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At first glance, it seems that this is another conspiracy theory (one of many) that is prevalent in the Palestinian street. The subject this time concerns the reason for the deterioration in internal security in the territories.

The security-related lawlessness in the territories, especially in the Gaza Strip, has in the last few days reached unprecedented peaks. It includes the abduction of foreigners by armed gangs, a sort of revolt of police officers in Rafah and a wild takeover of the border crossing there (the only connection between Gaza and the outside world), the breach of the wall at the border with Egypt and the killing of two Egyptian police officers, a forcible seizure of government and municipal offices, and a slew of other violent incidents and gun battles between rival gangs. The ones responsible are armed groups, generally members of units that have been or are presently affiliated with the Palestinian security services - and they are all affiliated with the Fatah movement.

In the Palestinian street, they understand that this is no coincidence. The rise of hooliganism, which is a sign of security-related disorder, is not incidental and it's no coincidence that those responsible are Fatah members. The popular interpretation is that this is intentional and organized chaos whose goal is to generate riots that will lead to the cancellation of the parliamentary elections slated to take place in about two weeks. The Palestinian officials who are now speaking, whether overtly or not, about the need to cancel the elections (they are careful not to say "cancel," but only "postpone") are all Fatah members. Since everyone knows that the movement is undergoing a serious crisis and that Hamas is expected to be bolstered in the elections, it's reasonable that Fatah activists will search for excuses to cancel the elections. Anarchy in the territories is a good excuse.

Until recently, the Fatah leaders had a better excuse for canceling the elections: The Israeli government's opposition to voting in East Jerusalem, due to Hamas' participation in the elections. The problem is that the United States and Europe believe that elections in East Jerusalem should be allowed, and so it's not clear whether this excuse will hold. It's safer to have elections canceled because of anarchy.

Is the anarchy in the territories really organized anarchy? The Palestinian public thinks so, but that doesn't prove that it's true. What is clear is that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his aides acknowledge their inability to exert control. Every government generally makes an effort to display its strength and refuses to acknowledge weakness. That's how the PA has acted as well for many years. Yasser Arafat, for instance, tended to blame Israel or external forces for his failures. Leaders do not like to announce publicly, "We are weak." Yet Abbas announced over the weekend: "The reason for the security-related lawlessness is government weakness." More than once he and his people have hinted that due to this weakness, there will be no alternative but to delay the elections.

Those who oppose the anarchy and the attempts to cancel the elections are, of course, Hamas activists preparing for victory. Hamas leaders on Friday organized an impressive demonstration in Gaza and sharply condemned the abduction of foreigners and the security-related lawlessness.

Will the elections take place in the end? There is serious doubt that they will. The reason is that nearly the entire world does not want elections that Hamas will win. Israel doesn't want it, and Egypt and Jordan and basically the entire Arab world are worried about a strengthening of the radical Islamic movement. The Americans and Europeans, too, will likely be understanding if Abbas announces that the conditions for holding elections are not suitable right now.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians have a break: the four days of Id al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), which starts tomorrow. Abbas has asked that the festivities be restrained, so as not to created the impression that the Palestinians are happy because of Ariel Sharon's health condition. But immediately after the holiday, there will apparently be a renewal of the tumult in the territories, which will almost certainly bring about the cancellation of the elections.