Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff
September 28, 2008 - 8:00pm

In recent weeks, senior defense officials have been singing the praises of their Palestinian colleagues. After years of suspicion about the Palestinian Authority, Israeli officials are now convinced that the PA is resolved to deal with Hamas, which is threatening to take over the West Bank as it did the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials admit to receiving assistance from Israel and the United States and have arrested hundreds of Hamas activists and closed down dozens of its charity organizations.

But the picture is more complicated than that. While Fatah's security professionals seek conflict with Hamas, the movement's political faction wishes to reconcile with Hamas and redirect the anger at Israel.
Eight years after the second intifada's eruption, the controversy in the PA could lead to a renewed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. The recent incidents between extremist settlers and Palestinians could contribute to the conflagration.

Many Palestinians describe June 14, 2007 - the day Hamas forcibly ousted the last Fatah forces from the Gaza Strip - as the day the second intifada died. The Hamas takeover of Gaza jump-started several processes, mainly the dismantling of Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank, once the backbone of the violent struggle against Israel.

Meanwhile, Hamas has agreed to a temporary cease-fire with Israel and stopped the rocket fire from Gaza. But Fatah activists say that they see the lack of progress in the peace talks, coupled with continued construction in the settlements and increased settler violence, as a recipe for renewed conflagration. This is exacerbated by their growing dissatisfaction with the PA's functioning and its helplessness in the face of Israel's infringements on Palestinian interests, whereas Hamas maintains complete control of Gaza.

Last week, Kadoura Fares, a leader of the Palestinian "peace coalition," called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to halt the talks with Israel immediately. Fares, a key Fatah leader from the generation below Abbas, made this statement at a conference on the Geneva Initiative in Tel Aviv. He said it was inconceivable for Abbas to keep talking with Israel while construction in the settlements continued.

Fares' statement reflects the dissatisfaction felt by many Fatah members of his generation in the West Bank, such as Hussam Khader of the Balata refugee camp, a key figure in both intifadas. Younger Fatah members - people once active in the Al-Aqsa Brigades, who are in Palestinian custody because they have not yet received amnesty from Israel - also warn of an approaching confrontation with Israel.

Israeli intelligence officials do not believe the West Bank is ripe for a third intifada, because the Palestinian public is still weary of the suffering caused by the last round. It is doubtful that Fatah could sweep the masses into another violent struggle against Israel, they say.

But the continued friction with the settlers - and certainly a Jewish terror attack against Arabs in the West Bank - could provide the spark, just as opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to Temple Mount did eight years ago. That could be pretext enough for Fatah militants, who have been hiding their weapons under their mattresses, to aim them at Israelis once again.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017