PA determined to curb Hamas resistance in West Bank

Abbas understands that recent terror attacks by group against Israelis are first and foremost a challenge to his rule

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian security forces (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Palestinian security forces (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Since Thursday night, the Palestinian Authority has been conducting a massive campaign of arrests among Hamas activists in the West Bank, one of the largest such operations carried out by the PA in recent years. According to Hamas, more than 120 of its members were rounded up in less than 48 hours. PA forces raided the homes of Muslim clergymen, former prisoners and, most notably, members of Hamas’s student body, specifically at the aמ-Najah National University in Nablus.

A recent spate of terror attacks in the West Bank, as well as revelations by the Shin Bet security service concerning Hamas infrastructure in Nablus, prompted an awakening of sorts on the Palestinian side, especially at the office of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, who has proven time and again that he won’t abide any challenge to the stability of his rule, realizes full well that murdering Jews is only the secondary goal of Hamas activists carrying out attacks. The main aim of its deadly operations is to weaken the Palestinian Authority, heighten tensions with Israel, and ultimately undermine the government in the West Bank.

Due to the confluence of Israeli and PA interests, one can safely assume that Israel provided the PA with relevant information before the arrest operation was launched.

This isn’t the first wave of arrests in the West Bank: In 2014, according to Hamas claims, the PA arrested more than 1,000 of the group’s members, most of whom were released after interrogation while others remained in jail on suspicion of planning terror attacks.

Yet the timing for the most recent raids is not particularly convenient for Abbas. For starters, we are in the midst of Ramadan, when the Palestinian public seeks primarily to observe the holy month unhindered. In that context, nighttime arrests at refugee camps, villages and cities performed by the PA are not to be taken lightly.

In addition, the killing of a young Palestinian from the Qalandiya refugee camp Friday by an Israeli officer is also unhelpful to Abbas. The Palestinian teen, Mohammed Al-Kasaba, who was shot three times at close range after hurling rocks at the officer’s vehicle, was the brother of two other “martyrs” killed by the IDF in 2002. In the eyes of the Palestinian street, while the PA is busy fighting for Israel’s security, IDF forces have shot yet another Palestinian dead.

But sentiments are one thing and actions are another. Despite the young Palestinian’s death, the wave of arrests by the PA, and the anniversary of the brutal killing of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir at the hands of Jewish extremists in East Jerusalem, this weekend nevertheless passed in relative quiet. Close to 200,000 people attended prayers Friday at the Temple Mount, yet virtually no unusual incidents were recorded. The Palestinian public, for the most part, seeks to maintain order and once again refuses to be swayed by Hamas’s attempts to ignite the West Bank.

None of this means Hamas will admit defeat or relinquish its efforts to challenge the PA’s rule. While the organization is doing its best to maintain a state of relative calm in the Gaza Strip, it will most likely continue to send operatives from Turkey and the Strip to the West Bank to plan more terrorist attacks in hope of undermining the PA.

These days, the idea of Palestinian reconciliation sounds almost like a joke, and what remains is a quiet war being waged in the West Bank between the military wing of Hamas on one side, and Israeli and Palestinian security forces on the other. Israeli-Palestinian peace may be in a deep freeze, but rumors of the security coordination’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

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