The recent almost-war with Hamas taught us a lot about the terror regime. It also taught us a lot about Hamas’s rival, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority it controls in Ramallah. Israel’s most urgent task is to understand the implications of what we now know.
The first thing we learned about Hamas is that its control over Gaza is all encompassing.
This week, the media published the communications between Hamas forces during their battle with IDF Special Forces in Gaza on November 11. From those communications we learned that Hamas forces detected the vehicle carrying the Israeli forces very quickly. While they didn’t know who was in the vehicle, they knew the vehicle was suspicious and dispatched a force to intercept it.
Hamas’s ability to detect the vehicle and act swiftly to intercept it demonstrated the terror regime’s ability to use both technological and physical assets to maintain its control over Gaza in a manner reminiscent of the Stasi in East Germany.
THE ALMOST-WAR with Hamas last week also taught us that contrary to the longstanding assessment of the IDF’s General Staff, Hamas is not at all interested in reaching a long-term ceasefire with Israel and therefore there is no point in trying to negotiate one.
For the past several months, various experts inside the Israeli government and military and in foreign countries have claimed that Hamas’s leadership in Gaza is split between two factions.
The first faction, led by Hamas Secretary General Ismail Haniyeh, works with Iran and Qatar to scuttle all efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. The second ostensible faction in this ostensible rivalry is led by Hamas terror boss Yahya Sinwar. The Sinwar faction, so the thinking goes, while dedicated to fighting Israel until it is destroyed, believes that the most urgent order of business is solving Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. Based on this assessment, Israel opted to permit Qatar to supply Gaza with gas to fuel its power stations and cash to fill its pockets. The day before Hamas’s largest rocket and mortar onslaught against southern Israel ever, Israel permitted Qatar to transfer $15 million in cash to Hamas.
The fact that right after receiving the cash Sinwar turned around and ordered the rocket assault on Israel shows that his purported interest in a long-term ceasefire with Israel, and the alleged breach between Haniyeh on the one hand and Sinwar on the other was a ruse. He didn’t want a ceasefire. He wanted to fight under optimal conditions – with the power plant purring, his pockets full of cash and his public ecstatic at his great success in bamboozling the bumbling Jews.
THE THIRD THING we learned about Hamas last week is that it is in the process of swallowing the PLO. Pinchas Inbari from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reported that Hamas brought two PLO factions – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine – into its war room in Gaza. Both the PFLP and the DFLP have been outspoken in their condemnations of the main PLO faction Fatah and Fatah’s leader Mahmoud Abbas for his refusal to supply Hamas-controlled Gaza with money and electricity. By allowing them a seat at the table in its war room, Hamas is effectively replacing Fatah as the PLO ruling faction.
Last month, in the lead up to the PLO’s Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, Abbas was threatening to stiffen his sanctions against Hamas. But Inbari revealed that ahead of the PNC meeting which took place three weeks ago, Fatah Tanzim terrorists warned Abbas that if he ordered more sanctions against Hamas, Hamas would go to war against Fatah forces in Judea and Samaria.
Like his Tanzim terror operatives, Abbas recognized that Fatah will lose such a war. So he stood down.
Fatah would lose a war with Hamas because as Hamas gets stronger, Fatah is falling apart.
TODAY, Fatah and the PA are beset by three crises which, together and separately, ensure that it will soon implode.
First, it is in a leadership crisis. Abbas is 83 years old. He suffers from multiple medical problems which reportedly include prostate cancer and heart disease. While a number of Fatah officials jockey to replace him, none has the backing of a significant enough cross section of Palestinian power brokers and outside powers to succeed Abbas without a fight that will leave the PA/Fatah bloodied, hollowed out and discredited in the eyes of its public and its foreign stakeholders.
Abbas’s waning power manifests itself almost daily. On May 15, the day the American Embassy opened in Jerusalem, his PA had ordered Arab Jerusalemites to hold a general strike. As Inbari notes, the initiative was a complete flop. It went largely unnoticed only because Hamas staged a massive, violent riot against Israel along the border fence with Gaza that day which captured all of the media’s attention.
In the recent Jerusalem municipal elections, Arab Jerusalemites tried to defy the PA’s order to boycott the poll. Several attempted to stand for election. In the end, the PA was able to force the would-be candidates to opt out of the race and keep Jerusalem’s Arabs away from the polls. But this showed that the local Arab population’s defiance of the PA is rapidly growing.
Rather than disassociate from Israel, increasing numbers of Jerusalem Arabs are applying for Israeli citizenship.
THE SECOND CRISIS afflicting the PA is economic. The US suspension of budgetary assistance to the PA and financial support for UNRWA has caused significant harm to the Palestinian economy. And the public is revolting.
While all eyes were glued to Gaza and Hamas’s rocket onslaught against southern Israel last week, tens of thousands of Palestinians were demonstrating in Ramallah against the PA’s decision to nationalize private pensions and insurance policies. The mass protests have continued this week.
Shortly after the PA was established in Gaza in 1994, Israel handed over the pension funds it set up for local employees of the Civil Administration. In a matter of months, the PA emptied the accounts leaving the administration’s pensioners penniless. Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria are uninterested in having that happen to their savings.
The PA’s demand that Palestinians end their economic cooperation with Israel and stop working for Israeli companies is similarly being met with derision and fury. Inbari reported that Sahar Saed, chairman of the board of commerce in Nablus, attacked Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions groups for calling for Palestinians to stop working for Israeli companies. Saad said that so long as there are no alternative job opportunities for the Palestinians, the BDS groups and the PA which backs them need to stop bothering Palestinian workers at Israeli-managed industrial parks in Judea and Samaria.
THE THIRD CRISIS which is destroying Fatah and its Palestinian Authority is the Arab world’s decision, for the first time in 70 years, to effectively abandon the Palestinian cause as a unifying force for the Arab world.
Some Arab leaders openly express a desire to move beyond the Palestinians and rejection of Israel and concentrate the efforts of the Arab League on unifying against Iran and Turkey.
Saudi Arabia, for its part, has begun directly undermining the basis of PLO power.
Riyadh recently announced it would stop accepting laissez passes from Arab Jerusalemites and instead will require them to use real passports. In response, Arab Jerusalemites are applying for Israeli citizenship.
Equally, if not more significantly, the Saudis have begun pressuring the Lebanese government to naturalize the Palestinians who have lived in Lebanon for 70 years in UN refugee camps.
Ahead of his address before the UN General Assembly in September, Abbas was unable to secure meetings with Arab leaders. The only leaders willing to meet with him were the Europeans who have replaced the Arabs as the main supporter of the PLO specifically and the Palestinians more generally.
Abbas was similarly blindsided by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Oman, and Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev’s visit to Abu Dhabi for the world judo championships.
For their part, both the IDF General Staff and the government have shown little awareness or ability to deal coherently with the unfolding realities revealed in Hamas-ruled Gaza and in the Fatah-controlled PA.
AS FAR AS Hamas is concerned, its complete control over Gaza and its across-the-board rejection of any significant cessation of hostilities with Israel shows that the IDF’s longstanding assessments of Hamas have been wrong. The IDF General Staff’s insistence on appeasing Hamas to achieve a long-term ceasefire was justified on the basis of an incorrect reading of Hamas’s interests and goals. The government’s decision to agree to sue for a ceasefire was predicated on the General Staff’s failure to understand or reconcile with Hamas’s interests and goals.
And if the General Staff failed to understand Hamas’s intentions and so misinformed the government, the government and the IDF have together failed to deal competently with the PA’s rapidly encroaching collapse. This failure was exposed in part in a document authored by Col. Alon Mednes, who served until recently as Operations Officer of Central Command. Mednes’s letter on the state of Central Command was written in the summer and leaked to the media earlier this week. Among the many worrying assessments included in his letter, one related to Central Command’s continued role as military commander of Judea and Samaria is of particular significance in light of Fatah’s disintegration.
Mednes wrote, “When you’re here [in Judea and Samaria], you understand that without a narrative about our present governance here, which is reinforced from time to time, the Command is liable to become irrelevant.”
THE MAIN reason that Central Command doesn’t have a narrative is because its continued military rule makes no sense. Israel transferred governing power from the Military Government to the PA 22 years ago. Ever since, the Military Government has been limited to Area C. The overwhelming majority of the residents of Area C are not Palestinians but Israelis. In other words, for 22 years, the Military Government has governed Israeli citizens.
Clearly, the IDF has no ready narrative to explain this absurd state of affairs. The IDF has little to contribute as a governing authority to the daily lives of half a million Israelis. Even worse, its continued political power diminishes the IDF’s coherence as a fighting force while harming the civil rights of Israelis who live in the area.
Israelis are divided over whether the PA’s coming collapse is a good or bad thing. But regardless of its potential value, it will blow up in Israel’s face if the government doesn’t decide now how it wants to deal with a post-Fatah/PA Judea and Samaria .
We learned a lot about the Palestinians over the past few weeks. The most urgent order of business for the government and the IDF is to deal realistically with what we now know.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post