Thursday, October 17, 2019

'PA elections will result in Hamas taking over the West Bank' - Daniel Siryoti

by Daniel Siryoti

Despite the diplomatic schism between Israel and the PA, security coordination is ticking along, mostly because no one – not Israel, Jordan, or the PA – wants to see Hamas in power in Ramallah.

'PA elections will result in Hamas taking over the West Bank'
Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, second from right, and Ismail Haniyeh, left attend an event in Gaza. Do they have their eyes on the West Bank? | Photo: AFP/Mahmud Hams

Despite the diplomatic schism between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan, senior security officials from Israel, Jordan, and the PA are confirming that security coordination and intelligence cooperation are operating with "Swiss clock" precision.

Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman are in rare agreement when it comes to elections for the Palestinian presidency in east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. In a speech at the United Nations last month, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared that PA elections would lead to Hamas defeating Fatah and the organization seizing control of the Palestinian Authority, quickly and brutally ousting Fatah officials from all government agencies, ministries, and the PA security and intelligence apparatuses.

Senior Palestinian officials say that Abbas' close associates acknowledge that recent polls indicate clearly that if PA parliament elections were held now, not only would Hamas beat Fatah, but Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would also beat Abbas in a race for the presidency by a considerable margin.

The last time parliamentary elections were held in Gaza and the West Bank (2006), Hamas secured a majority in the PA parliament. A year later, Hamas carried out a putsch in Gaza and took control of all government agencies, while lynching many Fatah officials and deporting others from Gaza, along with their families.

Recently, the Palestinian public has become more critical of the lack of progress toward reconciliation between the various Palestinian factions.

Meanwhile, fellows at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) who research Palestinian politics are emphasizing that the public's criticism of Abbas and his associates grew stronger after they rejected a proposal for reconciliation with Hamas that had been put together by eight different organizations in the West Bank and Gaza. In contrast, Hamas strongman Haniyeh announced that he accepted the proposal "unconditionally and as written."

Because Abbas rejected the plan, while Haniyeh approved it, Abbas was perceived as someone who was trying to undermine the process of reconciliation, which should have resulted in parliamentary elections.

Head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs in the PA Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Fatah official and member of Abbas' inner circle, rejects criticism of the "rais" (president) as well as the claim that despite his UN speech urging parliamentary elections in the PA, Abbas does not really want them to take place for fear that Hamas will oust him and his Fatah movement from power.

"We are not ruling out any reconciliation initiative. In this case, the proposal that the organizations put together would only waste time and deepen the schisms, thereby increasing the divide in Palestinian society. We must call an immediate general election in Gaza, the West Bank, and east Jerusalem, after which a national unity government will be formed that can fully govern the West Bank and [Gaza] Strip," al-Sheikh said.

Another senior PA official responded to al-Sheikh's comments, telling Israel Hayom that "There will not be a general election in the Palestinian Authority, certainly not so long as Abbas is alive."

According to the official, the people in Fatah know that "they'll lose an election, and in this case, Hamas would rush in to seize power in the West Bank. That is a nightmare scenario, not only for Israel but for Jordan, too. It would really pose a danger to Jordan and Israel's national security. Not to mention the ramifications on the day-to-day lives of the average Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza."

The official also said that Hamas had no interest in promoting reconciliation with Fatah if the process would not result in an election.

"Hamas doesn't want to divide control over the Gaza Strip with the PA, which it kicked out in the putsch of 2007. Hamas wants to take control over the West Bank, too, so the organization is willing to promote a process of reconciliation between the Palestinian factions only if it's clear that doing so will lead to elections that will put Hamas into power in the West Bank. If the organization loses the elections, it won't be in a hurry to hand over power in Gaza," the official continued.

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in September that he planned to annex the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, Abbas stated that if annexation went ahead, the PA would freeze all existing agreements with Israel.

But despite Abbas' declarations, the facts on the ground indicate that security and intelligence coordination, as well as civil cooperation at the mid-level, is proceeding as usual. According to one senior official in Ramallah, this is due to "an understanding and acceptance of a situation in which we have common interests with Israel and, to a certain extent, with Jordan – namely, stopping Hamas' vision of seizing power in the West Bank like it did in Gaza."

Israeli diplomatic officials familiar with developments in Palestinian politics notes that Abbas' call to suspend all agreements with Israel and even his insistence on continuing to pay stipends to relatives of Palestinian terrorists have driven the PA into a serious economic crisis.

"The call [to freeze the agreements] was mainly intended to show that he was deterring Israel and is not afraid to freeze all the agreements with Israel, including the security coordination that is so vital to the Palestinian security apparatuses, not less so than to Israeli security and defense," the researchers said.

Daniel Siryoti


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