Abbas' well-laid plans
One of the most difficult problems Abu Mazen faces in implementing the security reforms is the issue of personal appointments. Who will be the new commanders?
On paper, the diplomatic plan of new Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is right and good. It is has two components: security and political. The general lines of both components are mostly familiar, since Abu Mazen has spoken about them a lot during his election campaign and especially after he was elected.
The top security issue is the reformation of the security services - especially in the Gaza Strip, where chaos reigns on this front. The heads of the multiple services compete with and fight each other, and their struggle allows for - and perhaps even encourages - terror attacks to be carried out. The well-known medicine is to dismantle the existing services and unify them under three commands: internal security, army and intelligence.
Jibril Rajoub, who has just resigned as national security adviser so that Abu Mazen can choose new advisers, included in his resignation letter many details regarding the changes that need to be made in the security services. The letter was published at the end of last week in the Al-Quds newspaper, and one can suppose that what Rajoub wrote corresponded with Abu Mazen's thoughts on the matter. Several days ago he also publicly resolved his conflict with former security chief Mohammed Dahlan, ending a two-year period of silence between them. This "sulha" appears connected to the anticipated changes in the security establishment.
One of the most difficult problems Abu Mazen faces in implementing the security reforms is the issue of personal appointments. Who will be the new commanders? Every appointment of one of the commanders currently serving will mean the rejection of another. This issue is particularly complicated, and even dangerous, in Gaza, where the various services have become to a great extent the private fiefdoms of the commanders.
In a traditional social structure, such as that existing among a large portion of the Gaza population, soldiers and police officers tend to demonstrate a personal-familial-tribal loyalty toward their commanders. All the security service heads are members of the Fatah movement, and each has a faction supporting him. This means that the rivalry between the commanders manifests itself in a competition for positions of power among the various Fatah factions. Abu Mazen's confidants say he will be very cautious in making the new appointments and may even defer some of them for six months, until after the Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
Regarding the political component, as surprising as it sounds, Abu Mazen's problems with the political opposition - such as Hamas - are simpler than the security problems he faces from within the Fatah. The reason for this is a certain weakness on the part of Hamas. The group's leadership in Gaza has weakened in the wake of Israel's assassination of its top leaders, and the Damascus leadership fears that a change in Syrian policy could lead to the closure of Hamas offices there.
The latest announcements of Hamas spokesmen negate the possibility of a cease-fire. But an interview with the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, published on the Bitterlemons Web site, and the statements of Sheikh Hassan Yusef from the West Bank, show a different trend. Both say that Abu Mazen doesn't have a mandate to compel them to agree to a cease-fire because they are defending themselves against the occupation - but Haniya writes: "If there is a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza" - including from the Philadelphi Route - "the Hamas movement will be prepared to halt its military activity because it is important to us to put an end to the suffering of our people."
Abu Mazen currently enjoys international support that Yasser Arafat or any other Palestinian leader has probably never had. His office is flooded with declarations of support from world leaders, especially those of Arab countries. Diplomatic trust such as this could give Abu Mazen a chance, with Egypt's patronage, to arrive at a document of understanding for a cease-fire. In theory he therefore has a chance both in the diplomatic and political arenas. But, of course, reality has a way of changing course.