Musa Arafat, commander of the general security forces in Gaza, was full of threats on Thursday. He made clear to the Hamas leadership that if it continued to undermine the cease-fire he would use his forces against them. At the same time, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas fired dozens of officers who either helped the assault on the prison in Gaza where three prisoners were executed by Hamas gunmen, or didn't try to prevent it. A few days earlier, Abbas asked Hezbollah to stop its attempts to torpedo the cease-fire announced at Sharm el-Sheikh. Similar messages went to Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership in Damascus.
It is unequivocally clear to Abbas that it is up to him to deal with what the Israelis call "the terrorist infrastructure." But Israel's one-dimensional approach, which regards Hamas and Islamic Jihad as only terrorist organizations, cannot serve Abbas, who understands their public appeal and power.
From the moment the cease-fire was launched in Sharm, every gunshot, every mortar and every Qassam is moving in two directions: one at Israel and the other at the legitimacy of the PA government. It has become clear that the PA presidential elections that Abbas won hands down were only a prelude to the real political struggle in the territories. It will be a multi-dimensional struggle, one part of it will be between the "old" Fatah and the "new" Fatah in which, among others, there will be people who have been far from politics until now, such as Sari Nusseibeh, who plans to run for the Fatah central committee, and people who were involved in the formulation of the Geneva Accord. Another part of the campaign will apparently include violence, between the PA and Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
On yet another plane, there will be a political dialogue meant to reduce the Israeli occupation, while on yet another, a debate is already underway about the face of the new Palestinian state: a Hamas-inspired sharia state or a secular and democratic state, as envisioned by Palestinian intellectuals. There are those in Hamas who believe now is the time to exact the political price of the intifada and actualize the principles of the organization, meaning that the Palestinian state, at the end of a process, should be a sharia state. Otherwise, as the Hamas covenant details, Hamas will become a bitter enemy of the PA.
The elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council due in July could lead to a reframing of the Palestinian Constitution. Therefore, none of the rivals has any free time - and the fireworks have already begun flying. But building a Palestinian nation-state cannot be divorced from Israel's policies. More accurately, it will be largely dependent on Israel's reactions to the developments on the ground: for example, Israel's agreement to mutuality in the cease-fire obliges it to allow Abbas to deal with his opponents himself, and not to fight Israel's wars nor strengthen his rivals by turning them into the heroes of the liberation.
It is difficult to give advice to Israeli governments that routinely have adopted a policy that says they know better than the Palestinians what's good for them. Just a few weeks ago, the prime minister avoided granting some goodwill gestures to Abbas, lest they be perceived as a bearhug turning him into a collaborator, and at the same time it did not avoid taking steps that barely kept Abbas from sliding over into the extremist camp.
The Israeli government should at least be expected to conduct a military policy similar to that it conducted in Lebanon: proportionality, precise definitions of targets, and most of all, self-restraint. As opposed to the Lebanese government, which either cannot or doesn't want to deal with Hezbollah, the PA is ready and perhaps capable of dealing with the security challenge. The condition is that dealing with Hamas and Jihad does not force the PA into a civil war or appearing to be Israel's policeman. That is the weak point that the Palestinian separatists will want to exploit, and it is the obstacle over which Israeli governments tend to stumble.
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