Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Does Fatah Think It Gains From Renewed Violence?

Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorists in Gaza fired rockets into Israel in solidarity with protesters who have been raging against Israel after a Palestinian man died in Israeli custody. Palestinians claim he was tortured and killed, which Israel denies.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which says it is affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, took responsibility for the attack. The rocket fell on a road in southern Israel. No injuries were reported, according to Israeli Defense Forces radio.

Days of clashes between dozens of Palestinian stone-throwers and Israeli soldiers have taken place since the death of Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old Palestinian man who died under unclear circumstances while in Israeli police custody.

Palestinian officials insist Jaradat was tortured to death during an interrogation. An Israeli autopsy conducted in the presence of a Palestinian physician showed bruises and a couple of broken ribs which, Israel says, could have occurred during resuscitation efforts.

Tensions were already high after several Palestinian demonstrations demanding the release of more than 4,000 prisoners held in Israeli prisons for everything from stone-throwing to terror attacks.
It's a flashpoint that Fatah thinks can it can exploit as President Obama is scheduled to come to Israel next month.

It makes no sense though.

The Palestinian Authority and Fatah have a level of autonomy that comes from an uneasy status quo where Fatah controls much of the West Bank with civil administrative control and regions are off limits to Israelis. All this was set forth in the Oslo Accords and follow on agreements.

Palestinians refused to even consider peace deals that included land swaps the two times that Israel proffered a comprehensive deal. In fact, in both instances the Palestinian response was more violence, not a counter proposal upon which further negotiations could occur.

Perhaps Fatah thinks that they need to remind Palestinians that they can resort to violence just as surely as Hamas has done since 2005. Yet, the end result of the violence would be further security clampdowns on Palestinian mobility through the West Bank and crossing points into Israel. That serves no one, least of all Palestinian businesses. The violence only ratchets up the tensions.

Perhaps Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas thinks that the violence will lead President Obama to come forth with a proposal that would impose a peace deal, but that's not going to happen. The US has already signaled that the President isn't coming with a peace proposal in hand, but instead is coming to hear what both sides have to say about the matter.

Or, perhaps Abbas thinks that they need this violence so as to engage in a rapproachment with Hamas, but I don't think Abbas is so cynical as to believe that that's possible given how Abbas and Fatah have generally worked out a coexistence with Israel on civil administrative and security matters that allows many in the West Bank to attend to the business of business. Hamas considers Fatah to be sell-outs of Palestinian freedom by merely accepting Israel's existence.

Reflexively, Palestinian leaders revert to violence when the needs suit them because they simply haven't accepted that a peace deal could be reached after all the promises that they've given Palestinians for generations that they would wipe Israel from the map and/or overwhelm them demographically with a right of return.

For its part, Israel has no reason to inflame tensions or ratchet up the violence. There's enough instability on Israel's borders to keep its security officials up at night. With the Syrian civil war raging and the situation in Egypt uncertain while the porous Sinai border with Gaza allowing an ongoing influx of weapons and material to Hamas, Israel's neighbors are all dealing with internal issues (though Assad and others may try to cause conflict with Israel so as to deflect attention from their own problems).

The US policy has been that a peace deal will come only when both Israelis and Palestinians sit down and hash out a deal. That's the right strategy as an imposed deal will not carry as much weight as one that the two sides manage to hash out. I'm quite pessimistic that any such deal could be worked out when Hamas still refuses to accept Israel's existence and that they view ceasefires as a hudna in which they're able to regroup and rearm for the next armed phase of their conflict with Israel.

In other words, Israel faces not a united Palestinian front, but one that for all intents and purposes has created three "states" - Israel, Fatah-controlled West Bank, and Hamas-controlled Gaza. A 3-state solution reflects the situation on the ground, but isn't a sustainable concept diplomatically when Hamas and Fatah are both nominally representing the Palestinian people. The 2-state solution is on life support, but it's been that way ever since the Palestinian civil war split control of Gaza and the West Bank between Fatah and Hamas, not because Israel wants to see an end to the dialogue.

Thus, the latest outbreak of violence will end as it usually does - lots more people injured, property damage, inflamed passions, and neither side budging on core issues.


 


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