Sunday, August 01, 2004

Palestinians - 3 -- Is liberation nigh?

Inter-Palestinian violence is spreading even further in the West Bank after the torching of the Jenin Governor's offices on Saturday by militia. It seems that the armed factions within the Fatah movement are beginning to take sides openly, some to push out Arafat's Tunis crowd (all the while paying lip service to supporting Arafat) and others being sent by Arafat's people to defend him against reformers.

Arafat's most visible opponent is Muhammad Dahlan, the former security chief under Arafat's first Prime Minister. Dahlan's crowd is assumed to have been the forces behind the recent Gaza mutiny and call for reforms, and they have done very well in local Fatah elections in Gaza so far. These results are unlikely to hold up in other parts of Gaza, however, where their base isn't as strong. And as for official municipal and PA elections in both the West Bank and Gaza, poor security conditions have been used consistently as excuses for failure to hold elections of any kind for years. The disintegrating conditions will continue to be a convenient excuse for the current holders of power. An analysis by Kahed Abu Toameh in tomorrow's Jerusalem Post doesn't think Dahlan has the power base neede to take out the old man.

[The] PA chairman ordered his loyalists in Nablus to break up a meeting organized by Fatah operatives and local legislators to demand reforms and transparency.

The gunmen, belonging to the Fatah-affiliated Awdah Brigades, stormed the conference hall, shooting into the air and forcing the participants to flee. The gunmen admitted that they had been dispatched by Arafat's office.

Arafat's temporizing doesn't look like it's working so far. But he controls most of the guys on the streets in the West Bank via the multitude of militias.

Most of the West Bank cities are controlled today by various Fatah militias whose members have long been on Arafat's payroll. These gunmen are angry because they have not received their salaries for the past few months, but that has not affected their loyalty to Arafat.Each city in the West Bank has become an independent enclave of its own, ruled by local warlords and rival gangs and thugs.

Arafat is well aware that the majority of the gunmen roaming the streets of the West Bank are his soldiers on the ground and that he can rely on them to squash any move to undermine his power. That's why he maintains direct phone contact with the leader of each Fatah militia. Yet Dr. Arafat is likely to lose these men's support unless he starts paying them again.

Could it be that the first stage of the Palestinian civil war (that is, intra-Fatah) has finally arrived?

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