allocated $42 million to fund the opponents of the Hamas government, while another claimed that the Americans had decided to provide Abbas's Force 17 with an additional 6,000 M-16 rifles. Such reports have left many Palestinians confused about America's Middle East policy, particularly the idea of spreading democracy. Just over a year ago, the US and several EU countries demanded that the Palestinians hold free and democratic elections. Abbas, according to some of his top aides, first pleaded with the foreign governments to wait a little longer. Faced by strong opposition, he later decided to move ahead with his plans to hold the election on time. Abbas's major fear was that his corruption-riddled Fatah party was not yet prepared for the vote. When Abbas sought to postpone the vote, he clearly knew what he was talking about. Like many Palestinians, he, too, was aware of the growing power of Hamas, especially in the aftermath of Yasser Arafat's departure from the scene. The majority of the Palestinians saw Arafat's departure as an opportunity to pick up the pieces and repair the damage he had done to their cause for nearly four decades. They simply wanted a better life. ONE OF the reasons most Palestinians voted for Hamas was their disillusionment with Abbas and Fatah. Prior to the 2005 presidential election, Abbas ran on a platform that promised to end rampant financial corruption, enforce law and order and bring about democracy and reforms. In short, his message to the Palestinians sounded so promising that over 60$ voted for him, giving him a clear mandate to fulfill his pledges. But then, Abbas did almost everything to disappoint the Palestinian people. Not only did he not keep most of his promises, but he seemed determined to continue with Arafat's legacy - one that brought only death and destruction. Instead of getting rid of all the officials responsible for financial corruption, Abbas embraced many of them, and turned them into senior decision-makers. His promise to end anarchy and lawlessness never materialized. Under Abbas's rule, warlords, gangsters and militias became even stronger and more daring. These thugs felt so confident that they saw no problem dragging a Palestinian general out of his home in Gaza City and executing him in the street. The situation has so deteriorated that, for the first time ever, the number of Palestinians killed as a result of internal strife is higher than that of those killed in clashes with Israeli security forces. The US's involvement in attempts to bring down the Hamas government has only made things worse for Abbas and Fatah. The US believes that by giving Abbas more rifles and cash it would be able to bring about regime change. But in the West Bank and Gaza, there is no shortage of weapons. Tons of explosives, rifles and missiles are smuggled across the Egyptian border nearly every day. What the Palestinians need is not more rifles - which they never use to stop Hamas, Islamic Jihad or other militias anyway - but good governance and credible leaders. The only way to bring about regime change in the Palestinian territories is by exerting pressure on Abbas to reform his Fatah party and give younger leaders a larger say in the process of decision-making. Abbas will only do this when he feels that he is under pressure from donors. He will also only start moving against the Kassam squads and weapon-smuggling when someone bangs on the table and demands immediate action. Fatah needs to undergo real changes and reforms if it ever wants to return to power. Meanwhile, American meddling in Palestinian affairs is backfiring, because many Palestinians are beginning to look at Abbas and Fatah as pawns in the hands of the US and Israel. This does not help Abbas and moderate secular Palestinians, who are facing the dangers of the growing power of Islamic fundamentalism. But, even if the Hamas government collapses - and free and democratic elections are held in the West Bank and Gaza - it is almost certain that most Palestinians will not vote for the same leaders who lost the last election because of their corruption and mismanagement.