The Israelis and the Palestinian Authority have renewed peace negotiations, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak going so far as to state that the division of Jerusalem is on the table. Hamas has predictably reacted by shooting four Israeli civilians to death in the West Bank, followed by a second shooting that injured two. The attacks underscored that there can never be anything near peace until Hamas is dismantled and Palestinian public opinion comes to accept the reality of Israel’s existence.
Hamas openly declared responsibility for the attack. The Palestinian Authority subsequently arrested over 150 members of Hamas in the West Bank and President Mahmoud Abbas said that Hamas was trying to sabotage the peace process and the attack “can’t be regarded as an act of resistance.” However, Abbas was careful not to appear like he’s siding with Israel, saying he “condemns all acts that target Palestinian and Israeli civilians.”
The location of the two attacks is telling. Hamas utilized its operatives in the West Bank, which is governed by the Palestinian Authority. This was done to remind Fatah and the P.A. as a whole of their strength and force their rivals into a conundrum: Retaliate against Hamas, looking pro-Israel and potentially igniting an internal conflict they may not win or do nothing, probably causing the talks to collapse and Israeli retaliation in the West Bank.
Hamas also needs the conflict with Israel to take center stage again as its popularity has declined. In the Gaza Strip where the terrorist group governs, only 37 percent of the residents support Hamas and 52 percent view it negatively. Hamas is actually more popular in the West Bank where it doesn’t govern with a 47 percent approval rating. Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians feel it is “essential” that a final settlement result in a Palestinian state that paves over Israel. It is therefore in Hamas’ political interest to position itself as the group most aggressively pursuing this, making Fatah look like the compromiser.
The P.A.’s arrest of Hamas operatives is just the latest in a series of escalations. Hamas has tortured and killed members of Fatah since taking power in Gaza, and Abbas subtlety blamed Hamas for the Israel’s launching of Operation Cast Lead. Violent clashes have occurred between the two for years. Both sides have refused to allow supporters of the other to work for their governments, often arresting and abusing them. Hamas has dissolved over 100 organizations controlled by Fatah members and bans those that were a part of the former government from serving. After the flotilla incident, the Palestinian Authority refused to let Hamas protests form in its territory.
David Bedein, the Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research in Jerusalem and Bureau Chief of the Israel Resource News Agency, said that this fighting should not be interpreted as a sign that Fatah is a force for peace.
“There is no peace process. What you have here is a series of jockeying of positions before the next round of active war,” Bedein told FrontPage. He continued, “In the Levantine culture, there are rival extended families, known as Hamulot, who, during routine quarrels, will kill, torture, rape or maim one another and, the next day, sit down for dinner with one another.”
Bedein added that the Palestinian Authority is “totalitarian” and that the Hamas presence in the West Bank exists with their knowledge and permission. “At no time has the P.A. ever taken serious punitive action against Hamas in the wake of Hamas’ terror attacks,” he said.
Hamas is openly committed to Israel’s destruction and its charter is anti-Semitic. While Hamas claims it is fighting for Palestinian nationhood, it is really a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization seeking to bring the world under Shariah Law. To Hamas, the peace negotiations are a means to an end. Mahmoud al-Zahna, the chief of Hamas in Gaza, said in June that “This is our plan for this stage-to liberate the West Bank and Gaza, without recognizing Israel’s right to a single inch of
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