In Fatah's Service

Among the Palestinians, the increase in terror attacks and the Israeli response primarily serves the Fatah movement because it makes it more unlikely that elections will be held at all.

The deterioration in the security situation over the last few days has important implications for both Israeli and Palestinian politics. Israel and the Palestinian Authority are both at the height of dramatic election campaigns. Therefore, events such as the suicide bombing in Netanya, the resumption of assassinations, the increased number of checkpoints and arrests, the missile launches and shelling in Gaza and the killing of a soldier at the Qalandiyah checkpoint - all have a major impact on public opinion in both Israel and the territories.

In Israel, any deterioration in the security situation (according to pollster Dr. Mina Tzemach) serves the right, at least in the short term. The escalation of the past few days has helped Ariel Sharon, and perhaps the Likud as well, and has hurt the Labor Party. This could be seen clearly in last weekend's polls. When people are killed at a mall by a suicide bomber, poor people and the minimum wage are forgotten.

Among the Palestinians, the increase in terror attacks and the Israeli response primarily serves the Fatah movement. This is not because it increases public support for Fatah, but because it makes it more unlikely that elections will be held at all.

Fatah, the Palestinian ruling party, is not ready for elections. Ever since the death of its leader, Yasser Arafat, the movement has been rent by incessant power struggles. The problem is that its top leadership is not succeeding in putting together a list of candidates. Fatah activists tried to hold primaries in order to determine democratically which candidates would be most acceptable to its membership, but the primaries failed. In some districts, the results were voided due to claims of fraud and other problems.

Fatah's leadership is in a panic. Every day, new ideas are floated for how to overcome the internal rivalry and draw up an agreed candidate slate. Today or tomorrow, Fatah's central committee is supposed to definitively determine the list, but it is doubtful that it will succeed. Everyone is saying that Fatah currently has a clear interest in not holding the elections on time. Very simply: As the Israel Defense Forces intensifies its violent responses and its punitive actions, it will become impossible to hold elections. When Israeli tanks are in the streets and there are checkpoints, arrests, assassinations and a general siege (as Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has threatened), it is not possible to hold elections.

Against this background, perhaps it is no accident that most of the recent terror attacks have been carried out not only by Islamic Jihad, but also by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees - two gangs in which most of the members are affiliated with Fatah.

The picture becomes even clearer when one examines what is happening in Hamas, Fatah's chief rival in the elections. Sometimes, one has to rub one's eyes in disbelief when one sees Hamas activists demanding with all their might that everyone refrain from violence and maintain the calm. Hamas is interested in elections, because it believes it will do well, and it is organized and prepared. Hamas has published its candidate slates in several districts. Most of the candidates are college teachers; others are members of the free professions - doctors, engineers, accountants. They are running under the slogan "change and reform," and independents are also joining them.

Almost no Hamas activists have been involved in terror attacks recently, and when Hamas leader Khaled Meshal called for a resumption of attacks this weekend, the organization's leadership in the territories responded quickly and forcefully: "We are completely committed to the calm," said Hamas spokesman Moshir al-Masri in Gaza.

While in Israel, the picture is the usual one of security escalation serving the right, in the Palestinian territories, the situation is currently the opposite.