Towards Palestinian Elections: The Democracy of the Rifles (JCPA) JERUSALEM CENTET FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS) Jerusalem Issue Vol. 5, No. 13 by Brief Brig. Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari 12/28/05)
JCPA-Jerusalem Center Public Affairs
JCPA-Jerusalem Center Public Affairs Articles-Index-Top
Arafat was the cement that held all the Palestinian factions
together including, unofficially, the Muslim factions. This cement
has now disappeared. All the divisions that we see in Palestinian
society today, that have been there all along, have reemerged. He
was able to control both the Fatah outsiders who came from Tunis,
and those who were in the territories during the first intifada.
Around 200,000 people came in from outside after Oslo, including
a great many PLO activists. The main power of this group derived
from the fact that they were close to the “old man.” But the old man
is gone and all the outsiders are in a much more problematic
Palestinians today are primarily concerned with the loss of
control in their society – in dimensions and to depths never seen
before. Civilians have their own weapons, and the weapons of the
security forces are barely under the control of any central
authority. When Arafat was operating from Lebanon, he would speak
about “the democracy of the rifles.” Today, the Palestinians are
indeed living with the democracy of the rifles.
Who is stronger: Hamas or Fatah? Some Israeli intelligence
officials say the ratio of armed forces is 22,000 for the PA and
6,000 for Hamas – a four-to-one ratio – which is enough for the PA
to overcome Hamas. But every Hamas and Jihad member is worth four or
five or six Fatah members because he’s much more committed and
fanatical and has more self-discipline.
The Impact of Arafat’s Death
Yasser Arafat was the cement that held all the Palestinian factions
together, including the Muslim factions which were not under the PLO
umbrella. This cement has now simply disappeared. Suddenly, all of
the problems that had been pushed aside by Arafat or because of the
existence of Arafat have reemerged. All the divisions that we see in
Palestinian society today have been there all along under the
Today the Palestinians are trying to advance the idea that Arafat
was poisoned. Why? Because he was a legend, and a legend cannot die
in such a humiliating way as the world saw on television, including
the embarrassing scandal that his wife made. The fact remains that
he died outside of the Palestinian territories, not in Ramallah or
Jerusalem. So it is important to show that he was killed by the
Israeli Mossad, or the British secret service. He had to have been
killed by some enemy because this is a much more dignified way to
go. The Palestinian government nominated a committee a year ago to
review all the documents and decide the cause of Arafat’s death, but
I don’t believe the committee will ever issue a report because the
real circumstances surrounding his death do not match the image of
the major Palestinian leader of the last forty years.
Who is the “Sole Legitimate Representative of the Palestinian
In the last ten years Israelis have almost forgotten the name “PLO.”
They talk about the Palestinian Authority. Arafat succeeded in
convincing most of the world – including Israel – that as head of
the PLO he was the sole legitimate representative of all the
Palestinian people. Every time I met with a PLO official, they
always insisted on saying: “the PLO, the sole legitimate
representative of the Palestinian people.” Why was it so important
for them to remind us of this fact? Because there were others who
hold a different view – those in the Islamic camp who were not part
of the PLO.
What is today called Hamas is actually the Muslim Brotherhood. The
Muslim Brotherhood has operated here since the 1940s and both Hamas
and Islamic Jihad developed from it. Only in 1987, at the beginning
of the first intifada, did they declare themselves Hamas, which in
the beginning referred only to the fighting arm of the Muslim
Brotherhood. Later the name “Hamas” was used for the entire “daawa”
system, including the social and welfare infrastructure.
At the end of the 1980s, even before Arafat came to the territories
from Tunis, he held secret conversations with the Hamas leadership,
which demanded 40 percent representation in the PLO institutions.
But Arafat turned them down. Today we are witnessing a major
struggle in the municipal elections and the elections for the
parliament, in which Hamas is seeking to establish its claim for
significant representation within the governing institutions.
However, if the Muslim movements enter the PLO, they will try to
impose their Islamist agenda which is based on the laws of sharia.
For example, in Kalkilya, where the municipality was taken over by
Hamas, the annual “Palestine Festival” was cancelled this year to
avoid mixed seating of men and women. But this was not as surprising
as it seemed, since before 1967, according to the archives of
Jordanian intelligence, Kalkilya was the cradle of the Muslim
Brotherhood in the West Bank.
The “Old Man” Who Protected the Outsiders from Tunis is Gone
In addition to the Islamists, Arafat was able to control both the
Fatah outsiders who came from Tunis and those who were in the
territories during the first intifada (1987-1991). Arafat was a
symbol for all the Palestinian people, but he was mainly the symbol
of the outside. In 1994 and 1995 he brought with him all these
outsiders who had lived for 30-40 years outside the territories in
Tunis, Yemen, and other places.
The Palestinians call this “the small return.” Around 200,000 people
came in from outside after Oslo, including a great many PLO
activists. The splits in Fatah that we see today originated back
then. The main power of this group derived from the fact that they
were close to the action, to the “old man.” But the old man is gone
and all the outsiders are in a much more problematic position today
in relation to the younger generation who grew up inside the
Major Palestinian Concerns Today
Palestinians today are primarily concerned with the loss of control
in their society – in dimensions and to depths never seen before.
Civilians have their own weapons, and the weapons of the security
forces are not under the full control of any central authority. When
Arafat was operating from Lebanon, he would speak about “the
democracy of the rifles.” Today, the Palestinians are indeed living
with the democracy of the rifles.
When Palestinians talk about corruption, they refer also to the
management of the PA, which started badly from the beginning and
became worse, but this had nothing to do with the “occupation.” The
situation in the Palestinian courts also has nothing to do with
the “occupation.” The courts are inside the cities and no “occupier”
enters the courts when they are in operation. However, since 1996
there has been shooting inside the courts in the West Bank and Gaza,
sometimes in front of the judge, because some of the families were
not satisfied with the judge’s decision and they would shoot the
accused in the middle of the courtroom. Judges were also threatened
Since the first intifada, ten to twenty different gangs have arisen,
which are found in every city: the “Black Panthers,” “Red Eagles,”
PFLP, DFLP, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Fatah-Tanzim, with further
divisions such as Tanzim Balata, Tanzim Askar, and the like. There
are also pressure groups that come from inside the Palestinian
security services, whose involvement in the economy is part of
Arafat’s legacy. Arafat may be dead, but most of the systems he
created are still here. Only the names have changed.
Under the system that Arafat built, the Palestinian Education
Ministry has 28 directors-general. Arafat’s system of governance was
the system of families, of the hamullah. For example, he would give
the first director-general position to the Abdulhabi family in
Jenin. Then members of another tribe or family would ask, “What
about us?” So he would give them a position as director-general too,
in the same ministry, which means one cellular phone, a car, and a
job paying $500-600 a month.
The anarchy in Palestinian society reaches into every corner of
everyday life, including the hospitals. After the disengagement
there were major clashes between Hamas and the PA in Gaza, with
three policemen killed and more than 100 injured. Officers from the
PA intelligence service brought injured relatives to the hospital,
entered the operating room, and threatened to shoot the doctors if
they did not operate on their family member immediately. Incidents
like this have triggered strikes of doctors almost every month in
Gaza. The same thing has occurred in Nablus in the West Bank.
Unfortunately, such stories do not reach the local and foreign media.
The Missing Factor
Israel is trying to help Abbas, and the Americans are trying as
well, but it’s not enough. What is really needed is the
crystallizing of a movement inside the Palestinian people to come
and change things. The pressures are there but they are not
gathering a critical mass in order to be translated into real power
in the streets.
Who Would Win a Hamas-Fatah Confrontation?
Who is stronger: Hamas or Fatah? If Abbas makes a decision – which
he never made before – to confront Hamas, who would win? Some
Israeli intelligence officials say the ratio of forces is 22,000 for
the PA and 6,000 for Hamas – a four-to-one ratio – which is enough
for the PA to overcome Hamas. But I believe they are mistaken.
In 1980, the head of Israeli military intelligence was asked who was
going to win the Iran-Iraq War. He predicted the Iraqi side would
win because it possessed four times the number of tanks and planes
as Iran. What happened in the end was that after ten years of war,
the Iranians were very close to winning. He failed to make the
correct assessment because there was something that he couldn’t
assess because he didn’t have the tools. He didn’t have the ability
to assess the motivation of the forces.
It’s the same story here. Every Hamas and Jihad member is worth four
or five or six Fatah members because he’s much more committed and
fanatical and has more self-discipline. In my opinion, the PA is not
at one minute before midnight but twenty minutes after midnight.
Mohammed Dahlan told Arafat during his last year, “If you don’t do
the confrontation now, it will be too late.” And he was right.
Hamas Participation in PA Elections
I personally very much support the participation of Hamas in the
elections. Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood, had told Arafat: “You
may be legitimate but you’re not the sole representative. We are
here too.” Israel signed the Oslo agreements with only half of the
Palestinians. Some Israelis say that now that Abbas is PA Chairman,
Israel has an address to deal with. But he represents only half of
an address, without the Islamic movement. Every paper that Israel
signs with Abbas before the Palestinian elections is worthless
because he doesn’t represent the whole system. He represents perhaps
20 percent of it, if that, and that is the key problem.
Hamas should take part in the elections, and then Israel can
condition its dealing with a united Palestinian government on
eliminating all the uncontrolled weapons and disavowing the idea of
Even if Abu Mazen wins the elections in January, he will not disarm
Hamas after the elections. I foresee the situation continuing to
deteriorate, and the PA is going to fail at the end of the day.
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