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Despite lip service, Fatah has no sympathy for Hamas

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C — This may not seem like the best time to open a discussion of the “two state solution,” but it may well be the best time to call the Palestinians’, and the world’s, bluff and put the necessary discussion of Gaza and the future of the blockade on a more serious and realistic footing.
 
Point 1: Fatah on the West Bank has no desire to be responsible for Gaza, no ability to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas, and no ability to administer the West Bank if Hamas is freed from its Gaza prison.  Despite the posturing, Gaza blockaded by Israel and Egypt suits Abu Mazen and Fatah more than it does anyone else. For now, none of the three governing bodies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will disappear.
 
Point 2: The West Bank has more in common tribally, economically and culturally with Israel’s Arab population in the Galilee and the Palestinian population of Jordan than it does with Gaza Palestinians. It is unsurprising that the brief but bloody Palestinian civil war in 2007 resulted in Hamas, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood that began in Egypt, expelling Fatah from Gaza. Since then, Fatah has been building a security force on the West Bank with the assistance of the U.S. military under Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton.  
 
Readers know JINSA’s objection to the force, but it always puzzled us why the Israeli government insisted that it appreciated Lt. Gen. Dayton’s work and liked the Palestinian “police force” even as it morphed into something closer to an army. And even as senior IDF officials complained that the grave risk Israel had undertaken by supporting the force was unappreciated by the United States (and, perhaps, by JINSA).
 
Maybe that’s because they didn’t explain themselves clearly.
 
The arrangement, begun under the Olmert government and carried on by Prime Minister Netanyahu, appears to be that Israel would remove some security checkpoints, encourage economic advancement and allow the Palestinian police to arrest pretty much whichever Palestinians it wanted, criminals and the insufficiently enthusiastic as well as Hamas members. In exchange, Fatah would discourage attacks on Israelis both in the West Bank and in Israel proper and allow Israel to arrest pretty much any Hamas member necessary. It worked. The West Bank experienced strong economic growth in 2009 (almost 8%, compared to the U.S. recession) and Israel experienced relatively little in the way of terrorism, or even car theft, emanating from the West Bank and had plenty of tourism and investment. Abu Mazen canceled the Palestinian elections, but no one seems to have noticed or cared.
 
In combination, Israel and Fatah control everything from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River-except Gaza. Their combined impact perhaps is even paving the way for new relations with Jordan.[1]  It was a great deal for Fatah and not bad for Israel, but the arrangement has been severely undermined by the Obama Administration which has been pushing for a unified Hamas and Fatah and demanding an immediate “two state solution” without seeming to notice or care that no one wants Gaza. 
 
Neither the Israelis nor Abbas could actually explain the problem to American officials. So Prime Minister Netanyahu said the magic words, “two state solution,” but added caveats which, although quite reasonable, were sure to break down the process. Abbas pulled out of direct talks, tried to gin up demonstrations on the West Bank (it didn’t work, the local population doesn’t have much stomach for another intifada), demanded a settlement freeze and announced that he is not negotiating with Israel, but only with the United States.
 
Each, in his own way, has signaled that neither Israel nor Fatah has any intention of letting Gaza back in the game.

Gaza is blockaded as a threat to Israel, to Egypt and to Fatah on the West Bank.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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[1]YNet News reported that when Taher al-Masri, head of the Jordanian Senate, spoke before an audience that included the royal family and King Abdullah II, he talked about “the two united banks, with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan emerging on both banks of the holy river.”  It is unlikely that he was planning to wage war to regain the West Bank, illegally occupied from 1948-67 by Jordan, but JINSA has long thought an economic and security “condominium” in which the West Bank is “owner occupied space” within Israel and Jordan would benefit everyone – particularly the Palestinians.

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