Produced by the Center for Near East Policy Research Editor’s note:
Welcome to the second edition of “Inside the PA,” a weekly on-line publication designed to provide valuable insight into the workings of the Palestinian Authority. We will review important statements by senior PA officials and developments within Palestinian society as taken from the Palestinian and Arab media.
“We vehemently refuse foreign conditions and the motion of interference in principle.” -Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri rejects a U.S. congressional resolution that calls for a PA ban on Hamas in PLC elections next month. This Week in the PA â—In Ramallah, Fatah pressures for reuniting ranks â—In Hebron, Israel arrests dozens of suspected insurgents â—In Gaza City, Fatah gunmen continue to attack PA offices â—In Gaza City, Fatah fighters fire in joy over Sharon’s hospitalization NEWS DIGEST 1. PA BRACES FOR HAMAS VICTORY IN PLC 2. JIHAD OBTAINS PLATFORM IN PA MEDIA 3. HAMAS CONFIDENT OF U.S. WELCOME 3. FATAH RUNS AMOK IN GAZA 4. PA CONTINUES TRAINING OF SECURITY FORCES 5. U.S. AID FUNDS PALESTINIAN EDUCATION
PA BRACES FOR HAMAS VICTORY IN PLC The Palestinian Authority appears to be bracing for a Hamas victory in Palestinian Legislative Council elections next month.
Articles and analysis in the PA-controlled media have raised the prospect of a Hamas victory in PLC elections on January 25. These have reported assessments by both prominent Israelis and Palestinians that the crisis within the ruling Fatah movement would result in a Hamas win in the legislative elections.
Al Quds December 16, 2005 The secular dream: democratic elections. The Islamic dream: free elections
Palestinian dailies were impressed by Hamas’s victory in municipal elections. In the last round of municipal elections on December 15, Hamas won several major cities in the West Bank, including El Bireh, Jenin and Nablus. Another round of elections is scheduled to be held in Hebron and Gaza City.
“Crushing Hamas Victory in Municipal Elections in Nablus, El Bireh and Jenin,” read the headline of Al Quds, the best-selling daily in the PA, on December 16. Next to the lead article was a photograph of a befuddled PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas talking to an elderly Palestinian woman at the polls.
On December 18, the PA-owned Al Hayat Al Jadeeda, in describing a conference on democracy in Ramallah, reported a focus on the expected Hamas win and the Fatah crisis. Speakers called for a united Palestinian agenda and a respect for rules.
Israeli Security Agency director Avi Diskin was quoted in Al Quds on December 17 as saying that Hamas could easily win 30 seats in the 132-seat PLC.
Abbas appears marginal to the groundswell of support for Hamas. Even positive stories about Abbas, such as his pledge to help an ill 10-year-old from Bethlehem obtain treatment in Europe, are usually brief and colorless.
In a poll reported by the official Palestinian news agency on December 18, Abbas was rated as the most trusted of Palestinian politicians. The poll, reported in Al Hayat Al Jadeeda, surveyed 1,199 people and asserted that the ruling Fatah movement garnered the support of 38.9 percent as opposed to 18.5 percent by Hamas. JIHAD OBTAINS PLATFORM IN PA MEDIA The Palestinian Authority-controlled dailies have become a forum for threats against Israel by the Islamic opposition.
For the first time since the establishment of the PA in 1994, PA-controlled dailies are serving the role of publicizing statements by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Statements by both groups are prominently published in PA-owned newspapers.
On December 16, Al Quds featured a page two lead article that quoted Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal as saying that his movement would join in any Iranian war against Israel. The article quoted Mashaal in Teheran as saying that Hamas would respond to any Israeli attack on the Islamic republic.
On the same day, the same paper, reflecting a claim by Jihad regarding its new military prowess in attacking Israel, carried a Jihad statement about the fact it had fired a missile into Ashkelon.
On December 18, the PA-owned Al Hayat Al Jadeeda reported that several of the Palestinian “military organizations” agreed that the so-called period of calm would expire at the end of 2005.
The Palestinian dailies have also been taking advertisements from Hamas supporters. On December 18, Al Ayyam placed a large ad with the picture of the late Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin. The ad congratulated Hamas for its victory in municipal elections in Nablus. “Islam is the answer,” and “The hand builds and the hand resists.” s HAMAS CONFIDENT OF U.S. WELCOME Hamas has expressed confidence that the United States would welcome the Islamic opposition movement.
Hamas leaders were unimpressed with the opposition by Congress to the movement’s participation in Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006.
On December 16, the House passed a resolution that warned against a cutoff in U.S. aid to the PA if Hamas participates in Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
Hamas leaders said the Bush administration would soon conclude that it had no choice but to deal with them.
On December 18, Al Quds quoted Hamas leader Said Sayam as saying that Hamas planned to discuss its platform with the Bush administration and Congress. Sayam urged the PA to reject any U.S. pressure. He said Hamas influence would make the PLC a more open institution.
Sayam was actually confident that the administration would woo the Islamic movement. He pointed to U.S. attempts for achieve a dialogue with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, suggesting that this could also happen with Hamas.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri said the United States did not have any right to interfere in PLC elections. He compared this to U.S. objections to Iranian interference in the December 15 elections in Iraq.
Support for the Hamas position on this matter appears to have spread to within the PA-controlled media. On December 17, a bylined article, reporting on Hamas criticism of the House resolution, quoted the movement as saying “our people do not require any instructions on how to conduct elections and or on who should be elected!!” FATAH RUNS AMOK IN GAZA
Fatah gunmen have paralyzed the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian dailies, while attempting to play down the fighting within Fatah and with the PA in the Gaza Strip, have touched on the consequences of the daily gun battles both in news stories and opinion columns.
On December 13, Al Quds ran a front page story on the closure of the Central Election Committee offices in the Gaza Strip because of attacks by Fatah. The story glossed over the details of how Fatah gunmen shot at the offices and ordered CEC staffers to leave in an effort to disrupt voter registration.
This was the first of a series of daily gun battles between Fatah factions. On December 14, Fatah fighters engaged in a shootout outside the Gaza City headquarters of Fatah. At least three people were injured.
Fatah insurgents, formally from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, poured into Fatah offices with demands for jobs. They were opposed by other Fatah forces financed by the PA.
Fatah gunmen also took over the offices of the Palestinian telephone company in Rafah. They demanded cancellation of fees for installation of telephone lines.
On December 14, CEC closed all of its office and suspended activities. Despite reassurances by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the commission said it would reopen only after the safety of its employees were guaranteed.
“Today our offices in Gaza and Nablus were attacked by gunmen,” CEC director Amr Al Dweiki said in remarks reported on the official PA website. “They threatened the employees and pushed them into closing their offices. They fired at the offices. As a result, a policeman guarding one of the attacked offices was injured.”
The Palestinian media have been careful not to delve into the fighting within Fatah. Instead, the media published calls from Palestinian prisoners and other groups for an end to the gun battles. Some Palestinian columnists suggested that any election would be a sham amid the PA refusal to stop violence. Hani Habib wrote in the Al Ayyam daily on December 18 that the weapons chaos in the Gaza Strip has eliminated democracy.
Instead, of stopping the violence Fatah might run two list of candidates for the PLC elections. One would be a list of Old Guard candidates close to Abbas. The other would be a rival slate of younger Fatah members, including Marwan Barghouti, who is been serving five life sentences in Israel.
The split has dismayed Abbas so greatly, because of the direct threat to his authority and the weakening of Fatah that this would create, that he has threatened to resign. Abbas was said to have persuaded Barghouti not to run on any list.
Habib and other Palestinian analysts predict that PLC elections will be postponed to prevent a Hamas victory. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar shares this assessment. “We will not accept a delay, because it is clear that somebody fears the results of the election,” Zahar said. “This [Fatah violence] is one of the moves already anticipated.” PA CONTINUES TRAINING OF SECURITY FORCES Even while it loses control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority continues to train security forces.
The PA Interior Ministry, according to Al Quds, has just held a course in the Gaza Strip for 18 security officers who were taught a range of skills, including public relations. The course was intended for both PA security agencies and what the newspaper termed “military forces.”
So far, the duties of PA security forces remain highly restrictive. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has refused to use the PA to stop the daily gun battles in the Gaza Strip.
PA forces have been used to man border terminals. On December. 18, outgoing Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan, who resigned to run for the PLC, said PA security forces would be deployed at the Rafah border terminal with Egypt.
Dahlan, in an announcement that led PA-owned dailies, said Rafah would be operative for eight hours per day. He said the expanded hours would begin on December 19 in cooperation with the European Union. Rafah had been operating four hours per day.
U.S. AID FUNDS PALESTINIAN EDUCATION
The United States has decided to expand aid to educational programs in the Palestinian Authority.
On December 14, the PA Planning Ministry and the U.S. Agency for International Development signed a memorandum of understanding for a program to increase the “learning and earning opportunities of the Palestinian youth.” The $25 million program would last five years and train thousands of Palestinians.
In October 2005, the United States awarded the Educational Development Center a grant to implement Ruwwad, the Palestinian Youth Empowerment Program. The program was consolidated in the agreement between USAID and the PA Planning Ministry.
Under the accord reported in the Palestinian media, Ruwwad would provide apprenticeships and internships as well as youth recreation programs. They said the programs would also take place in high schools and include media outreach activities.
“The long-term goal of the program is to inspire and equip the young Palestinians to act as agents of positive change in the society,” the statement said.
The statement did not say how EDC would design the curriculum. EDC operates for the U.S. government in numerous countries.