Ha­mas play for power

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - DAVID HA­ZONY

THIS WEEK was not the first time Arabs were called upon to “de­fend Al-Aqsa”. The sud­den spread­ing of false ru­mours about Is­raeli at­tempts to Ju­daise Jerusalem, to de­stroy the Dome of the Rock, or to plant false an­tiq­ui­ties show­ing an an­cient Is­raelite prove­nance — without any ob­vi­ous provo­ca­tion from Is­rael — hap­pens oc­ca­sion­ally.

Of course, had Is­rael wanted to ex­ert its sovereignty over Tem­ple Mount, it has no need for such se­cre­tive steps. To be­gin with, it could have al­lowed Jews to pray there.

So th­ese ri­ots are an in­ter­nal Pales­tinian mat­ter. They have been fo­mented by the north­ern branch of Is­rael’s Is­lamic Move­ment, which is af­fil­i­ated with Ha­mas, and whose leader, Raed Saleh, has been in and out of Is­raeli pris­ons for re­peated in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence. The ri­ots are part of Ha­mas’s end­less ef­fort to wrest con­trol of the PA from Fatah, just as they did in Gaza.

But why this, and why now? Three de­vel­op­ments shed some light.

First, the deal Ha­mas made with Is­rael, in which 20 pris­on­ers were re­leased in ex­change for a video of Gi­lad Shalit. This is part of a broader deal in the works, in which 450 pris­on­ers are likely to be re­leased in ex­change for Shalit’s free­dom.

Ha­mas’s main in­cen­tive here has to do with the Pales­tinian elec­tions in June. Ha­mas wants to prove to the Pales­tini­ans that it, and only it, is ca­pa­ble of deal­ing with Is­rael and free­ing Pales­tinian fight­ers. There is no bet­ter way to show that they are the true leaders of the Pales­tinian peo­ple than to have ma­jor demon­stra­tions in Jerusalem — on the West Bank’s doorstep, but out­side Fatah’s abil­ity to stop it.

Sec­ond, Fatah leader Mo­hammed Ab­bas has come un­der in­tense pres­sure af­ter de­cid­ing not to rec­om­mend that the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil con­sider the Gold­stone Re­port.

Ac­cused of bow­ing to US pres­sure, Mr Ab­bas has de­clared that he may en­dorse it af­ter all. Given the choice be­tween be­ing per­ceived as sub­mit­ting to US pres­sure and ac­tu­ally sub­mit­ting to Ha­mas pres­sure, he may well choose the lat­ter. This week’s ri­ots only pres­surise him fur­ther.

Third, Ha­mas and Fatah have re­port­edly reached a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion agree­ment, al­low­ing a uni­fied front against Is­rael. If such an agree­ment comes to­gether, both sides will have con­vinced them­selves that it is the best way for them to take con­trol of the en­tire PA — that ei­ther Fatah will take back Gaza, or Ha­mas the West Bank. Th­ese ri­ots may well be meant to force Fatah to terms favourable to Ha­mas, or risk a Gaza-style coup.

Un­til June, we will wit­ness a con­certed ef­fort by Ha­mas to win over the Pales­tini­ans. Their strat­egy is to as­sume that vot­ers are fed up with the PA’s fail­ure to de­flect US pres­sure and to con­tinue the revo­lu­tion, and to present them­selves as the ide­o­log­i­cally pure and po­lit­i­cally ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive.

Will they suc­ceed? Stay tuned.

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