by Dr. Reuven Berko
Hamas has become a major strategic problem for Fatah, which understands that now is not the time for words, only action.
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera network featured two major headlines this week. The first had Israeli human right groups accusing the Palestinian Authority of sharing information tortured out of Hamas operatives with Israeli intelligence; the second quoted Jibril Rajoub, deputy secretary general of Fatah's Central Committee, as saying the situation by which Hamas has "hijacked" the Gaza Strip cannot be allowed to continue.
Past rumors have suggested that former Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan was organizing a Sinai-based force seeking to expel Hamas from Gaza. But, like many other rumors concerning Gaza, that has proved false.
A Palestinian official said this week that the situation across the Palestinian Authority has become intolerable, and that the very nature of Hamas' separatist Islamist statements is crippling the "national Palestinian project."
The Palestinian leadership is at a critical juncture, and the decision whether to muster the strength to eliminate Hamas can no longer be avoided. According to the official, Hamas has become a major strategic problem, and the issue will be the focus of a Fatah Revolutionary Council meeting called for March.
Fatah, the official said, is facing a major dilemma, as it has found itself between a rock -- ensuring the Palestinian presidency's safety and continuity -- and the hard place that is the risk of losing the support of the Palestinian people to Hamas, which continues to agitate the situation on the ground by accusing the Palestinian Authority of betraying its people.
This dilemma has translated into distress and discordance among Fatah ranks as well, to the point of threatening the stability of the Palestinian presidency.
The failed attempts -- as recent as the last few days -- to reach some sort of national agreement with Hamas has made the Palestinian Authority understand a confrontation is unavoidable and that it is time to face the music.
Fatah has to make potentially painful decisions if it is to prevent the Palestinian Authority from collapsing and save the "national Palestinian project." According to the Palestinian official, it was this sentiment that prompted Rajoub's aggressive statement, which reflects Fatah's understanding that the time for words has passed, and only deeds will suffice.
Palestinian officials know that the only hope to impose any kind of authority or exercise any force against Hamas has to be done from the Gaza-Egypt border, but so far, Ramallah has failed to insert so much as one soldier into the Rafah crossing. The situation, one Palestinian official said, is bleak, to say the least.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian public is subjected to a gross anti-Israel incitement campaign, laced with fear-mongering suggesting imminent airstrikes on Gaza, the harassment of fishermen off the Gaza coast, the projected demolition of Qabatiya homes, and the pending arrests of dozens of Palestinians.
The deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the fact the Palestinian Authority is unable to achieve anything in its dealings with Israel have seen Palestinian morale plummet to the depths of despair. Still, the official warned that if Israel was indeed concerned about a new "Hamas emirate" in Judea and Samaria, its decision not to move forward in the peace talks was tantamount to "playing with fire," since preventing Ramallah from marking any sort of achievement to present to its public is playing into Hamas' hands and may bring about the Palestinian Authority's collapse in the West Bank.
With hostilities raging on, Hamas continues to gain political points across Judea and Samaria at Fatah's expense, especially when it touts alleged clandestine agreements with Israel, at a time when Jerusalem officials refuse any dialogue with their Ramallah counterparts.
In this precarious atmosphere, Palestinian security forces' collaboration with the Israeli military is seen as betrayal. This notion is propagated by Al Jazeera, as seen by the report suggesting Palestinian security forces are arresting and torturing Hamas operatives and sharing the information derived from their interrogations with Israel.
Fatah founder Yasser Arafat had once used the threat of Hamas terrorism to intimidate and extort Israel into making concessions. I doubt he ever imagined one day the tables would turn and Fatah would be at the receiving end of these threats.
Dr. Reuven Berko
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