Developments in Palestinian politics and society
Feb 5, 2015
February 5, 2015
Number 02/14 #01
This Update features three pieces discussing recent developments in Palestinian politics and society.
First up is the always insightful Palestinian affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh discussing the increasing power struggle going on between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of Abbas’ Fatah party in Gaza. He reports that there has been recent violence in Gaza between Dahlan supporters and Abbas supporters, prompted by Abbas’ attempt to cut off salaries paid to Fatah officials believed to be aligned with Dahlan. Abu Toameh notes that Hamas is delighted in the schism in the rival Fatah group, but also argues that recent events illustrate how far the PA is from readiness to run a successful Palestinian state. For his complete discussion, CLICK HERE.
Next up is a report from the Jerusalem Post on the extent of Hamas’ attempts to re-arm following last year’s Gaza conflict. The story, based on a report prepared by the Israeli think tank the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre, alleges that not only is Hamas rapidly rebuilding its military infrastructure, including both tunnels and rocket stocks, as civilian reconstruction stalls, but it has also launched a new program to increase the number of trained fighters under its command. This is a large-scale recruitment program targeting youths aged 15 to 21 which has seen some 17,000 of them sent to training camps operated by Hamas Izzadin Kassam Brigades. For all the details of the re-armament and what Israeli security experts say about it, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Khaled Abu Toameh also published a report with more details on the training of the youth in Hamas’ so-called “Liberation Army” and why international events have emboldened Hamas.
Finally, American writers Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn discuss the reality and implications of the fact that many, and perhaps most, Palestinians believe in bizarre conspiracy theories. They start by noting a recent poll that shows a large majority of Palestinians believe that Israel was somehow behind the recent attacks in France. They bring together further evidence of similar conspiratorial views among the Palestinian public, cite various examples of how the Palestinian media fans the flames of such beliefs, and discuss how this reality complicates peacemaking hopes. For Phillips and Korn’s argument in full, CLICK HERE. Some discussion of why extreme political beliefs and behaviour seem so common in the Middle East also comes from Michael Rubin. But Rubin also recently commented on the positive reality that Tunisia seems to be turning the corner into genuine democracy.
Readers may also be interested in:
- More on the Palestinian diplomatic strategy against Israel by Washington Institute scholar David Makovsky. Plus, some discussion of why it probably won’t work, from US-based Palestinian intellectual Ghaith al-Omari.
- Palestinian journalist Asmaa al-Ghoul reports on new data about the extent to which Palestinian journalists are forced to self-censor.
- Isi Leibler writes about what he sees as the increasingly ugly Israeli election campaign.
- Meanwhile, Shmuel Rosner points out that the campaign seems to have demonstrated that claims that a recent small change to the representation threshold for the Knesset threatened Israeli democracy were wrong. Plus, left-leaning Israeli writer Gershom Gorenberg busts some myths about the Israeli elections, including the false claim that Israel has shifted to the right over recent elections.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Sharyn Mittelman discusses some of the critiques of a much-discussed new report by the Israeli NGO B’tselem on last year’s war with Hamas.
- Jeremy Jones was interviewed on ABC Radio National about a landmark AIJAC-sponsored delegation of Indonesian Muslim leaders to Israel which he recently led.
- Information about public functions featuring AIJAC guest and leading Israeli intellectual Dr. Einat Wilf, who will be arriving in Australia shortly.
In 2007, Abbas lost the Gaza Strip to Hamas. Now he seems to be losing the Gaza Strip to his rivals in Fatah. Many of his former Fatah supporters have turned against him.
The last thing the Palestinians and the international community want is another Syria or Libya or Yemen in the Middle East.
This is not a fight about rebuilding Gaza, or reforms, democracy or building a better future for Palestinians. This is not a fight between good guys and bad guys. Rather, this is a fight between bad guys and bad guys — and it is all over money, ego and power.
The Palestinian Fatah faction, whose leaders are supposed to be working toward preparing Palestinians for an independent Palestinian state, is currently embroiled in a bitter and violent power struggle between Palestinian Authority [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas and his major rival, Mohamed Dahlan.
This is a power struggle, however, that casts doubts on Fatah’s preparedness to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
The Fatah infighting is not new, as Abbas and Dahlan, a former PA security commander in the Gaza Strip, have been waging war against each other for the past four years.
Abbas believes that Dahlan, who is currently based in the United Arab Emirates, has long been plotting to replace him as president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas has taken a number of measures to undermine Dahlan, including having him expelled from Fatah.
Abbas has also accused Dahlan of financial embezzlement and murder charges that the latter has vehemently denied.
But this is the first time that the dispute between the two men has spilled over into violence. In the past few weeks, the streets of the Gaza Strip have become scenes of violent clashes between supporters of Abbas and Dahlan, much to the delight of Hamas.
The latest crisis began when Abbas decided to cut off the salaries of some 250 Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip who he suspects are affiliated with Dahlan.
In response, Dahlan’s men went on a rampage, torching cars and institutions belonging to Abbas loyalists in the Gaza Strip. One of the institutions targeted by Dahlan’s men is the Society for Families of Prisoners and Martyrs, which has been forced to close down after its offices were set on fire in Gaza City.
Dahlan’s men also assaulted a number of senior Fatah officials closely associated with Abbas. One of them, Mohamed al-Nahhal, was moderately injured during an assault at a physician’s conference, in a hotel in Gaza City.
The violence has forced Fatah to suspend all its activities in the Gaza Strip — again, much to the delight of Hamas.
Some Abbas loyalists are convinced that Dahlan and his supporters are working in coordination with Hamas.
Osama Qawassmeh, a Fatah spokesman affiliated with Abbas, said that Hamas was working hard to “encourage” Dahlan’s men to attack their rivals. He also claimed that Dahlan has improved his relations with Hamas by channeling funds to the Gaza Strip.
Following the recent spate of attacks, Abbas loyalists in the Gaza Strip have gone on the offensive by threatening to “eliminate” Dahlan and his “gangs.”
A leaflet, issued by a hitherto unknown pro-Abbas group called Protectors of Legitimacy, threatened to kill 80 Dahlan supporters. The group published the names of the supporters, claiming they worked for Israel.
“Your threats will not intimidate us,” the group said. “You are beginning to play with fire. But we are made of fire, which will burn you. The language of dialogue with you has ended and as of today we will start talking to you with the language of weapons and skull-breaking.”
In 2007, Abbas lost the Gaza Strip to Hamas. Now, he seems to be losing the Gaza Strip to his rivals in Fatah.
The violent events of the past few weeks are yet another sign of Fatah’s failure to get its act together, especially in the aftermath of its defeat to Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary elections.
Over the past few years, Abbas has repeatedly declared that there will never be a Palestinian state without the Gaza Strip.
However, the internecine strife among the Fatah leadership, as well as the continued power struggle between Abbas and Hamas, mean that the chances of creating a Palestinian state while he is still in power are non-existent. If in the past Abbas was unable to visit the Gaza Strip because of Hamas, now he knows that many of his former Fatah supporters have also turned against him.
Under the current circumstances, there is not much that Abbas could do other than remain in the West Bank, where he feels safer, largely thanks to the presence of the Israel Defense Forces there.
It is time for the international community to wake up and realize that the whole idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state is nothing but a joke. The last thing the Palestinians and the international community want is another Syria or Libya or Yemen in the Middle East.
Instead of working to help each other and rebuild the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians are busy fighting and threatening each other. This is not a fight over reforms, democracy or building a better future for Palestinians. Nor is it a fight between good guys and bad guys. Rather, this is a fight between bad guys and bad guys — and it is all over money, ego and power.
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Jerusalem Post, 02/04/2015
Hamas and allied terrorist organizations in Gaza have spent recent months intensively rebuilding their guerrilla terrorist capabilities, which sustained significant damage during Operation Protective Edge last summer.
Their aim is to recover the military infrastructure that was damaged and return it to full capabilities and broaden it, according to a recent report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Tel Aviv, which is a part of the Israeli Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center, founded by leading members of the Israeli intelligence community.
To that end, Hamas has allocated the necessary funds, personnel, and equipment, despite the shortages suffered by the civilian sector in the Strip, the study found. Its domestic security bodies are part of the effort.
This stands out especially against the background of the ongoing delay in the civilian recovery of the Gaza Strip, the report said, adding that it illustrates well that, as in the past, Hamass priorities clearly lie in rebuilding military capabilities at the expense of civilian needs.
Dr. Reuven Erlich, head of the Terrorism and Intelligence Center, told The Jerusalem Post, We see that when it comes to military programs, resources flow without a problem.
This is no coincidence. If their priority was in civilian reconstruction, would they allocate their few resources to offensive military programs? The Western world, in the depth of its heart, knows that the Palestinians have money for military programs.
They are rebuilding their capabilities. It will take time.
Israel will encounter these in the next round of fighting, he said.
Hamas in Gaza is using mass media to safeguard and strengthen support among the Gazan public for its military wing and to propagate the idea of armed resistance, while indoctrinating children and teenagers, the reports authors said.
The center reported observing in recent months a large recruitment program of teenagers aged 15 to 21 and their deployment to training camps opened by Hamass Izzadin Kassam Brigades.
More than 17,000 youths trained in the camps, according to the report, undergoing basic military training, and then advanced training in kidnapping soldiers and tunnel warfare. They also underwent religious indoctrination.
The program is aimed at both replenishing the military wings ranks and support for Hamas among the Gazan population, which is suffering extreme hardship in the aftermath of the summer conflict with Israel.
Additionally, Hamas has begun building what it calls a peoples army, and exhibited the first battalion of this force in November 2014. The battalion has 2,500 new operatives, and is aimed at acting as an assistance force for the Izzadin Kassam Brigades during a clash with Israel.
We believe Hamas would like to set up an additional battalion of the peoples army, the reports authors said. Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees set up new military frameworks as well, which they claim are battalion- sized, they added.
The document drew attention to intensive training programs simulating raids on IDF posts that dot the Gaza border and kidnapping soldiers.
Hamas viewed such raids carried out during the summer war as being especially successful, causing many losses to Israel.
Gazas domestic security bodies completed two officers courses in December 2014, involving a total of 1060 members. End-of-course drills included mock raids on Israeli army posts at an Izzadin Kassam training camp.
Gazan domestic security bodies are controlled by Hamas, which views them as a vital component in enforcing its rule over the Strip, and providing support to the military wing.
Hamas has begun to reconstruct its network of tunnels within Gaza, and Israel is watching out for any signs of cross-border attack tunnels as well, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in December.
Hamass domestic rocket production is rapidly replenishing the Islamist regimes arsenal of projectiles.
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Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn
The overwhelming majority of Palestinian Arabs believe that Israel carried out the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, according to a new poll. Although at first blush one might be tempted to chuckle and turn the page, in fact the poll is not merely a curiosity. It has significant implications for the chances for Middle East peace.
The poll, conducted by the Palestinian news agency Maan, was published in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida. It found that 84% of Palestinians believe the Paris attacks were suspicious, and that Israel may be behind it. Just 9% of Palestinians acknowledge that the Paris massacres were the work of Islamist terrorists.
Those who follow the Palestinian media know that the PA regularly promotes nutty conspiracy theories, often using Al-Hayat al-Jadida as its vehicle for doing so. Last year, they stirred a frenzy and inspired waves of Palestinian violence by repeatedly claiming that the Jews were conspiring to harm or destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque. PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas claimed that Jews were contaminating the mosque.
In recent years, senior PA officials have publicly claimed that Israel distributes chocolates laced with mad cow disease in Palestinian areas (the PAs director of Consumer Protection made that accusation); that Israel infects Palestinian children with AIDS (according to the PAs representative to the UN in Geneva); that Israel carried out the 9/11 attacks (PA Radio); that Israel murders Palestinian children in order to harvest their organs (Al-Hayat al-Jadida); or that Israel uses naked women to lure intifada youth into police ambushes (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida again).
If such beliefs were limited to a handful of PA officials, then at least one could take solace in the knowledge that they could turn off the fountain of hate at any time. Of course it would still be deeply disturbing that Israels partner in peace is actively trying to incite anti-Israel violence. But at least there would be reason to hope the incitement might be curbed if, for example, the United States pressured the PA to stop it.
But when hateful conspiracy-mongering takes hold among the general Palestinian public, then Israel faces a deep and long-lasting problem. And that is what the latest poll, and other recent polls, suggest.
Most polls of Palestinians focus on their views of terrorism, settlements, borders, and similar issues. But every once in a while, a pollster asks a question that sheds light on the huge gap between how Westerners see the world and how Palestinian Arabs see it.
For example, take the question of who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A poll by PORI (Public Opinion Research of Israel) in September 2003 found that 26% of Palestinians believe Israel did it. A poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org in September 2008 found 27% of Palestinians think the U.S. carried out the 9/11 attacks, and 19 percent accused Israel. The Pew Research Center, in a July 2011 poll, phrased the question a little differently and found that 68% of Palestinians do not believe Arabs carried out the attacks, and only 22% acknowledge that Arabs did it.
We have not seen any polls that asked Palestinians whether they believe there was a Holocaust. But a May 2009 poll by the University of Haifa found 40% of Israeli Arabs believe the Holocaust was a hoax. Note that this astonishingly high number was among Arabs who have been far more exposed to modernization and Western thinking. It seems likely that the number of Palestinians who live in Judea-Samaria or Gaza and deny the Holocaust is even higher.
Why do Palestinians believe this stuff? We leave it to sociologists, historians, and political scientists to analyze the religious and cultural factors that encourage conspiratorial thinking. We merely take note of the fact that such thinking is widespread among the Palestinians, and the implications for Israel are significant.
Hamas, in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, in part of Judea-Samaria, already each have a de-facto state. Hamas lacks one major thing: total control of its borders. Israels partial blockade prevents them from acquiring tanks and jet fighters. The PA, for its part, also lacks one major thing: a full-fledged army.
So when the international community, the Jewish left, and the State Department demand that Israel lift the Gaza blockade and give the PA a sovereign state, Israelis have to ask themselves: Who would be in charge? Would reasonable, rational people run the State of Palestine? Or would the tanks and planes be in the hands of people who by an overwhelming majority sincerely believe crazy things, whether about 9/11 or the Holocaust or a dozen other issues?
Wishful thinkers and there is no shortage of them in the Obama Administration, the pages of the New York Times, and the offices of various peace groups look at the rest of the world and think that everyone is pretty much just like us. But the polls say otherwise.
Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and are candidates on the Religious Zionist slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.