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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 12, 2003

Don't expect a Palestinian civil war

Darn it! oh, well, same old stuff, Danny Rubenstein of Haaretz seems to suggest
There isn't much chance Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will try to use force to make Hamas and Islamic Jihad give up.

He has often declared the need to cease all violent intifada activity and to maintain a single Palestinian Authority under a single law. He has also spoken of the need to collect the illegal weapons held by the various factions.

But it's a long way from rhetoric to deeds. Abu Mazen's problem isn't Yasser Arafat breathing down his neck. He has a much graver problem - he doesn't have the political strength to fight Hamas.

After the struggle to name Mohammed Dahlan as minister in charge of security, much was said about how Dahlan can take action against Hamas, the way he did in 1996. Dahlan, then head of Preventive Security in Gaza, and Jibril Rajoub, his counterpart in the West Bank, proved themselves - as far as Israel was concerned. Starting in 1996, they chased down Hamas activists and drastically reduced the number of terror attacks. With their help, the Netanyahu and Barak terms (until September 2000) were the quietest, security-wise, since the start of the peace process.

But what happened then cannot repeat itself. In those years, from mid-1996 to the outbreak of the intifada, there were relatively few militant Islamic cells in the territories. The military wings of the opposition from the left (the Popular Fronts and the Democratic Fronts) were falling apart. And Fatah didn't even have a military wing. Dahlan and Rajoub didn't really have a lot of work. A few members of Hamas cells were killed in mysterious circumstances, a few hundred were arrested, and the activities of the Islamic fanatics were blocked.

Now it's a very different story. There are far more Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, possibly even thousands, and they have broad public backing. According to Gaza public opinion polls, Hamas wins similar approval ratings to Fatah. The more activists are killed by the Israel Defense Forces, the more new cells pop up. If Abu Mazen and Dahlan want to suppress them, a limited campaign of arrests won't be enough - a war will be necessary.
Now let's simplify this for the Palestinian folks: you either get to have your very own state, something we had imagined was what you always wanted, or you continue with terrorism and end up with a shattered economy, larger and more densely packed refugee camps, and dead children. Choose. [more]