Jewless in Gaza: New options are Fatah, Hamas or anarchy
January 27, 2006
Israelis warn of Hamas-Fatah clash
By MARTIN WALKER
HERZLIYA, Israel, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Israel's security chiefs are bracing for a prolonged period of politically instability after Wednesday's Palestinian elections, which they see bringing unprecedented political legitimacy to Hamas, the Islamist movement that openly backs terrorism.
Although the imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti has called on Hamas and other Palestinian factions to join a broad national coalition after Wednesday's parliamentary election, Israel's top military leaders see the prospect of a violent power struggle between the two Palestinian organizations.
One sign of that rivalry emerged Sunday as the Palestinian Authority brusquely decreed the closure of the new Aqsa TV station in Gaza, the broadcasting arm of Hamas. Shootings and clashes between rival supporters in Gaza during the election campaigns have created what Israeli officials are calling "a state of anarchy."
The tension between Fatah and Hamas was plain in a debate Sunday on the Lebanese TV station LBC when Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, told Fatah's former security chief in Gaza Mohammed Dahlan that Fatah security forces had broken several of his ribs during a violent interrogation in a Palestinian prison. Dahlan is one of Fatah's top election candidates and Zahar heads the Hamas election list in Gaza. At the same time, the Fatah radio station was broadcasting a long statement by the son of a Palestinian Authority policeman killed last year by Hamas gunmen.
"I don't see Hamas winning and Fatah permitting it to take power," Dan Haloutz, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, told Israel's annual Herzliya security conference Sunday.
Haloutz warned Israel to prepare for a new wave of terrorist attacks and destabilizing violence among the Palestinians, where he foresaw the options as "Fatah, Hamas or anarchy."
"There is high potential for another round of violence," Haloutz warned. "And it does not depend on what we do, but on what they do."
Israel's Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz told the Herzliya conference that the elections would be "a turning point for shaping the kind of partners the Palestinians will become for us."
But if the Palestinian authority leader Abu Mazen proved unable to control the violence and end terrorism, Israel will have to act alone, on the basis of a map that guarantees our security," Mofaz added.
Yoval Steinitz, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and defense committee in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, told the conference that the rise of Hamas meant that "We may have won the tactical fighting against terrorism but we are losing the war on a strategic level."
"Where does Hamas stand today compared with 5 years ago?" Steinitz asked. "Hamas is close to government, winning political legitimacy and it now has a base - just as al-Qaida did in Afghanistan. The threat of rocket attacks from the West Bank is a mortal danger for Israel, able to hit the heart of our country and to threaten to close our international airport. At a strategic level, Israel is being defeated."
Uzi Arad, former Director of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, warned the Herzliya that "the combination of the fragility of Fatah and the rise of Hamas and the terrorism it generates is highly unstable for us."
The annual Herzliya conference brings together Israeli political leaders and security chiefs with senior NATO, European and foreign officials along with a large contingent of American policy-makers, think tank experts and members of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. It gives a unique window onto the real security and political concerns and priorities of Israeli leaders, and this year's event has been dominated by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon and the emergence of Hamas as a major political player in the Palestinian community.
The latest opinion polls suggest a narrow win for Fatah, the traditionally dominant political movement in Palestine that was founded by Yasser Arafat. But the polls also show Hamas gaining wide support and scoring up to a third of the vote in the elections for the 132-seat Palestine legislative council. This would keep the current Palestinian leader Abu Mazen in power, but constrained by a strong Hamas presence, and by the legitimization of the Hamas movement as a political force.
Moreover, a weakened Fatah faces internal divisions between its traditional and elderly leadership who are part of the Arafat generation and are widely accused of corruption, and the young guard of Fatah that is rallying behind Barghouti, currently serving 5 simultaneous life sentences for murder in an Israeli prison.
In an interview with al-Jazeera TV from his prison Sunday, Barghouti claimed that Fatah and Hamas "are heading toward being partners in the field and in parliament."
"From my cell, I appeal to the great Palestinian people, young and old, to take part in these elections," Barghouti said. "I salute the brave and courageous decision by our brothers in Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other factions which agreed to join the Palestinian Authority by participating in the elections."
"These elections should be seen as one of the essential means of achieving freedom, the return (of Palestinian refugees) and independence," Barghouti added. "We should not think that the aim of January 25 is the seats. There is a goal we should be prepared for: a broad national reform government with the participation of all."
But the inclusion of Hamas in a Palestinian government is likely to stall any hope of progress towards renewed negotiations with Israel, which has made it clear that it is not prepared to treat Hamas as a legitimate negotiating partner. Moreover, the Bush administration has also said it is not prepared to deal with Hamas, which refuses to renounce terrorism or to accept Israel's right to exist, on a diplomatic level.
The statement of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to the Herzliya conference, that Hamas was likely to moderated by political responsibility, was greeted with open skepticism.
But the Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, told reporters Sunday that "Negotiation with Israel is not a taboo," adding that Hamas would be willing to hold exploratory negotiations with Israel through a third party.
"Negotiations are a means. If Israel has anything to offer on the issues of halting attacks, withdrawal, releasing prisoners," Zahar said, "then a thousand means can be found."