Last weekend the State of Israel discovered the "other" West Bank. With suspicious timing, almost all the Israeli media devoted broad coverage to the improvement in the living conditions of the Palestinians in the West Bank, the increased freedom of movement permitted by Israel, the law and order that have returned to Palestinian cities and the momentum of construction and development - the new malls, the shows, the cafes.
We hate to admit it, but the Palestinian Authority, as opposed to Israel, is keeping to the requirements of the road map and is operating against the "terror infrastructure." In the past, one of the easiest tasks for a journalist in the territories was interviewing armed men. Today they cannot be found in the West Bank cities. The government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad disbanded Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and the services subordinate to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas are fighting an all-out war against the armed men of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
It's true that the West Bank has never been so quiet. But we must make no mistake; the situation remains fragile. In the opinion of many senior members of Fatah, in light of the dead end that characterizes the diplomatic contacts, the next explosion between Israel and the Palestinians is only a matter of time.
Although the PA has succeeded in improving the quality of life of West Bank residents, the Palestinians are still living under occupation. Although many of the checkpoints have been removed, there are enough surprise checkpoints and various obstacles that undermine freedom of movement; the Israel Defense Forces rarely operates in the Palestinian cities, but does so occasionally, and, above all, the PA and Fatah are forced to deal with their image as collaborators, without any diplomatic compensation from the Israeli side.
This time it probably won't be an intifada-style popular uprising. The Palestinian public seems to be too tired for that. But from within Fatah there is a growing number of rebellious voices, calling to use weapons against the settlers and IDF soldiers.
Activists who were at the center of the last intifada and were pushed to the margins of the political arena are warning that turning the PA into the "Dayton Authority" (named after the U.S. security coordinator Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who is helping to rehabilitate the Palestinian security forces) will not help Fatah to improve its status in the street. In the final analysis, they claim, the diplomatic crisis vis-a-vis Israel will lead to a renewal of terror attacks in the West Bank and to the formation of armed cells who will operate clandestinely.
The forecast of Hussam Khader, a leader of the Tanzim Fatah faction and one of the prominent figures in the last intifada, is even more pessimistic. He says the diplomatic freeze will lead to the removal of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, the strengthening of the Islamic extremists, and within about a year, a violent conflict. "The residents will throw shoes at the PA. A day will come and they will be regarded like Lahoud's men [a reference to the commander of the South Lebanon Army]," Khader says. "It's possible that we are marching toward a situation in which there will be two separate Palestinian entities, in the West Bank and in Gaza, but Israel must help to prove that the situation in the West Bank is better."
Such claims are being heard with increasing frequency on the backdrop of the sixth Fatah convention in Bethlehem, at which the leadership of the organization will be elected for the first time in 20 years. The candidates know that one surefire way to win the support of conference delegates is to speak in praise of the armed struggle. If the Israeli government continues to entrench itself in its position that there is no Palestinian partner, and that this is not the time to discuss a peace agreement, it is quite possible the forecasts of a violent outbreak will, in fact, come true.
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