[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


April 24, 2006


This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora


Reverberations of Islamic Jihad’s Suicide Bombing


President Mahmoud Abbas condemned in the strongest terms the suicide bombing that Islamic Jihad undertook in Tel Aviv. Abbas remained true to his declared position against harming innocent civilians. The President did not mince words and expressed his position loud and clear. In contrast, the position of Hamas was to justify the suicide bombing as retaliation to the killing of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and the massive bombardment of Gaza. In Gaza, the Al-Aqsa Brigades that belong to the Fateh movement criticized Mahmoud Abbas, but the President did not budge from his position based on moral grounds.


A New Internal Security Force


Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam in Gaza, appointed the leader of the popular brigades, Jamal Abu Samhadaneh as the head of a new security force to be formed from the various militant organizations to assist the national police and to uphold law and order. Abu Samhadaneh was simultaneously appointed Controller General, a very high position in the Interior Ministry. Abu Samhadaneh started his career in the Fateh ranks, was wanted by Israel, in the 1980’s he escaped from the Gaza Strip.In 1994 he returned to the Gaza Strip with the PLO and served in the security forces. Later he joined Hamas in the second Intifada, and is rumored to be a suspect in the killings of the three diplomats from the American Consulate in Gaza.


President Abbas immediately rescinded the appointment of Abu Samhadaneh and the creation of the new security force. The Presidential order was initially sidelined by the Cabinet although the Basic Law defines the area of security as the domain of the President.


Khaled Mashaal Statement in Damascus


In a rally attended by the exiled leadership of Hamas and others, the head of the political bureau of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, lambasted in public the Fateh leadership, accusing Fateh and the Presidency of attempting to undermine the Hamas government by creating parallel structures under the umbrella of the Presidency.  Mashaal went as far as describing the Fateh leadership of treasonous acts, and collusion with the American and Israeli enemy. Mashaal spoke in front of Al-Jazeera and other satellite media, causing an angry outburst in the West Bank and Gaza. A violent confrontation took place in Gaza and at least 30 demonstrations from both sides (Fateh & Hamas) had to be hospitalized.


Egypt to the Rescue


Tension was so intense that many felt that if left unchecked, it will spark the outburst of an internal civil war. The Egyptian security delegation in Gaza interceded, brought leaders from Fateh and Hamas to discuss the issues and succeeded in cooling tempers, and allowed the various national and Islamic factions to resume an internal dialogue in order to iron out differences. The Egyptian role is vital and has proven influential in both camps. It also helped the Hamas cabinet to finally accept the Presidential decision to rescinded the appointment of Abu Samhadaneh and the creation of the new security force.   


Financial Crisis


The Secretary General of the Arab league, Amer Moussa, announced that his office so far has been unable to transfer Arab financial contributions to the PA. Qatar contributed 50 million dollars, and others Arab states also contributed. The American embargo so far have prevented regional banks from dealing financially with the PA, and over 140,000 civil servants of the PA have not yet received their March ’06 salaries. Saudi Arabia promised $92 million, Russia announced a $10 million contribution but the Russians will use the office of the President as the conduit to this assistance for health and education. The Iranian government, at the Tehran conference in support of Jerusalem, announced a $50 million contribution. Some Iranian officials said privately that it will be doubled to reach $100 million. So far nothing has reached the Palestinian Finance Minister, and the financial crisis is ongoing. 


President Abbas Abroad


Mahmoud Abbas left Ramallah on a new round of meetings abroad, first Amman, then Ankara, plus Finland, Norway & France. Abbas is asking the international community to continue to support the Palestinian people in order to prevent the complete collapse of the economy as well as to control the rise of unemployment which have shot to over fifty percent.


In Amman, Abbas met with the Jordanian Prime Minister Maarouf Bakheet to repair the rift in relations caused by Hamas militants smuggling weapons into Jordan from Syria. Abbas assured the Jordanian government of the importance of preventing security violations, and that the PA Presidency will continue the close political and security cooperation with Jordan.


Several Arab and friendly personalities are in the process of arranging a meeting between Abbas and Mashaal in Turkey or Egypt to smooth relations between Fateh and Hamas and prevent further deterioration of relations that might result in internal Palestinian strife. The events of the past 48 hours in the West Bank and Gaza demonstrated to both leaderships that exposing differences in the open, especially in the satellite media will spark violence.


Abbas’ European tour is coming at a crucial period in order to explain that financial sanctions against Hamas will backlash negatively, instead of strengthening the credibility of the President it will undermine it in front of the Palestinian public, and instead of exerting pressure on Hamas to accept the Arab peace plan, the PLO agreements and commitments with the state of Israel, it will backlash in providing Hamas with additional public support. The collapse of the Palestinian economy will lead to the radicalization of the people.


President Mahmoud Abbas has the un-envious role of being the only person that can prevent the total collapse of the peace process. President Mubarak is exerting fresh efforts to bring Abbas and Olmert together, in order to prevent further escalation of violence. During the first tour of Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahhar to the various Arab countries he returned with the clear picture that an Arab consensus exists, that the Hamas cabinet has to join the Arab countries in accepting the Arab league peace plan, as the only way out of regional and international isolation for Hamas.  The timely intervention by Egypt, helped prevent civil war, know it is up to Hamas to listen to Arab advice?