Israel's recent military operation in Gaza has raised the issue
of the possible return of Fatah to Gaza. However, a previous U.S.-
funded and armed Fatah security regime in Gaza had entirely failed.
In fact, the PA in the West Bank has offered safe haven to terror
groups, and the PA Interior Ministry pays monthly salaries to
Palestinian Islamic Jihad
Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades terrorists.
Today, some PA forces are far more professional, having
been equipped and trained by U.S. security officials in Jordan.
However, these forces are still in their infancy. They have less than
one year's experience, number fewer than 1,500 men, and lack a
central command structure.
It is widely believed that the PA in Ramallah only pays
the salaries of civil service employees in Gaza to encourage them to
stay at home to avoid working with Hamas. However,
PA Prime Minister Fayyad also pays the monthly salaries of between
6,000 and 12,000 Hamas Executive Force operatives in Gaza, in line
with the 2007 Mecca national unity agreement.
Former PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan, whose
forces were routed by Hamas in June 2007, has re-emerged as a leading
candidate to command Fatah's security forces, particularly to
secure the Gaza crossing points into Egypt and Israel. Palestinian
documents captured in 2002 revealed Dahlan's involvement in major
racketeering, including revenues from cigarettes, cement, and the
collection of illegal crossing fees. Dahlan's personal wealth has
been estimated at well over $120 million.
The U.S. must avoid the temptation of once again blindly
relying on Fatah as the sole security and reconstruction
subcontractor for Gaza. The Obama administration must implement tough
and verifiable directives to facilitate internal Palestinian
housecleaning: no militias, good governance, complete accountability,
full transparency, effectiveness, and zero tolerance for corruption,
gangsterism, and terror within PA ranks.
Israel's three-week military operation in Gaza in December-
January has raised the issue of the possible return of Palestinian
Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party to Gaza to
replace the Hamas regime. The Israelis, Americans, the major European
powers, and especially the Egyptians favor Abbas' forces
regaining control not only over Gaza's border crossings, but also
over the entire Strip. However, international demands for Fatah's
return to Gaza face seemingly intractable obstacles.
A previous U.S.-funded and armed Fatah security regime in Gaza had
entirely failed. Years of massive corruption and gangsterism by Fatah
security forces resulted in an Iran
armed and trained Islamic emirate ruled by Hamas. Abbas had had the
full backing of the international community to turn Gaza into the
Hong Kong of the Middle East. Instead, Fatah collapsed under a Hamas
assault in summer 2007.
Currently, the U.S.-sponsored Fatah forces in the West Bank are still
ill-prepared for the task of taking control in Gaza. Two modest
paramilitary forces have been trained to police crime and enforce
public order, but not to uproot terror groups. In fact, the PA has
increasingly offered safe haven to terror groups. Brig.-Gen. Radhi
Assida, the PA National Security Forces (NSF) commander in Jenin,
revealed to the Palestinian website Maan on January 24, 2009, that PA
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's NSF had agreed to provide
protection to four senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists
wanted by Israel. Assida also confirmed that PIJ operatives continue
to receive monthly salaries from the PA Interior Ministry, just like
their colleagues in the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.1
Furthermore, thousands of Fatah security operatives in Gaza and the
West Bank have realigned their loyalties away from Abbas and Fayyad.
Other armed militias are currently less active or dormant but remain
armed and intact. Some local militia commanders continue mafia-like
criminal enterprises while simultaneously working as local commanders
in PA security forces, thereby continuing to undermine public trust.
In post-war Gaza, Fatah forces would face a wall of opposition from
Hamas and many other Jihadi groups. Hamas' military leadership
remains intact, as do most of its terror capabilities. Hamas
continues to enjoy popular support from a majority of Palestinians,
particularly those living in Gaza, despite public anger over the war.
Fatah will be hard-pressed to re-take the Gaza Strip because the
party has lost credibility among Palestinians, largely because of its
failure to reform itself and get rid of icons of corruption among the
International Calls for Fatah's Return to Gaza
Israel's military campaign to destroy the Hamas army and terror
infrastructure in Gaza triggered broad international efforts to
implement a cease-fire that would include the return of Palestinian
Authority forces to Gaza. The international community appears
determined to help stop weapons smuggling into Gaza and reopen the
Gaza border crossings to Egypt and Israel and restore a Gaza-West
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is backing the return of Abbas'
forces to the crossings in line with the U.S.-brokered 2005 border
He hosted the major European powers
at Sharm al-Sheik on January 18, 2009, immediately following the Gaza
cease-fire, to discuss new security measures to stop Hamas weapons
smuggling beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border and to secure the flow of
humanitarian aid via the crossings.
The UN Security Council approved Resolution 1860 that explicitly
called for restoring the 2005 Gaza crossing agreement between the PA
and Israel and affirming Gaza as an integral part of PA-controlled
Abbas traveled to the UN in New York to
support the resolution.6
PA officials in the West Bank
also indicated a readiness to send forces to Gaza, but noted, "It
depends on whether Israel manages to get rid of the Hamas
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told
the UN Security Council that stabilizing Gaza will "require a
principled resolution of the political challenges in Gaza that
reestablishes ultimately the Palestinian Authority's legitimate
control and facilitates the normal operation of all
President Barak Obama has called for the
reopening of the Gaza border crossings, while making his first
overseas phone call to a foreign leader to PA Chairman Abbas to
Which "Fatah Forces" are Jerusalem,
Washington, and Cairo Counting On?
The convergence of opposition to Hamas in Washington, Cairo, Riyadh,
Jerusalem, and Ramallah could serve as a pretext for regime change in
Gaza. However, international hopes for such a change may be premature
since the PA's security forces do not constitute a single,
professional, experienced and disciplined military organization under
a centralized chain of command. Rather, Fatah security forces are
divided into several paramilitary groups in the West Bank and Gaza,
some more reformed and effective than others.
Since Oslo, Fatah's multiple security forces constitute several
militias that were originally established and commanded by Yasser
Arafat, who employed Palestinian "graduates" of Israeli prisons and
others who lacked any formal police or security
Today, however, some of the PA forces are far
more professional, having been equipped and trained by U.S. security
officials in Jordan.11
PA National Security Forces report
to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, while Mahmoud Abbas controls the
Presidential Guard, a smaller force that protects the Abbas regime
and functions as a police force. However, these forces are still in
their infancy. They have less than one year's experience, number
fewer than 1,500 men, and lack a chief of staff and an overall "top-
down" central command structure. Fayyad's NSF has not yet
demonstrated the ability or will to uproot both active and dormant
terror groups and militias.12
In Gaza, Fatah retains a residual, yet completely decentralized,
force infrastructure of competing security militias that are not
loyal to Abbas but to local leaders, militia commanders, and crime
One of the problems in creating a robust PA military force large
enough to reassert control in Gaza is that Palestinian commanders do
not automatically enjoy the loyalty of their soldiers. Palestinian
allegiances are invariably influenced by Arab cultural affiliations
to clan, family, town, neighborhood, and political group. Many
Palestinian NSF officers have family members and close relatives that
are employed by competing security organizations or armed militias,
which makes all-out armed confrontation highly unlikely. That
explains in part the Fatah collapse in June 2007, as its forces were
unable to confront their brothers, cousins, and uncles in Hamas.
Fatah Forces in Gaza
In Gaza, tens of thousands of former Fatah security personnel and
activists maintain loyalties to various former PA security forces and
commanders, such as the deposed former strongman Mohammed Dahlan.
Some former Fatah security personnel have found employment with the
Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as
Hamas and local crime families such as the Dughmush and al-Samhadana
clans, and local al-Qaeda-inspired Salafist groups such as Jaish
, Fatah al-Islam
, and Jaish al-Umma
The Fatah umbrella in Gaza also includes a number of smaller militias
such as the Abu Rish Brigades, which had broken away from Fatah's
Preventive Security forces.
Some of the fourteen competing security organizations Arafat had
established after the signing of the Oslo agreements were disbanded
in 2005 under the direction of the U.S. Special Security Coordinator
General Keith Dayton, who moved to enforce Quartet Roadmap reforms.
However, the unofficial militias have never been uprooted or
disbanded. Instead, militia members froze their activities
by agreement with the PA in exchange for compensation from the PA and
clemency from Israel. Some local militia group commanders were even
integrated into the "reformed" security forces under U.S.
supervision, as ranking officers, while they continued to extort and
threaten local businessmen.14
In 2009, thousands of "unemployed" Fatah militiamen, such as members
of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, still hold weapons that they conceal
in their homes. In their current dormant status, they also continue
to receive monthly salaries from the Palestinian Authority on the
instructions of Abbas and Fayyad,15
who are eager to
avoid conflict with these groups and to protect themselves from the
death threats made by the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas against
Hamas Threatens, Fatah Pays
The enmity between Fatah and Hamas is far greater than Palestinian
hatred of Israel.17
Nasser Juma'a, a Palestinian
Legislative Council member from Nablus, described Hamas as "insects"
in the final week of Israel's offensive in Gaza.18
Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel countered that PA Chairman
Abbas "played a major role" in the Israeli killing of Hamas Interior
Minister Said Siam "through his men in the Gaza Strip, who have been
pointing out the homes of Hamas members."19
is remarkable and ignored in Western diplomatic circles is that
Fayyad has continued to pay the monthly salaries of between 6,000 and
12,000 Hamas Executive Force operatives in Gaza, in line with the
2007 Mecca national unity agreement that brought Hamas under the
umbrella of the Palestinian Authority for budgetary purposes.20
It is widely believed in Western diplomatic circles that the PA in
Ramallah was only paying the salaries of civil service employees in
Gaza to encourage them to stay at home to avoid working with Hamas,
especially after Hamas' expulsion of Fatah in June 2007. This is
incorrect. The PA, and indirectly the U.S., and international donor
countries have continued to pay monthly salaries to Hamas security
operatives (Read: terrorists) and their commanders from the PA's
$120 million monthly budget allocation to the Gaza
The height of irony in this regard may have been
seen during the Gaza war when Hamas fighters received their salaries
from the PA at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital which was immune from
Understanding the Hidden Complexities of the Fatah Security
The prospective return of any Fatah security forces to Gaza must take
into account the complexities of the many competing centers of Fatah
power, as well their implications within the context of Palestinian
political culture. For the past 16 years, U.S., European, and Israeli
policy-makers have lavished billions of dollars on "strong" leaders
like Arafat, or actively sought to strengthen "weak" leaders like
Abbas, without assessing the effect of these policies on the internal
Palestinian political discussion.23
For example, the PA
received $3 billion in 2008, according to French
while the December 2007 Paris donor's
conference committed to transfer over $7 billion in aid to the PA
over the years 2008-2010.25
Yet the Palestinian public
still sees U.S.-led international assistance as a virtual "payoff" to
a corrupt government and security forces in exchange for PA
After years of unsuccessful Western-backed PA security regimes, since
the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993, and through the Annapolis
agreement in 2008, the Palestinian street is largely convinced that
U.S. backing of the PA has sanctified brutality, state-
approved "gangsterism," and corruption in the name of stopping
radicals and advancing the peace process. Palestinian public cynicism
translated into Hamas' landslide parliamentary victory in 2006
and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007. This analysis, then, may
serve as a basis for careful reconsideration of past misassumptions
about Fatah's security capabilities and help clarify current
security realities in Gaza.
Back to Square One? The Return of Mohammed Dahlan
Former PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan, who had headed the
U.S.-backed Fatah Preventive Security force in Gaza until Hamas
routed his forces in June 2007, has re-emerged as a leading candidate
to command Fatah's security forces, particularly to secure the
Gaza crossing points into Egypt and Israel. Despite Hamas' bloody
thrashing of Dahlan's forces, his prospective return to Gaza
reportedly aroused the interest of former Secretary of State
Palestinian and Egyptian leaders have also been
interested in Dahlan's reassertion of control.27
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly told PA Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad that, "For me, Dahlan does not exist,"28
current circumstances would point to his involvement in any new PA
security force in Gaza.
Dahlan appears to have emerged from retirement to his Cairo villa
where he had kept a low profile since the Hamas takeover. However, he
has of late given many interviews on Egyptian and Saudi media
outlets, blasting Hamas' deep connection to Iran while making
thinly veiled suggestions as to his potential role in rebuilding
It is no coincidence that the Egyptians and Saudis
are providing Dahlan a platform to condemn Hamas. Cairo and Riyadh
quietly backed the Israeli operation in Gaza and had backed
Dahlan's forces with some $20 million before the 2007
Although Dahlan lost many men and even his home to Hamas, he
continues to enjoy the backing of several thousand armed Fatah
activists who have remained in Gaza under Hamas rule. A major
motivating factor behind Dahlan's possible return is the billions
of dollars in international aid that have been promised to finance
reconstruction efforts. Dahlan had built his personal fortune by
being Fatah's key man in Gaza between 1996 and 2007.31
Perhaps most significantly, Dahlan may be the only Palestinian leader
unfazed by threats of revenge by other Palestinian
Reports of U.S. interest in Dahlan's re-involvement in Gaza
follow nearly twelve years of close coordination with the United
States. He had been a long-time favorite of the Clinton and Bush
administrations and was praised as a reformer during the Oslo years
for publicly criticizing Arafat's dictatorship and calling for
Palestinian security reforms.33
Starting in 1996,
President Clinton approved intensive CIA and FBI backing of
Dahlan's Preventive Security forces and other PA security
Dahlan's relationships with Washington were top-
He referred to Bill Clinton as "a friend." Dahlan
was also embraced by lawmakers and senior security officials
A senior member of the U.S. House Permanent
Select Committee on Intelligence told the authors in 2005 that Dahlan
was "charming." Dahlan too understood the importance of his U.S.
partners. In early 2008 Dahlan said of CIA Director George Tenet, "He
is simply a great and fair man."37
President George W.
Bush also met with Dahlan on several occasions. After talks at the
White House in July 2003, Bush publicly praised Dahlan as "a good,
solid leader" and reportedly called him "our guy" to advisors behind
Reviving a Failed Security Paradigm?
A key question is whether Dahlan's possible return essentially
revives a failed strategy. Until Dahlan's forces collapsed before
Hamas, the U.S. had placed its full weight behind him, investing at
least $56 million in the PA security infrastructure at the Karni
where General Dayton had invested much of his
time before the Hamas coup.40
The U.S. had also backed a
high-risk, covert State Department plan code-named "Plan
that was drafted jointly by U.S., Jordanian, and PA
officials, that called for Dahlan's Fatah forces to overthrow
Hamas in Gaza and reassert control.42
While the White
House vigorously denied any such designs, the plan was widely known
among senior Fatah officials.43
Dayton, though listed as a key figure in the Dahlan project, would
later deny any material involvement with the plan.44
However, he testified before Congress on May 23, 2007, just weeks
before the Fatah collapse in Gaza, saying, "the $3 million assistance
package to the (Palestinian) Office of National Security ensures that
the U.S. Security Coordinator has a strong and capable partner as we
proceed with Palestinian security sector transformation and our focus
on a smaller but more capable Palestinian security force, operating
under the rule of law and with respect for human
Yet Dayton's security program was roundly
criticized by senior Israeli defense officials as "a complete
It is widely recognized in Palestinian circles that at the time of
the Hamas coup, Dahlan's Fatah force simply refused to fight.
Fewer than 10,000 armed Hamas men managed to defeat 70,000 U.S.-
backed Fatah loyalists. It is also no secret among Palestinians that
Dahlan was shuttling between Cairo and Germany for "medical
treatment" for bad knees during the fighting, despite having been
paid handsomely for his security efforts.47
Hamas did not
have to work hard to repel a Fatah takeover attempt. Hamas operatives
recruited Fatah family members to convince their relatives in uniform
to surrender without fighting.
The Gaza debacle was a setback for Dahlan. The extent of his personal
fortune - amassed during the time when he cooperated closely with
Washington on the peace process - may not be well known by the
incoming U.S. administration. Palestinian documents captured in the
IDF's 2002 Defensive Shield operation revealed Dahlan's
involvement in major racketeering, including revenues from
cigarettes, cement, and the collection of illegal crossing
He was also known as a partner in the smuggling
networks involving the Rafah border tunnels, together with the al-
Samhadana crime family.
Ironically, even prior to 2007, U.S. security officials had not been
deterred by Dahlan's actions and reputation on the Palestinian
street. He had been a key architect of the 2005 border crossing
agreements that he designed with U.S. Secretary of State Rice, but
which fell apart after Hamas violence drove European monitors to
abandon their posts. Glenn Kessler noted in his 2007 biography of
Rice that in the 2005 Gaza crossing agreements, "Rice focused
especially on Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian Authority's civil
affairs minister, but in effect Fatah's boss in Gaza, because
Abbas would never agree to a deal unless Dahlan gave his
Dahlan had controlled the security and
economic aspects of the Karni and Rafah crossing points, where at
least 750 truckloads of goods and 1,000 Palestinians passed daily
including many Hamas leaders that were on Israel's "wanted"
Costly import licenses and crossing permits were
all in the hands of Dahlan's people and are widely believed to
have generated millions of dollars in profits.
A former senior World Bank official had estimated Dahlan's
personal wealth at well over $120 million as of mid-2005, just before
Israel's disengagement from Gaza.51
personal fortune is a notable achievement, since most of his life has
been spent in and around Gaza refugee camps, Israeli prisons, and
Fatah security installations.
Palestinian Impatience with Dahlan
Gazans and West Bankers have been less forgiving than the U.S. of
Dahlan's record. The former Gaza strongman's reputation for
brutality, extortion, and corruption precedes him. Torture of Hamas
and other opponents in Gaza by Dahlan loyalists have even been
documented on "YouTube."52
Fatah websites implicated him,
together with the Gaza-based Dughmush clan, in the 2005 murder of
General Musa Arafat, Fatah's former head of Military Intelligence
and National Security forces in Gaza.53
street had branded Dahlan "the CIA" for years, ever since the U.S.
agency had provided him a black bullet-proof SUV.
No less troubling for Israel is the fact that years of CIA and
Israeli Security Agency coordination did not prevent Dahlan's
alleged complicity in ordering a deadly terror attack against an
Israeli school bus in Gaza on November 18, 2000, that killed two
adults and severely wounded three children from the Cohen family who
were former Gush Katif residents.54
Mahmoud Abbas' PA Presidential Guard
While the United States, Egypt, and Western countries have mentioned
the possible return to Gaza of PA forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, his
direct authority and influence has been limited to the Ramallah-based
Presidential Guard - a modest 1,500-man armed force. The Presidential
Guard is tasked with protecting the PA Chairman and the Fatah regime
but not foiling terror attacks, or uprooting militias in the West
Bank. Even with dedicated security forces that continue to undergo
U.S.-sponsored training at bases near Jericho in line with the
Roadmap security reform program, Abbas rarely ventures out of
The dangers to Abbas posed by various terror groups, militias,
warlords, and gangs have prevented him from visiting most Palestinian
cities and towns in the West Bank, let alone refugee camps, earning
him the reputation on the Palestinian street of being "the Mayor of
Ramallah." The Presidential Guard's record in Gaza is mixed. They
were among the first to surrender to Hamas in June 2007, and
subsequently were not officially disbanded but became dormant, as
opposed to their West Bank counterparts that were retrained and
resupplied by U.S. military advisors under General
Salam Fayyad's Palestinian National Security Forces
The Palestinian National Security Forces that are funded by and
report to the office of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are the most
likely security command that could be deployed to Gaza in the
framework of a cease-fire agreement. The NSF was restructured
following the 2007 defeat by Hamas. Secretary of State Rice worked
closely with General Dayton and Fayyad to retrofit a verifiably
reformed Palestinian force in line with the Annapolis peace process
framework of a shelf agreement between Israel and the PA that would
come to fruition if and when the PA would be capable of fulfilling
its security requirements under the first stage of the Quartet
Roadmap. The U.S. provided $86 million in July 2007 to train 1,100
recruits, while another $75 million was earmarked for a national
security installation under construction near Jericho.56
The NSF's motivation to succeed stems from the Fatah
leadership's fear of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank. The
NSF's initial successes in several West Bank cities, including
Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and Bethlehem, have restored a certain sense of
public security to local residents, as well as attracting thousands
of Israeli Arabs to shop in Jenin and Nablus which has helped
jumpstart the West Bank economy.
Since its first deployment in May 2008, the NSF - which Hamas has
branded "the Dayton forces" - has forcefully confronted Hamas
supporters in the West Bank. The NSF has also closed down some Hamas
charities in public displays of force, while redirecting Hamas
charity money to PA coffers. PA security forces have also arrested
Hamas activists and have reduced threatening activity in Hamas-
controlled mosques. The readiness of the NSF to confront Hamas
publicly is unprecedented; Arafat had avoided confronting Hamas,
while Fayyad is doing so.
Despite intensive U.S. and Palestinian efforts to maximize
performance, there still remains a large question mark over whether
these forces possess the ability and will to take more aggressive
action against terror groups and armed gangs in the West Bank, and
whether they stand a chance of successfully redeploying to Gaza.
General Dayton admitted in a December 2008 interview that the NSF "is
not the Israel Defense Forces. They are orienting their efforts
totally on the lawless elements within Palestinian society...so that
Palestinian families can walk down the streets at night and not be
intimidated or threatened by either criminals or men with
Some Israel Defense Forces senior commanders agree with Dayton. In
fact, IDF Central Command has been highly critical of the U.S.-backed
PA forces, insisting that PA forces in the West Bank cities are not
combating terrorists, while warning that "terrorist organizations in
Nablus, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were cooperating in their
attempts to perpetrate terror attacks against Israel, and building an
underground tunnel system in Nablus."58
According to a
senior IDF official, "There is no doubt that the moment the IDF
leaves this territory, the Palestinians will have a rocket capability
in the West Bank."59
Fatah's Rejection of Fayyad: A Roadblock to Gaza
The PA's NSF is funded by and reports to the office of
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. His office and the PA
Interior Ministry vet candidates and pay salaries, while Mahmoud
Abbas is not directly involved with the NSF. This is significant
because U.S. and European efforts to implement a Gaza cease-fire have
included discussion of the return of PA security forces to Gaza that
are "loyal to Abbas." Yet the U.S.-backed post-Gaza security reform
concept was to create a non-Fatah
professional army. However, other than an initial round
of recruited commanders who were not from Fatah, subsequent officer
recruits were mostly affiliated with Fatah. This reflects
Fayyad's own problematic political status in the PA areas. He is
not a Fatah member and receives no political backing from the Fatah
Moreover, Fayyad's lack of grassroots support handicaps his
ability to maintain control and loyalty of commanders and forces in
the field, which would only be exacerbated should Fatah seek a return
to Gaza. This is significant because Fayyad's close cooperation
with the United States, the West, and Israel must also translate to
implementation on the ground. While Fayyad is probably the most
impressive professional Palestinian statesman the U.S. and the West
have ever worked with, Palestinian elites and the public essentially
view Fayyad as a de facto
American agent. While Abbas has
also cooperated closely with Israel, the U.S., and the West, and has
also received death threats on Hamas and Fatah terror group websites,
his status as Fatah royalty protects him from opponents and maintains
his political base.
Senior Fatah advisors and former ministers close to Abbas have been
critical of the U.S. decision to place the PA's major security
force in the hands of Fayyad. The Fatah central committee even voted
in Ramallah in November 2008 to compel Abbas to remove Fayyad from
being in charge of the NSF and to replace with him with a Fatah
member. In late January 2009, Fayyad offered to resign his post
following accusations by Fatah that Fayyad was an obstacle to
reconciliation with Hamas.60
Dormant Terror Groups: The Hidden Threat to the West Bank and
Hamas is not the only major threat to Fayyad's forces in the West
Bank. There are multiple armed terror groups and militias that have
temporarily kept a low profile. However, they are capable of
undermining the entire PA security regime. Despite reports in early
2008 by Fayyad's office that militias such as the Al Aksa Martyrs
Brigades and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank had been dismantled, it
turned out that Fayyad had essentially agreed to a mutually
advantageous modus vivendi
with these groups. Gunmen have
agreed to hide their weapons, and Fayyad has agreed to "hide"
operatives on Israel's target list in PA jails under a "revolving
door" policy allowing freedom of entry and exit, which had created
serious concern among senior IDF commanders.61
reached agreement with Israel on a general clemency program for some
militia members in exchange for their commitment to cease all terror
activity against Israel.62
However, senior IDF commanders
have also expressed related concerns that since the NSF
deployment, "weapons provided by the U.S. to the PA are finding their
way to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Jenin as well as in
Abbas also had expended great efforts to
incorporate the Islamic terrorist organizations into the Palestinian
Another major concern of the IDF senior command has been that local
terror militias, such as the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian
Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, have also been integrated into local
NSF units. Such militia leaders include Abu Jaber, an infamous local
gang leader in Nablus who is also a NSF commander, who regularly
extorts Nablus business owners for protection money.65
Gaza: From "Hamastan"
While the West sees the PA's Abbas and Fayyad as the only
legitimate Palestinian address, the issue is far more complex within
the Palestinian political discussion. Abbas is seen by the
Palestinian street as "done," incapable of delivering peace or
anything of value to the Palestinians.66
Palestinian anger at Hamas for causing the recent IDF incursion, many
Palestinians, including elites and even traditional Fatah allies,
still see Hamas as democratically legitimate since it won the 2006
parliamentary elections. Hamas appears to be more popular than ever
among the Palestinians residents of Gaza. In mid-December 2008, some
250,000 Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate Hamas' 21st
Abbas is likely to face substantial roadblocks to reestablishing
Fatah control or coming to a modus vivendi
with Hamas. Fatah-
Hamas tensions are at a high point. Hamas and much of the Gazan
public are convinced that Abbas supplied Israel with intelligence and
other operational information to use to destroy the Hamas terror
infrastructure. As Palestinian analyst Mohammed Yaghi noted, "Hamas
even accused Nimir Hamad, Abbas' political adviser, of calling
Israeli defense official Amos Gilad and advising him to target Hamas
operators and installations only."68
In fact, since the
outset of Israel's military operation in Gaza, Fatah members
there have been rounded up and brutally tortured by Hamas operatives,
who have turned school buildings and hospitals into make-shift
Hamas also renewed house arrest
orders against Fatah officials and activists in Gaza shortly after
the military operation started. Since the cease-fire, Hamas has
stolen international relief shipments, even hijacking international
aid trucks to prevent Fatah from taking any credit in the eyes of the
Hamas no longer recognizes the presidential authority of Mahmoud
Abbas after his four-year term ended on January 9, 2009, although
Abbas has decided to remain in office, based on his reading of
More importantly, the Hamas leadership
is still intact. The IDF estimates that 400 to 700 Hamas operatives
were killed in the Gaza operation.71
That leaves most of
Hamas' 15,000-man army and 10,000-man police force in place,
including Izaddine al-Kassam, the Hamas Executive Force, and internal
security forces. A significant quantity of Hamas weapons and
ammunition remains hidden. Furthermore, during and after the IDF
operation, Hamas continued to smuggle weapons and contraband via
underground tunnels from Sinai to Gaza.
Hamas is not concerned about a tactical reconciliation with Fatah.
Several scenarios can serve Hamas interests. Hamas may agree to a
Fatah-Hamas national "reconciliation" government for tactical
reasons, as it did in 2007, to gain international recognition,
benefit from the billions of dollars of international aid, and
rebuild their offensive capabilities against Israel using the Fatah-
led PA as a fig leaf. At the same time, Hamas will again subvert
Fatah control on the ground.
Alternatively, Hamas may return to its more natural role as the agent
(Islamic armed resistance) while reengaging
Fatah forces in another round of civil war, which has killed hundreds
of Palestinians since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in September
2005. The armed strife intensified after the Palestinian national
unity government was brokered in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
February 2007 and lasted until the Hamas takeover in June of that
Hamas is not the only opposition force that Abbas will face.
Fatah's armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, announced on
January 19, 2009, that its men in Gaza fought against Israel
alongside Hamas, together with Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds
Battalions. The Al Aksa Brigades said they fired 102 rockets and 35
mortars, and detonated explosive devices that wounded a number of IDF
The U.S. and European Role in Securing and Rebuilding
Frenetic Western diplomatic efforts have been focused on rebuilding
Gaza under the control of the PA's West Bank leadership as a
prelude to a final settlement. Washington and European powers have
already committed several billion dollars to Gaza's
reconstruction. They are anxious for a final settlement, and European
leaders led by French President Nicholas Sarkozy are reportedly even
willing to recognize Hamas in the context of a Fatah-Hamas unity
Special UN envoy Tony Blair has also
expressed his support for the idea.74
However, the current
realities in Gaza may frustrate Western diplomatic plans.
It is far from clear that under current conditions any constellation
of Fatah forces could successfully restore stability in Gaza, hope
for Gazans, and long-term security for Israel. Despite the important
yet limited security and economic reforms PA Prime Minister Fayyad
has undertaken in the West Bank, the Palestinian public, both in Gaza
and the West Bank, are far from confident that Fatah is anything but
an incorrigibly corrupt and brutal regime that continues to be
rewarded with billions of dollars from the U.S., Europe, and Israel.
Since the cease-fire, some senior Fatah leaders have allegedly moved
quickly to set up "straw" construction and contracting firms in the
hope that the estimated $2.5 billion earmarked for rebuilding Gaza
will be funneled through the PA and its privileged elites in
Indeed, the Fatah-led P.A. will need to do
much confidence-building to earn the trust of the Palestinian public.
The United States and the West must avoid the temptation of once
again blindly relying on Fatah as the sole security and
reconstruction subcontractor for Gaza. The Obama administration must
implement tough and verifiable directives to facilitate internal
Palestinian housecleaning: no militias, good governance, complete
accountability, full transparency, effectiveness, and zero tolerance
for corruption, gangsterism, and terror within PA ranks in Gaza and
the West Bank. These steps are critical for the future of the
Palestinian project and take immediate precedence over current
negotiations with Israel.76
At the same time, U.S.-backed security efforts in the West Bank will
need to be upgraded to ensure the complete cessation of all direct
and indirect militia involvement on the ground or as part of the
current NSF security regime. Only a decision to uproot the active and
dormant militias and armed groups will ensure stability and enable
the socioeconomic, "bottom-up" infrastructure-building that special
envoy Tony Blair has worked diligently to develop in advance of
Any new Fatah-related security regime and government in Gaza that
receives U.S. and Western financial support must also be required to
submit to unprecedented oversight of rebuilding efforts, in order to
implement missing financial controls and adopt "best-practice"
standards. Corrupt and brutal warlords, gangs, and militias must no
longer be allowed to undermine the Palestinian national project while
they remain protected, privileged and empowered by the U.S.-backed
* * *
2. Fatah officials in the West Bank are also demoralized. Nasser
Juma'a, a Palestinian Legislative Council member from Nablus,
told a British reporter that the "Hamas are insects" and noted that
the Palestinians would likely not see a Palestinian state in his
lifetime. Qadura Fares, a senior Fatah official, said that the PA
would not succeed either in the West Bank or Gaza without "tackling
the privileges of the Fatah elite, who, he said, "have become like
princes" with regard to personal wealth, referring to rampant Fatah
corruption. David Rose, "In the Smart West Bank Health Club, Between
Jogging and Swimming Laps, People Were Screaming ‘Death to
Israel'," Mail on Sunday
, January 17, 2009.
3. French President Nicholas Sarkozy said: "We have pledged to help
Israel and Egypt with all the technical, military, naval and
diplomatic ways to help end the smuggling of weapons into Gaza,"
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1056208.html. British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown also offered to send British naval vessels to
battle smuggling, http://www.wtop.com/?nid=105&sid=1577726.
4. Mona Salem, "Egypt Rejects Calls to Open Border with War-Battered
Gaza," AFP, December 30, 2008,
5. For the full text of UNSC Resolution 1860, see
6. Barak Ravid, "Egypt's Truce Plan: Cease-fire Followed by
Border Security Talks," Ha'aretz
, January 7, 2009.
7. Khaled Abu Toameh, "PA Ready to Take Gaza if Hamas Ousted,"
, December 28, 2008.
8. http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009/01/113629.htm. President
Bush also called for international monitors in a radio speech on
January 2, 2009,
9. Natasha Mozgovaya, "Obama.: We will Aggressively Seek Middle East
, January 23, 2009. See also Roni
Sofer, "Obama Calls Abbas, Olmert on First Day," Ynet, January 21,
10. Khaled Abu Toameh and Dan Diker, "What Happened to Reform of the
Palestinian Authority?," Jerusalem Issue Brief
Center for Public Affairs, March 3, 2004,
11. David Horowitz, "This Time It Will Be Different," Interview with
U.S. Security Coordinator General Keith Dayton, Jerusalem
, December 11, 2008, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?
12. Senior officials close to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas confirmed the
lack of a Palestinian chief of staff and a disciplined, centralized
command structure in several meetings with author Dan Diker in 2008,
most recently in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2008. Also, the authors draw a
distinction between the Palestinian National Security Forces'
success in confronting Hamas activists in Ramallah and closing down
Hamas charities, and the PA security forces' lack of will to
uproot Hamas and other terror groups. This has been common to PA
control in Gaza and the West Bank and had characterized PA security
force failures in the 1990s. Other less active, yet competing, Fatah
militias include PA Preventative Security under the command of Ziad
Hab al-Rih, a Fatah operative and former colleague of former West
Bank Fatah strongman Jibril Rajoub. There are also other smaller
Fatah-affiliated armed groups.
13. Pinchas Inbari and Dan Diker, "The Murder of Musa Arafat and the
Battle for the Spoils of Gaza," Jerusalem Issue Brief
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, October 10, 2005,
14. Patrick Devenny, "Training Our Enemies," Front Page
, October 18, 2005.
more recent example, local Nablus warlord Abu Jabber was
integrated in Fayyad's National Security Forces in 2008 as a mid-
level commander, but this did not stop his local militia from
continuing to extort local business owners for protection money. One
local real estate developer related to the authors that Abu Jabber
had demanded an apartment for free in exchange for his militias'
forced protection services. This same phenomenon - national security
by day and mafia member by night - has characterized the PA Fatah
forces in the West Bank from Arafat's entry into the territories
in 1994 until today under the Dayton reform plan outlined at
Annapolis. American security programs under the Clinton
administration had ended up training numerous PA terror operatives
such as Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades terrorist Khaled Abu Nijmeh, who had
used his CIA training to supervise multiple suicide bombings in
Bethlehem in 2001 and 2002. A July 2005 report compiled by the
security consulting firm Strategic Assessments Initiative (SAI) on
behalf of the U.S. government found that, "even with millions of
American dollars and years of CIA training, the PA police were wholly
ineffective, wracked with divided loyalties and inferior equipment."
SAI charged that "many of the PA officers were active or complicit in
terrorist attacks or organized crime rings." See Devenny, "Training
16. For example, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades websites have called for
the murder of Fayyad since 2003, while Hamas' Izaddine al-Kassam
Brigades website called Abbas "a murderer" for his actions against
Hamas operatives and "justified exercising the use of divine justice
against him, relying on religious decrees that permit the killing of
a Muslim who collaborates in a crime against another Muslim." See Lt.-
Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi, "The Hamas Regime in the Gaza Strip:
An Iranian Satellite that Threatens Regional Stability," in
Iran's Race for Regional Supremacy
, Jerusalem Center for
Public Affairs, 2008, p.76.
17. Reports from Gaza indicate that hundreds of Fatah members were
killed and tortured by Hamas during and after Israel's military
campaign in Gaza. See Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas Rounding Up,
Torturing Fatah Members in the Gaza Strip," January 19, 2009. Fatah
and Hamas websites reveal the bitter hatred and enmity between the
groups that will not be solved if the groups agree for tactical
reasons to enter into a national unity government. This is frequently
misunderstood in the West, which believes that a Fatah-
Hamas "reconciliation" - like the one brokered in Mecca in 2007 and
which resulted in more deaths between Fatah and Hamas than in
previous years - would be a pretext for advancing the peace process.
A senior advisor to French President Nicholas Sarkozy told
that a Fatah-Hamas national unity government
would trigger EU acceptance of Hamas as a governmental partner to PA
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
18. Dan Diker, "A Deterrent Restored," Powerlineblog, January 9,
19. Khaled Abu Toameh Hamas: Abbas' Spies Led Israel to Siam,"
, January 17, 2009,
html. A high-ranking official at a senior Palestinian ministry
confirmed PA monthly salary payments to Hamas' Executive Force in
Gaza and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank, in a meeting
with the authors in Jerusalem, December 7, 2008.
21. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Straw Firms Said Aiming to
‘Steal' Gaza Funds," Jerusalem Post
, January 26,
22. Amir Mizroch, "Hamas Salaries Paid at Shifa Hospital,"
, January 12, 2009.
23. See the strategic assessment by former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe
Yaalon on the error of Israeli and Western backing of "strong"
and "weak" Palestinian leaders in "Israel and the Palestinians; a New
Strategy," op. cit.
24. "French Envoy, Palestinians Given $3B in Foreign Aid in 2008,"
December 23, 2008.
25. Elaine Sciolino, "$7.4 Billion Pledged for Palestinians," New
, December 18, 2007, as cited in Yaalon, "Israel and
26. According to a conversation with a senior Israeli security
official, January 13, 2009.
27. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas Shuns Bid to Give Rafah to PA,"
, January 8, 2009. Dahlan's candidacy to
reassert Fatah control in Gaza was confirmed by senior PA officials
in a meeting with author Dan Diker on December 8, 2009. Two Arab
diplomats familiar with negotiations over an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire
also confirmed his candidacy in separate conversations with Diker on
January 6 and January 11, 2009. Hamas leaders have also pointed to
Dahlan's possible return. A Hamas official in Gaza City claimed
that former Fatah security commanders who fled Gaza during the Hamas
takeover in June 2007, including Mohammed Dahlan and his deputy
Rashid Abu Shabak, "were holding meetings in Cairo and Ramallah to
discuss returning home." See Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas: PA Conspiring
with Israel," Jerusalem Post
, December 31, 2008.
28.According to a senior source in the Bureau of PA Chairman Mahmoud
Abbas, January 12, 2009.
29. Mohammed Dahlan interview, Egyptian State Television, January 21,
30. David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell," Vanity Fair
31. Pinchas Inbari and Dan Diker, "The Murder of Musa Arafat,"
Dahlan was believed to be a local partner in the UK
Portland Trust plan to develop hundreds of low-cost housing units in
32. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Analysis: A Viable Successor to Hamas
Is Hard to Find," Jerusalem Post
, December 29, 2009. Ramadan
Shallah, secretary-general of Islamic Jihad, warned that any
Palestinian "who dares to return to the Gaza Strip aboard an Israeli
tank would be condemned as a traitor." Senior Arab diplomats told
author Dan Diker on January 9, 2009, that Dahlan is not concerned
with Palestinian threats against him.
33. Yaalon, "Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy."
34. Patrick Devenny, "Training Our Enemies."
35. David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell."
36. A senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told
author Dan Diker that Dahlan was "very charming" at a meeting on
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., June 2005.
37. David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell."
A former State Department employee familiar with
the concept and planning of what was called "Plan B" to replace Hamas
with Dahlan's forces confirmed the plan to the author in an off-
the-record interview, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2008. See also David
Horowitz, "This Time, It Will Be Different," op. cit.
40. Horowitz, "This Time, It Will Be Different."
41. See a copy of the note reportedly left in a meeting in Ramallah
between PA and U.S. officials,
See a copy of the pre-"Plan B" U.S. security plan from 2006 left
behind at a meeting between U.S. and Palestinian officials in
42. David Rose, "The Gaza Bombshell." See also David Horowitz, "This
Time, It Will Be Different."
43. Former PA Interior Minister and senior Abbas advisor Hanni al-
Hassan shared his sharp criticism of the plan with the author in a
meeting several days after the coup on June 17, 2007.
44. Aluf Benn, "Top U.S. General Lays Foundation for Palestinian
, August 14, 2008,
45. "Remarks by U.S. Security Coordinator, LTG Keith Dayton, Update
on the Israeli-Palestinian Situation and Palestinian Assistance
Programs," House Foreign Affairs, Middle East and South Asia
Subcommittee, May 23, 2007,
46. Yaakov Katz, "Israeli Official: Dayton Failed," Jerusalem
, June 17, 2007.
47. According to Hanni al-Hassan, former senior advisor to Mahmoud
Abbas, in a meeting with the author, June 17, 2007. Hani al-Hassan,
former senior political advisor and member of Fatah's central
committee, said in an Al-Jazeera
TV interview on June 27,
2007, that what was happening in Gaza was not a Hamas defeat of Fatah
but defeat of plans of American Major General Keith Dayton, Mohammed
Dahlan and his Fatah followers. See
interview at http://uk.truveo.com/Hani-
Wurmser, former Middle East Advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney,
would later note, "It looks to me that what happened wasn't so
much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-
empted before it could happen."
Rose, "Gaza Bombshell."
48. Pinchas Inbari and Dan Diker, "The Murder of Musa Arafat."
49. Glenn Kessler, The Confidante, Condoleezza Rice and the Bush
(New York: St. Martins Press, 2007), p. 133.
50. Erica Silverman, "Two Steps Back," Al-Ahram Weekly
December 8-14, 2005.
51. Dan Diker meeting with former senior World Bank official,
Jerusalem, July 2005.
52. David Rose, "Gaza Bombshell."
53. Pinchas Inbari and Dan Diker, "The Murder of Musa Arafat."
54. According to Haggai Huberman writing in Hatzofe
former Sharon government had been provided a secret CIA tape
recording of Dahlan ordering the attack.
55. For many months in 2008 Abbas and Fayyad did not speak,
coordinate positions, or cooperate. More recent reports indicate that
their working relationship has slightly improved. They are
essentially leaders of two separate Palestinian Authorities. Fayyad
is the U.S. contact, while Abbas is the leader of the Fatah
establishment and has been a source of disappointment to the Bush
administration. See Glenn Kessler, The Confidante
, p. 130.
This point was also reiterated at a series of meetings in 2008 with a
senior advisor to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas based in Ramallah.
56. Aluf Benn, "Top U.S. General Lays Foundation for Palestinian
57. David Horowitz, "This Time It Will Be Different."
58. Yaakov Katz, "IDF: Jenin Forces Not Fighting Terror,"
, June 15, 2008,
Mohammed Abu Khadair, "Dr. Fayyad Places His
Government at the Disposal of the President to Pave the Way for
National Reconciliation," Al Quds
, January 23, 2009.
61. Yaakov Katz, "IDF: Jenin Forces Not Fighting Terror."
62. Isabel Kirshner, "Volatile City Tests Palestinian Police and
Peace Hopes," International Herald Tribune
, November 13,
63. Yaakov Katz, "IDF: Jenin Forces Not Fighting Terror."
64. Moshe Yaalon, "Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy."
65. A Nablus businessman told author Dan Diker of the direct threats
made against him by local Nablus Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades commander
Abu Jabber, in a meeting in Rome, December 9, 2009.
66. Steve Erlanger, "On Palestinian Question, Tough Choices for
Obama," New York Times
, January 22, 2009.
67. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas and the Palestinians," Hudson New York,
January 2, 2009.
68. Mohammed Yaghi, "The Impact of the Gaza Conflict on Palestinian
Politics," Policy Watch
, No. 1446, Washington Institute for
Near East Policy, December 31, 2008,
69. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas Rounding Up, Torturing Fatah Members in
the Gaza Strip," Jerusalem Post
, January 19, 2009.
70. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Hamas: Abbas No Longer Heads PA,"
, January 9, 2009.
71. Tova Lazeroff and Yaakov Katz, "Israel Disputes Gaza Death Toll,"
, January 22, 2009.
72. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Al Aksa: We Also Fought IDF in Gaza,"
, January 19, 2009.
73. Akiva Eldar, "Report: EU to Lift Sanctions on Hamas if
Palestinian Unity Government Formed," Ha'aretz
75. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Straw Firms Said Aiming to
‘Steal' Gaza Funds."
76. Robert Satloff, "In the Wake of the Hamas Coup: Rethinking
America's ‘Grand Strategy' for the New Palestinian
Authority," Policy Watch
, No. 1252, Washington Institute for
Near East Policy, June 26, 2007.
77. The notion of "bottom-up" peace-making based on broad Palestinian
reform was coined by former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, and
alluded to as a point of reference by Special Quartet Envoy Tony
Blair. See http://tonyblairoffice.org/2008/05/towards-a-palestinian-
state.html. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also
referred to "bottom-up" peace-making in concert with his program
of "economic peace" for the West Bank.
* * *
Dan Diker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at
the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where he is also a senior
foreign policy analyst. He is also an Adjunct Fellow of the Hudson
Institute in Washington.
Khaled Abu Toameh is Palestinian affairs correspondent and analyst
for the Jerusalem Post
and a number of foreign TV stations
and newspapers. They are currently co-authoring a book on the Middle
East peace process.