Guns and Poses in the Palestinian Territories
The Arab vs. Arab civil war in the Palestinian territories has killed more than 100 in the past month. Unlike Iraq, the U.S. has chosen sides in this civil war. To this end, the U.S. State department has prodded Israel to release $85 million worth of taxes and tarrifs it collected on the Palestinian Authority's behalf, and hand it over to a U.S. program that trains and arms the forces of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas' Fatah party is in a shooting war with Hamas, which won the parliamentary elections last year.
Why would the U.S. do this? Its all about "moderation." Briefly put the U.S. wants to encourage the "more moderate" Palestinian Abbas, in the hopes he will persuade Hamas to both recognize Israel and stop its rocket attacks on that country.
Abbas, for his part, has long claimed he doesn't have either the men or weapons needed to stop the persistent rocket attacks against civilians in Israel. Apparently, the U.S. takes him at his word.
But giving guns to Abbas is utterly unnecessary. The Palestinian security forces Abbas commands already have tens of thousands of rifles and millions of bullets; rifles and bullets they have never used to stop the attacks of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or other militias against Israel. In fact, Abbas has control over some 45,000 members of a dozen security forces in the Gaza Strip. In addition, Abbas also controls thousands of gunmen and activists belonging to his Fatah party. Hamas, by contrast, has less than 6,000 militiamen.
Clearly Abbas has all the men, guns and ammunition he needs to stop Hamas' rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Instead he uses these military resources to wage war for personal power, not peace.
Critics will ask if the Hamas government doesn't have its own police that may deter Abbas? While Hamas is technically in power, the Islamist government actually has no control over the Palestinian security forces. Almost immediately after Hamas won the parliamentary election earlier this year, Abbas issued a "presidential decree" placing all the security forces under the jurisdiction of the "commander-in-chief," who happens to be none other than Abbas himself. Hamas has only its own gun men.
Abbas's plea to the outside world is: 'If I only had more weapons, more policemen and more money, then I'd be able to move against the terrorists.' This is the same useful excuse that his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, used to give whenever he was asked why he couldn't stop attacks on Israel. It worked for Arafat and it is working for Abbas. The truth is that , like Arafat, Abbas lacks the will, not the ability, to bring peace.
The only thing that flooding the P.A. with more weapons will harm is America's reputation. Many Palestinians that I talk to are beginning to look at Abbas and his Fatah party as mere pawns of the US and Israel. Funding and arming Abbas further only reinforces this misconception. It is of no help to Abbas and the moderate secular Palestinians who are facing the growing power of Islamic fundamentalism. And it certainly does not help the U.S.
It would be better if, for a change, the U.S. did nothing. Hamas and Fatah - forced by a financial crisis and public pressure - were on the verge of hammering at a political compromise before the fighting broke out.
Together the US and the EU will have to decide whether the political platform of the proposed unity government meets their three demands for ending the financial sanctions: recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism and accepting all previous agreements signed between the PLO and Israel. The Bush Administration should add one other factor to their list: the durability of Abbas' promises.
One of the main reasons why most Palestinians (including some Christians) voted for Hamas was their disillusionment with Abbas. Prior to the 2005 presidential election, Abbas ran on a platform that promised to end corruption in the Palestinian Authority, enforce law and order, and bring about democracy and reform. In short, his message to the Palestinians sounded so promising that more than 60% voted for him, giving him a clear mandate.
Since he was elected, however, Abbas has done almost everything to disappoint the Palestinians' hopes. He did not fulfill most of his promises and seemed determined to continue with Arafat's legacy; policies that brought the Palestinians only destruction and death.
Instead of getting rid of those Palestinian officials responsible for corruption, Abbas turned them into senior officials.
Abbas' promise to end anarchy and lawlessness has never materialized. Under Abbas's rule, warlords, gangsters and militias have become even stronger and more daring. Today the situation in Abbas' Palestinian Authority has deteriorated to a point where, for the first time, the number of Palestinians killed in internal strife was higher than those killed in clashes with Israeli security forces. According to the latest figures published by the Independent Palestinian Commission for Citizen's Rights, 322 Palestinians have been killed in internal fighting since the beginning of 2006.
And what happened to Abbas's 12 separate security forces? Abbas promised to reduce the number of these forces from twelve to three, but never did. What is even more absurd is that some US officials have even hailed Abbas for having done so, while many Palestinians continue to see all the various security forces roaming the streets.
Finally, Abbas has even succeeded in alienating most of the younger leaders of Fatah by resisting demands for internal elections and reforms.
Forget guns. The best way to bring about regime change in the Palestinian territories is by exerting pressure on Abbas to reform his Fatah party and to give younger leaders a larger say in decision-making. Reform begins at home.
Fatah needs to reform itself if it ever wants to return to power. Once Fatah makes these changes, then the Palestinians would be encouraged to have another free election where they might actually vote for Fatah this time.
For now, Palestine does not need more guns, it needs more democrats.
Khaled Abu Toameh is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.
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