by Khaled Abu Toameh
Hamas's dream of extending its control to the West Bank now seems more realistic than ever -- unless Mahmoud Abbas wakes up and realizes that he made a big mistake by authorizing local and municipal elections.
- The Palestinian Authority is now paying the price for harboring, funding and inciting gang members and militiamen who until recently were hailed by many Palestinians as "heroes" and "resistance fighters."
- The blood pouring out in Nablus and other Palestinian towns is proof that Abbas is on his way to losing control over the West Bank, just as he lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007. In an emergency meeting held on August 25 in Nablus, several Palestinian factions and figures reached agreement that it would be impossible to hold the vote under the current circumstances.
Hours after his security officers lynched a detainee, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged Palestinian businessmen living abroad to support the Palestinian economy by investing in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority (PA), he asserted, was "working to provide security and safety to encourage investment."
According to Abbas, "The Palestinian territories are living in a state of security stability, which we are working to provide for residents and investors alike by enforcing the rule of law and enhancing transparency and accountability."
It must be nice to create your own reality, especially if your true reality is that of the 81-year-old Abbas.
In his speech before the businessmen, Abbas neglected any reference to the latest wave of "security chaos" in PA-controlled areas in the West Bank, specifically Nablus, the largest Palestinian city.
Five Palestinians, including two PA police officers, were killed in the worst scenes of internecine violence to hit the West Bank in recent years. Abbas was either playing the businessmen for fools or hoping that they share his deaf and blind state.
The violence in Nablus did not come as a surprise to those who have been monitoring the situation in the West Bank in recent months.
In fact, scenes of lawlessness and "security chaos" have become part of the norm in many Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps -- a sign that the PA may be losing control to armed gangs and militias. Palestinians refer to the situation as falatan amni, or "security chaos." An article published in Gatestone in June referred to the growing instances of anarchy and lawlessness in PA-controlled areas in the West Bank, first and foremost Nablus.
Palestinians refer to Nablus as the "Mountain of Fire" -- a reference to the countless armed attacks carried out against Israelis by residents of the city since 1967. Current events in Nablus, however, have shown how easily fire burns the arsonist. The Palestinian Authority is now paying the price for harboring, funding and inciting gang members and militiamen who until recently were hailed by many Palestinians as "heroes" and "resistance fighters." Unsurprisingly, most of these "outlaws" and "criminals" (as the PA describes them) are affiliated in one way or another with Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction.
Nablus, the so-called Mountain of Fire, is now threatening to turn into a volcano that is set to erupt in the face of Abbas and his PA government.
The situation in Nablus the past few days raises serious questions about the ability of the PA to perform basic security measures and rein in armed gangs and militiamen. Moreover, the unprecedented violence has further shattered Palestinian confidence in the PA and its leaders ahead of the local and municipal elections, scheduled to take place on October 8.
Hamas's dream of extending its control to the West Bank now seems more realistic than ever. Under the current circumstances, Abbas would be offering the West Bank to Hamas on a silver platter -- unless he wakes up and realizes that he made a big mistake by authorizing the local and municipal elections.
And the businessmen who met with Abbas? One might guess that they are sophisticated enough to avoid a doomed investment. Nablus will no doubt do the trick: they are likely to go running from the mayhem of the PA-controlled territories.
Things lately began to unravel when on August 18, in the Old City of Nablus, two Palestinian Authority security officers, Shibli bani Shamsiyeh and Mahmoud Taraira, were killed in an armed clash with gunmen.
Hours later, PA policemen shot dead two Palestinian gunmen who were allegedly involved in the killing of the officers. The two were identified as Khaled Al-Aghbar and Ali Halawah. The families of the two men accused the PA of carrying out an "extrajudicial" killing, and claimed their sons were captured alive and only afterwards shot dead. The families called for an independent commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the killing of their sons. Palestinian human rights organizations have also joined the call for an inquiry into the killings.
On August 18, two Palestinian Authority policemen were killed in an armed clash with gunmen in Nablus (left). In April of this year, a fierce gun battle erupted between Palestinian Authority policemen and members of the Jaradat clan in the refugee camp of Jenin (right). The clash started during an attempt to arrest a clan member.
In June, two other PA security officers, Anan Al-Tabouk and Uday Al-Saifi, were also killed in a shootout with gunmen in Nablus. The PA claimed that "outlaws" were behind the killings and vowed to punish the culprits.
Tensions in Nablus reached their peak on August 23, when scores of PA policemen lynched Ahmed Halawah, a former policeman suspected of leading a notorious gang belonging to Abbas's Fatah faction. Halawah was beaten to death by PA policemen shortly after he was arrested and taken to the PA-run Jneid Prison in Nablus.
The PA leadership, which has since admitted that Halawah was lynched by its policemen, says it has ordered an inquiry into the case. Its leaders have described the lynching as an "unacceptable mistake."
The lynching of the detainee sparked widespread protests throughout the West Bank, with many Palestinians calling for an immediate inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the case and demanding that those responsible be brought to trial.
The Palestinian Bar Association issued a statement strongly condemning the lynching of Halawah as a "crime and a human rights violation." The Association called for holding those responsible, adding, "The regrettable and painful events, including the crime of killing Ahmed Halawah, do not serve the interest of the citizen or homeland and deepens divisions in our society." It also called on the PA and its security forces to abide by the law and honor the human rights of the Palestinians and their public freedoms.
Alarmed by the widespread condemnations of the lynching of Halawah, some Palestinian Authority officials began issuing direct and veiled threats against Palestinian critics.
Palestinian lawyer Wael Al-Hazam, who called on Abbas to "withdraw" his security forces from Nablus, was visited by unidentified gunmen who sprayed his house with 14 bullets. The attorney and his family members were not hurt in the shooting attack, which was clearly designed to send a warning message to anyone who dared to raise his or her voice against human rights abuses by the PA security forces. And in this instance, the message arrived.
Shortly after the attack on his house, the lawyer issued a statement in which he said, "14 bullets are enough to silence me. I'm a man of the law and I cannot face bullets. My pen and voice are the only weapon I have. I do not possess armed militias to defend myself." The attack on his house came shortly after PA security officers threatened the lawyer, warning him against appearing on a TV show to discuss the latest wave of violence in his city.
The turmoil in Nablus has prompted many Palestinians to call on Abbas to make a decision to postpone the upcoming municipal election in their city. In an emergency meeting held on August 25 in Nablus, several Palestinian factions and figures reached agreement that it would be impossible to hold the vote under the current circumstances.
Sarhan Dweikat, a senior member of Abbas's Fatah, said that an election delay was needed, to
"protect the social fabric and preserve our national project, which is facing an existential threat in light of the security chaos and anarchy in Nablus. ... Conditions in Nablus do not provide a positive climate for holding elections."It is hard to see how Abbas, delusional as he appears to be, would heed the calls to postpone the local and municipal elections. His pathetic attempt to persuade Palestinian businessmen to invest their money in PA-controlled areas at a time when the flames are engulfing his backyard is yet another sign of the man's refusal -- or inability -- to see the reality on the ground.
This is the same president who claims that he is seeking to lead his people toward statehood and a better future. Incredibly, Abbas can probably continue to fool world leaders into believing that he and the Palestinian Authority are prepared for statehood. Yet the blood pouring out in Nablus and other Palestinian cities and villages is proof positive that Abbas is on his way to losing control over the West Bank, just as he lost the Gaza Strip to Hamas in 2007. If until now it seemed that Hamas posed the biggest threat to Abbas's rule over the West Bank, it is now obvious that that is not so. The real threat, as brought home in blood in the West Bank, is coming from Abbas's homegrown loyalists-turned-rebels.
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Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based on Jerusalem.
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