Palestinians have formally asked the European Union to urge the UN security council to recognise a fully independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to the current impasse in peace negotiations with Israel.
Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, confirmed that the request to the EU was made on Monday as Israeli ministers repeated warnings that any unilateral moves would trigger counter-measures that could include the annexation of more of the occupied West Bank.
Erakat, speaking in Ramallah, said Israel had for 18 years continued to “impose facts on the ground by stealing Palestinian lands and building settlements and barriers aiming to finish off the two-state project”. He added: “We will seek the support of all members of the international community.” [continued…]
While Palestinian officials continued to threaten Sunday to unilaterally declare independence, one senior Israeli defense official summed up the growing assessment in the defense establishment by saying, “Just let them try.”
Behind the dare is a belief in the IDF and Defense Ministry that even though the past year has seen an unprecedented improvement in the performance of Palestinian security forces and civilian institutions – largely due to increased cooperation with Israel – the Palestinian Authority is still far from being able to hold it together on its own.
One official gave the water situation in the West Bank as an example. While Israel has recently come under growing international criticism for allegedly denying Palestinians adequate access to water, according to Israeli officials the situation would be far worse without Israeli assistance.
“The Palestinian Water Authority wouldn’t last a day on its own,” an IDF source said. “We allocated them a piece of land on the coast to build a desalination plant and they have decided not to build it.”
Another example focuses on security cooperation, which has significantly increased over the past two years, since Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip. Next month, the fifth Palestinian battalion trained by US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in Jordan will return to the West Bank for deployment. Another one will then depart for four months of training in Jordan.
Despite the deployment of these forces – which IDF officers openly admit are doing a good job cracking down on Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank – whenever PA President Mahmoud Abbas travels outside of Ramallah to another Palestinian city, the IDF, Shin Bet and Civil Administration are all involved to coordinate and ensure his safety.
“When Abbas travels it is like a military operation,” one officer explained. “Everyone is involved since the PA forces cannot yet completely ensure his security.” [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — This has to be the definition adding insult to injury: Mahmoud Abbas cannot travel safely around the West Bank without Israeli protection.
A question one hears frequently among Palestinians these days is why the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), a group some view with suspicion and others with sympathy, has become nearly invisible in the West Bank. Certainly Hamas has suffered a series of security blows in the last few years. Israel arrested roughly one thousand of Hamas members, included elected delegates of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), following the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006. And since Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007 following a bloody conflict with Fatah, Palestinian security forces have carried out campaigns against the group in the West Bank. Hamas claims to have suffered 30,000 incidents of questioning, arrest, closure of organizations, or confiscation of financial assets. As of now, 600 of its members are detained in Palestinian Authority (PA) prisons and 150 of its affiliated organizations are closed.
Hamas, however, is more than simply a militant organization or a social welfare service provider. It is a broad network of members and followers, which garnered 444,000 votes in the 2006 legislative elections, with an ideological and political agenda. It has a large popular following, especially among Palestinians opposed to the Oslo agreement and disenchanted with corruption in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). So where have Hamas and its supporters in the West Bank gone?
Sources inside Hamas say that the movement has frozen its activities, in line with a 1989 strategy delineating how the movement should handle crises. Hamas followed this course in 1992, for example, when Israel exiled 416 activists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad to southern Lebanon following the kidnapping and murder of Israeli border patrol soldier Nassim Tolidano. Hamas is not ready, according to one of its leaders, to mobilize supporters behind a coherent course of action for fear of exposing them to arrest by the PA or Israel. Hamas also is reluctant to cause its followers to lose their jobs, given that 1200 of them have already been laid off from government jobs in the West Bank. [continued…]