Defense officials: [The Palestinians'] way out is to join forces against Israel.
By YAAKOV KATZ
While the outcome of the latest Hamas-Fatah strife has yet to be determined, the interim is clear - a major escalation in anti-Israel terror attacks.
As one senior security adviser to Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday: "When the Palestinians fight among themselves their way out is always to just join forces and fight against their common enemy - Israel."
The defense establishment followed the events in the Gaza Strip on Sunday with extreme concern.
While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged silence from his ministers, claiming that the developments were internal Palestinian events, defense officials warned of an upsurge in terror attacks as a result of the PA domestic battles and, even worse, the destabilization of Lebanon and Jordan.
If the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, the defense establishment is concerned that Palestinian refugees based in Jordan will also come under pressure to begin demonstrating their support for one of the two sides.
Palestinian terrorists in Lebanon could also gain from the deterioration and launch attacks against Israel's North or by pitching in to Hizbullah attempts to overthrow Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government.
The current situation on the Gaza streets, defense officials said Sunday, was reminiscent of the process that overtook Iraq following the US invasion in 2003. There too civil war started in the form of attacks against American troops but slowly swept across the entire country.
While with the Palestinians the process has moved more slowly, in recent weeks - following the collapse of talks on the establishment of a unity government - it has picked up speed.
Israel has not been sitting by idly, and in anticipation of the escalation in violence has been conducting secret meetings with Fatah officials.
Last week one of Peretz's advisers met with a senior Fatah official in Jerusalem and discussed the rise in tensions. The purpose of the talks is twofold - to put a finger on the Palestinian pulse and to see where Israel can intervene and what it can do to help.
The defense establishment has not ruled out the possibility that Hamas, as the dominant military force in the Gaza Strip, will utilize the recent upsurge in violence to "cleanse" the Gaza Strip of Fatah elements and establish an independent radical Islamic government without connection to Mahmoud Abbas and the Mukata in Ramallah.
This is not a far-fetched scenario. Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have become completely severed, turning into almost two separate political entities.
For this reason, the Palestinians - in talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last November - insisted on being allowed freedom of movement between the two territories (the deal never materialized).
A further escalation of the internal Palestinian conflict will only accelerate the break-up of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for good.
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