Two for the Seesaw - in Gaza

The Palestinian Council for National Security (translation: Yasser Arafat and Jibril Rajoub) has prepared, together with the heads of the Palestinian Authority's security units in Gaza, a detailed plan to impose law and order in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Council for National Security (translation: Yasser Arafat and Jibril Rajoub) has prepared, together with the heads of the Palestinian Authority's security units in Gaza, a detailed plan to impose law and order in the Gaza Strip.

The plan, word of which became known last week, was drawn up with a view to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. It was presented to the chief of Egyptian intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, who met with Arafat in Ramallah, and Suleiman will be taking the plan with him to the United States in order to show it to the Americans ahead of the visit to Washington of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a few weeks.

The plan is supposed to be implemented over five weeks. In the first week, a people's convention will convene in Gaza, to be chaired by the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) and the new speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (the parliament), Ruhi Fatuh. The participants at the convention will be the members of the PLC, the district governors in Gaza, the mayors, the members of the national and Islamic committees, religious leaders, heads of the large families, trade union activists and chambers of commerce, the presidents of the universities and other well-known public figures. The assembly will pass a series of resolutions of a declarative character, including: recognition of the PA as a single ruling body, restoration of public order and the rule of law, and prevention of internecine warfare.

The convention will declare a media campaign to explain the danger that the situation is liable to deteriorate into chaos. A week later, organized guard units will start to patrol the streets, based on a plan drawn up by the security units, which will divide the Gaza Strip into regions of supervision and control. Guards will be posted at government offices in order to prevent acts of violence, and the PLC will establish an ombudsman's office.

In the next stage, the Gaza police will take comprehensive action against water and electricity thieves. This will be followed by a sweep to round up criminals, and in the last week, everyone found to be illegally carrying arms in public will be arrested. The last item, which bars people from bearing arms illegally, will be difficult to carry out, and therefore an appeal will be made to the various organizations (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the left-wing "Fronts") to cooperate.

The plan was presented to the Legislative Council in Gaza. Representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were also invited, but did not turn up. Salah Zaidan, representing the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was the first to express reservations about the last clause in the plan, saying it isn't clear what constitutes illegal weapons. The correct distinction, he said, should be between weapons that are meant to further resistance against the occupation and weapons to be used in criminal acts.

The leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who did not comment directly on Arafat's plan, said that his organization, too, is preparing a plan and will conduct a dialogue on it with the Fatah movement and with the PA (which for him are interchangeable, because in principle the Hamas movement doesn't recognize the rule of the PA, which derives from the Oslo Accords).

Yassin last week gave a series of interviews to local and foreign media, and what he said can be summed up briefly: "The Israeli retreat from the Gaza Strip will not stop the struggle in defense of the homeland. Are we fighting only for Gaza? Where is Jerusalem? Where is the West Bank and the refugees and the holy sites? We may stop our attacks in Gaza temporarily, but the military struggle in the West Bank will continue."(Al-Quds, March 10).

It's clear to the PA that after the Israeli withdrawal, in the course of which Israel will probably transfer control of the border at Rafah to Egypt, there will be no serious Egyptian involvement inside the Gaza Strip. President Mubarak said this explicitly a few days ago, and General Suleiman also made it clear in his meetings with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.

From the point of view of the Egyptians, the Gaza Strip is not a gift but a punishment. They understood that if they were to accept security responsibility for Gaza, they would effectively be creating a front of struggle against armed Palestinian groups and for a possible clash with the Israeli army in the wake of Israeli responses to terrorist attacks originating in the Gaza Strip.

Some 25 years ago, in the peace talks between Israel and Egypt, the possibility was raised that Egypt would return to the Gaza Strip. And one of President Anwar Sadat's advisers told Israel's prime minister Menachem Begin cynically, "We leave you the pleasure of killing children in Jabalya [a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip]."

It's doubtful that Arafat and his staff will be able to successfully implement their plan to impose law and order in the Gaza Strip. It's more likely that even after the Israeli withdrawal, the situation there will remain more or less as it is today: sporadic outbursts of violence and power struggle between the various groups will be punctuated by periods of calm. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as other organizations, will continue their efforts to perpetrate terrorist attacks, either by getting past the fence by means of tunnels and other methods, or with the use of high-trajectory weapons - rockets and mortars.

The experienced Palestinian journalist Nasser Ata forecasts that in many ways the situation in Gaza will resemble the situation that developed in Lebanon following Israel's withdrawal. In other words, the status of Hamas in Gaza will be like that of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Ata has visited Lebanon many times and recently observed first-hand the festive ceremony that was held in Beirut to welcome back the Hezbollah prisoners Sheikh Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, who were returned to Lebanon in the prisoner-and-bodies exchange with Israel. Numerous Lebanese dignitaries- were on hand to received them: President Emil Lahoud, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Beri (a Shi'ite) and, at the end of the row, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. The way the ceremony unfolded showed clearly that the real leader is Nasrallah. Indeed, Nasrallah and his organization are running a kind of parallel government of their own in Lebanon, conducting foreign policy for the prisoner exchange with Israel, pursuing a security policy that involves firing at Israeli planes in the skies of southern Lebanon and continuing the battle for the contested Shaba Farm area, organizing their own social welfare services (mainly in education), operating a television station and, above all, maintaining independent military units, which the Lebanese army doesn't dare even approach.

Armies of their own

Hamas and Islamic Jihad already possess many of these elements in the Gaza Strip: armies of their own, as well as social welfare services and a foreign and defense policy. Seemingly, there is a large numerical gap between the number of PA troops and the number of soldiers available to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The PA's various security units in the Gaza Strip number about 20,000 men, whereas Hamas has fewer than 2,000 bearers of arms. Against this background, the argument has frequently been adduced in Israel that if Mohammed Dahlan and the chiefs of the security units - Abed Razeq Majaida, Razi Jinbali, Amin al-Hindi and Moussa Arafat - were to send their troops into action, they could crush Hamas's military capability within hours.

However, the balance of forces in the Gaza Strip cannot be measured solely in terms of numbers of soldiers. The popular support for Hamas is equally important. There have been incidents in which dozens and even hundreds of members of the PA's security forces tried to arrest Hamas activists, in refugee camps or in Gaza City neighborhoods, but were repulsed by thousands of incensed residents. The chiefs of Arafat's units in Gaza are considered despotic and corrupt and collaborators with the United States and Israel.

Hamas doesn't want to seize power in Gaza. It's very convenient for the leaderships of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to have the PA remain intact, so that it can continue doing the things that they don't want to do or are incapable of doing. Hamas doesn't want to have any contacts with Israel, not about goods and merchandise at the Erez and Karni transit points and not on the question of the electricity and water that come from Israel. Such matters are left to Arafat and the PA. From all points of view, political and ideological, this is the most convenient governmental division for the Islamic zealots, and it will shape the image of the dual government - of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority - that will emerge in the Gaza Strip in the near future.