Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, are hoping that Israel will withdraw to the pre-1967 lines within the next two years to enable the Palestinians to establish an independent state with half of Jerusalem as its capital.
But under the current circumstances, an Israeli pullout from these areas could, ironically, mark the beginning of the end of the Abbas-Fayyad era.
In an interview published this week in a Kuwaiti newspaper, Abbas revealed that he had solid proof and “verified information” that Hamas was planning to take over the West Bank.
It could also see the Iran-backed Hamas movement and its allies sitting on the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
If Israel wants to pull back from any territory, it needs to make sure who is going to be in control of that area. The last time Israel withdrew from a territory was in the summer of 2005, when it handed the Gaza Strip over to forces loyal to Abbas.
Two years later, Hamas managed to toss Abbas’s people out of the Gaza Strip in less than a week.
If Israel repeats the same mistake and hands over the West Bank to Abbas and Fayyad when they are still weak and do not enjoy much credibility among their own people, there is no doubt that Hamas will end up sitting on hilltops overlooking Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority say that Hamas has never abandoned its dream of extending its control from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, has never hidden its intention of overthrowing the Abbas-Fayyad regime and replacing it with a government that reports directly to Bashar Assad in Damascus and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.
Abbas and Fayyad are in power in the West Bank largely thanks to the presence of the Israeli security forces in these territories. Abbas and Fayyad know very well that had it not been for the presence of the Israeli army in the West Bank, it is highly likely that Hamas would have been able to achieve its goal a long time ago.
Many Palestinians are convinced that if a free and democratic election were to be held in the West Bank these days, Hamas would win again for two reasons: first, because the US-led sanctions against Hamas have earned the movement greater sympathy among Palestinians and, second, because of Fatah’s failure to implement major reforms and get rid of icons of financial corruption among its top brass.
Despite ongoing efforts to reconstruct the Fatah-dominated security forces, they are still far from being able to assume full responsibilities in the West Bank.
Over the past few years, the IDF, in cooperation with the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), has been waging a relentless war on Hamas and other terror groups in the West Bank, including Abbas’s armed militia, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
This war has resulted in the killing or detention of hundreds of terror suspects and the confiscation of large amounts of weapons and ammunition. But the war has not yet ended and there is still a lot that needs to be done to clean the area.
While Israel has been struggling to eliminate hard-core terror cells in the West Bank, the security forces controlled by Abbas and Fayyad have been focusing their efforts mainly on Hamas’s political activists and supporters.
Those suspected of involvement in terror activities end up in Israeli prisons and detention centers, while the Palestinian security forces are busy rounding up mosque preachers, university professors and students, as well as charity workers suspected of being affiliated with Hamas.
The massive clampdown on Hamas may have caused serious damage to its terror infrastructure, but it has by no means affected popular support for the movement among Palestinians in the West Bank.