Palestinian Stalemate Threatens to Curtail Missile Ceasefire
The artificial efforts to keep the lid on violence while US president George W. Bush was in the region Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 29-30 for talks on Iraq, were abandoned as soon as he boarded Air Force One for Washington. This was predicted by Jordan’s King Abdullah when he warned that three civil wars were on the point of erupting in the Middle East.
Saturday, Dec. 2, Mahmoud Abbas updated the PLO Executive Committee in Ramallah on the collapse of his unity talks with Hamas, after advising US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice of the stalemate in Jericho Friday, Dec. 1.
Fatah spokesman Azzam al Ahmad came out and called the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya to step down or else Abu Mazen would have to call an early election to solve the constitutional crisis. Ismail Radwan of Hamas shot back that this kind of talk inflamed relations and would treated as a coup threat.
Fatah was blowing in the wind. It lacks both the popular and parliamentary numbers to bring about an early poll. If Abbas’ party nonetheless tries to force the issue in its West Bank constituencies, Hamas will retaliate from its Gaza Strip and West Bank strongholds, threatening the Palestinians with an armed showdown.
In a show of nonchalance, Haniya took off Wednesday, Nov. 29, for a month-long tour of Arab capitals and Tehran. It was clear to him that Abu Mazen had reached a blind alley in his efforts to form a coalition government, solidify the ceasefire with Israel and negotiate the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas never had any intention of budging from its refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence to meet the conditions for lifting the international funding boycott.
The Hamas prime minister’s self confidence is rooted in five elements, according to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources:
1. The armed strength commanded by Hamas and its allies, including the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades of Abbas’ own Fatah, outnumbers and is better organized than the forces loyal to the PA chairman.
2. Iran makes available to Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, like Hizballah in Lebanon, unlimited supplies of cash and weapons for beating the Western embargo and bringing Abu Mazen and his Fatah low
3. Syria supports Hamas not just politically; dozens of Syrian officers and bomb experts are in Gaza training its units.
4. The threat is out in the open: If Abu Mazen tries to dismiss the Hamas cabinet and call a new election, Hamas will resume its Qassam missile war against Israel, calibrating the level of fire to the state of affairs on the internal Palestinian front. Hamas is therefore holding the ceasefire with Israel hostage to Fatah acceptance of its domination of Palestinian government.
5. Should Abu Mazen nonetheless precipitate a Lebanon-type standoff, his Fatah will be thrown back to the central West Bank and Ramallah, while the Haniya-led government, directed by Khaled Meshaal from Damascus, will assert its control of the Gaza Strip and the towns of the northern West Bank.
debkafile‘s political sources report that behind the smiling front Secretary Rice and her hosts presented in Jericho and Jerusalem last Friday, her aides briefed the accompanying American correspondents not to expect progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track coming in time to help President Bush climb over any obstacles in the Iraqi crisis.
In Jerusalem, however, members of the inner security cabinet were sufficiently buoyed up by prime minister Ehud Olmert’s “peace speech” at Sde Boker on Nov. 27, to seriously consider extending the Gaza ceasefire to the West Bank – regardless of the rupture between Abu Mazen and Hamas. The news brought to Jerusalem by Egyptian intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman on Nov. 29 presented a similar impasse in Cairo’s attempts to talk Meshaal round to an accommodation on the captured Israeli soldier.
Any Israel decision to declare a cessation of military operations on the West Bank is not only fiercely opposed by IDF and security service chiefs, but has nowhere to go. Hamas will decide how to handle its missile fire from Gaza or the West Bank primarily according to how it affects the showdown with Mahmoud Abbas’s party.