Fatah operatives in the West Bank on Thursday criticized the Palestinian Authority leadership and accused its representatives of failing to take a “tough stance” against the current IDF military operation in the Gaza Strip.
One of them, Ziad Abu Ein, a deputy minister in the PA, called on Hamas to return the weapons it had confiscated from Fatah members in the Gaza Strip so they could help in fighting against the IDF during a ground offensive.
Abu Ein said Fatah had about 70,000 loyalists in the Gaza Strip, many of them former members of the PA security forces, who were prepared to repel an Israeli incursion.
Meanwhile, a senior aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas launched a scathing attack on Hamas and accused it of being a puppet in the hands of Iran. He also denied allegations by Hamas and other Palestinians that Abbas was planning to return to the Gaza Strip “aboard an Israeli tank.”
Some Fatah representatives went as far as accusing the PA leaders of “collusion” with Israel to get rid of the Hamas government so they could return to the Gaza Strip.
The Fatah members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed out that the PA leadership here had banned all forms of demonstrations in support of Hamas in the West Bank.
“They allowed people to demonstrate in the first two days, but then started cracking down on the demonstrators,” said a senior Fatah official. “You’re permitted to demonstrate only if you promise to refrain from voicing your support for Hamas.”
The Fatah official and some Palestinians told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas’s forces in some West Bank cities had forced merchants who were on strike to open their businesses. The strike was organized by various Palestinian factions in protest against the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.
Another Fatah official said it was “ironic and sad” that people were demonstrating in Tokyo and London against the Israeli offensive while the PA was trying to halt such protests out of fear that they would turn into pro-Hamas rallies.
The criticism against Abbas and the PA leadership is a sign of growing divisions inside the ruling Fatah faction over how to relate to the anti-Hamas IDF campaign.
Senior Fatah members – including Marwan Barghouti, the top Fatah operative who is serving life terms in Israeli prison – are said to be “enraged” with the way Abbas is handling the conflict.
In messages to the PA leadership, some of the senior Fatah figures threatened to come out in public against Abbas unless he took “real” steps to exert pressure on Israel to halt the offensive. One of their primary demands was that Abbas suspend peace talks with Israel and stop security coordination with Israel and the clampdown on Hamas members in the West Bank.
Moreover, the Fatah officials demanded that Abbas release all Hamas detainees from his prisons and agree to the resumption of reconciliation talks with Hamas.
The Fatah officials are worried that the IDF operation will make their leaders appear as if they were collaborating with Israel. The Arab media has been full of unconfirmed reports suggesting that the main goal of the Israeli operation is to pave the way for the return of Abbas’s men to the Gaza Strip after they were kicked out in the summer of 2007.
On Thursday, the secretary-general of the Damascus-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Nayef Hawatmeh, joined Hamas in claiming that some Arab leaders, including Abbas, had apparently given Israel a green light to launch its attack.
While some Fatah members appeared to be unhappy with the IDF operation, others expressed hope that Israel would destroy Hamas.
“I have no sympathy for Hamas because of what they did to our Fatah brothers in the Gaza Strip,” said a Fatah activist in the nearby Al-Amari refugee camp. “They brought this disaster on themselves because of their crimes against our people. We will never forget what they did to us.”
Senior PA officials here strongly denied Hamas allegations that Abbas had established an emergency room to prepare for the return of his loyalists to the Gaza Strip after the collapse of the Hamas government.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior adviser to Abbas, accused Hamas of spreading “lies” and of incitement against the PA leadership. He admitted, however, that the PA had formed a special committee “to follow up on the situation in the Gaza Strip.”
The attack on Hamas was the fiercest by a top PA official since the beginning of the IDF operation. It came despite an order issued by Abbas earlier in the day banning PA and Fatah representatives from openly criticizing Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“The Hamas leadership has disappeared, and someone needs to look after the Palestinians,” he said. “What’s wrong with the establishment of a committee to follow up on what’s happening in the Gaza Strip? Mahmoud Abbas is the president of all the Palestinians, and it’s his duty to follow up on the situation on all levels.”
Abdel Rahim denied allegations by Hamas that the PA was providing Israel with information about the whereabouts of Hamas leaders and the location of security installations.
“The information is coming from within Hamas’s ranks,” he charged. “Hamas has been infiltrated [by Israel].”
He also denied that Fatah had set up special cells of its supporters in the Gaza Strip to help Israel get rid of Hamas and to prepare for the return of the PA.
The PA official accused Hamas of serving Iran’s agenda and of seeking to marginalize the role of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in the region.
“Hamas is trying to turn this conflict into a card in the hands of the Iranians so that Teheran could later use it in negotiations with the Americans,” he said. “The Iranians want to appear as if they have influence in the region.”
Accusing the Hamas leaders of being “arrogant and political idiots,” Abdel Rahim said the Islamist movement did not believe that Israel would attack the Gaza Strip out of fear for the life of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit and because of the upcoming general elections in Israel.
He also condemned Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh for declaring that Hamas would not succumb even if the entire Gaza Strip were wiped out.