West Bank and Gaza developments

Mahmoud Abbas intends to form a new Palestinian Authority (PA) government, without Hamas and with Salam Fayyad, the Western-educated finance minister as Prime Minister.

The US expects the international aid boycott — which was placed on the PA as a result of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept prior agreements between Israel and the PA (i.e., the Oslo agreements) — to be lifted. US military aid to Fatah in the West Bank will certainly increase.

Abbas’ Fatah movement is in a much stronger position in the West Bank than it was in Gaza, in part due to the Israeli security forces de facto control of the area. Hamas now has total control of Gaza, having wiped out any traces of resistance from Fatah.

Hamas, of course does not accept Abbas’ government as legitimate and maintains that Ismail Haniyeh is still Palestinian PM. It will be interesting to see how various governments in the Arab world and the West will line up. My guess is that Iran and Syria will support Hamas, while most of the West and the ‘moderate’ Arabs will support Abbas. I’m certain that Israel will soon resume transfers of Palestinian tax money to the new Fayyad government.

This situation will have negative and positive consequences for Israel. Negatively, there is now a full-fledged terrorist state on Israel’s southern border, although practically speaking, Hamas’ preparations for war — the weapons smuggling, tunnel-digging, etc. — were probably not significantly impacted by the now-eliminated Fatah presence. It’s not clear how Israel will deal with the issue of supplying water and electricity to an officially hostile Gaza, nor whether this will make a difference in the scope or kind of operations Israel will mount to suppress Qassam rocket fire, which has continued (although at a slightly reduced rate) through all of the recent chaos.

Positively, Hamas’ influence on the West Bank will probably decline, at least if Abbas and Fatah have anything to do with it.

This will certainly drive Abbas closer to the US and Israel. Some have suggested that Israel and the PA now have an opportunity to negotiate a peace agreement. This is a long shot. The PA would have to accept the idea of a state alongside Israel, and the same intractable issues of the past remain: refugees, Jerusalem, borders. Even if the difficult questions could be resolved, then — unlike in the past — no such agreement could cover Gaza. But talks would be advantageous in any case, since they might lead to a reduction of Israeli control (the checkpoints) in return for real action against terrorist elements.

Meanwhile, I think that Israel and the US has the right to demand of Abbas and/or Fayyad that in return for their support, an end must be put to the al-Aqsa brigades terrorist activities against Israel. It does not make sense for the US and Israel to arm terrorists that will turn their guns on Israel or transfer them to Hamas.

If there is to be any hope for the Fatah PA to get real popular support, it will have to reduce the level of corruption and control the various private gangs and militias that operate in association with it. There’s no historical precedent for this, but one can hope.

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One Response to “West Bank and Gaza developments”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Olmert’s eagerness to make concessions to Abbas are for me a sure indication that he is not willing or ready to face the problems on our borders, Hizbollah, and Hamas- and of course Syria. But our new ambitious Defense Minister is probably thinking along other lines, and I suspect someone from his team leaked to the ‘Sunday Times’ the story about Israel preparing an attack on Gaza for this summer. The report says that it will be three divisions. In other words we are telling the enemy what we are going to do.
    But Hizbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran have not leaked to the papers what they are going to do. For that matter neither has the Egyptian Army which may not take kindly to our acting along its border.
    I hope that Barak is a lot wiser in Defense than he was as Prime Minister. That however is a hope and a prayer, only.