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Palestinian Authority Crackdown on Hamas and PIJ in the West Bank

Palestinian Authority Crackdown on Hamas and PIJ in the West Bank
Jihadist thuggery and contests over power and money.
By Hugh Fitzgerald

In the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has been cracking down on Hamas, the PIJ, and the PFLP, in what has become a ruthless campaign to suppress his political rivals, by shutting down their events, and preventing them from appearing in the public square. Some have been hauled in for interrogation, others have been detained. The PA is now enduring an avalanche of criticism both from those groups, and from Palestinian human rights organizations, over its crackdown.

A report on this internecine Palestinian warfare is here: “PA steps up crackdown on Hamas, Islamic Jihad members,” by Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, November 27, 2021:

The Palestinian Authority has stepped up its security crackdown on members of Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the West Bank, drawing sharp criticism from the groups, political activists and human rights organizations.

In separate statements, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), whose members are the prime targets of the ongoing clampdown, called for an end to the measures taken by the PA security forces.

A PA official in Ramallah said that the security measures were designed to “enforce law and order” and “prevent attempts by thugs and armed gangs to undermine the Palestinian Authority and disturb the peace.”

It is not “law and order” that the PA is enforcing but the iron rule of Mahmoud Abbas, who brooks no opposition. The PA violates “law and order” whenever it feels like, in order to suppress even non-violent protests, or even just the public showing of Hamas or PIJ flags or banners, or to rid itself of dangerous dissidents, as Abbas recently did when he had his goons murder Nizar Banat, the activist who, on social media, had been the most damaging critic of Abbas’ corruption. That murder led to waves of protest in the PA-controlled parts of the West Bank.

Abbas was particularly intent on keeping funerals from turning into political rallies against him. At a recent funeral for Wasfi Kahaba, a Hamas member who had died of Covid, armed members of both Hamas and the PIJ showed up in force, in a direct challenge to Abbas that embarrassed and infuriated him. Ever since then, his men have been monitoring high-profile funerals, to make sure there is no repeat of that symbolic challenge to his rule by members of Hamas or the PIJ. .

The PA official dismissed accusations that the PA leadership was exploiting the security crackdown to target political rivals and silence critics….

This PA crackdown was precisely intended to “target political rivals and silence critics.” Abbas knows how deeply unpopular he is. In a recent poll, 80% of Palestinians said they wanted him to resign because of his mismanagement and, especially, his massive corruption. He is deeply resented.

The participation of Hamas and PIJ masked gunmen in the funeral was seen as a huge embarrassment for, and a direct challenge to, the PA’s leadership.

In response, PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to replace the commanders of the various branches of the Palestinian security forces in the Jenin area.

Furious at the public show of force by both Hamas and the PIJ, Abbas chose to replace his local commanders with others, presumably chosen for their ruthlessness in clamping down on Hamas and PIJ.

Abbas is also reported to have issued strict instructions to the PA security forces to ban all public events held by Hamas, PIJ and other groups that are not affiliated with his ruling Fatah faction.

Abbas Is now in take-no-prisoners mode with Hamas and PIJ. No public gatherings, protests, speeches, welcome-home events for just-released prisoners, or funerals, will be allowed if they are tin any way connected to a group other than his own Fatah. He is trying to squeeze Hamas and the PIJ out of the public square altogether. His security services have now been engaging in proleptic arrests of Hamas and PIJ members, taken into custody not for anything they have done but for what they are deemed likely to do.

According to Palestinian sources, at least 65 Palestinians have been detained by the PA security forces in the past two weeks. Most of the detainees are suspected of being affiliated with Hamas and PIJ, the sources said.

In addition, more than 50 Palestinians were summoned for interrogation by the PA security forces, especially in the northern West Bank.

Hamas condemned the PA crackdown, dubbing it a “national and moral crime.”

Mahmoud Abbas will do whatever it takes in order to stay in power. He’s having people hauled in for questioning, in order to scare them, and to make them understand that they are under observation and must not deviate into dissidence. He’s detained others, and held them in prison — without trials — not for any act they’ve carried out, but only because they are affiliated with, or deemed sympathetic to, Hamas and the PIJ.

Referring to the PA ban on public events, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said that such actions by the Palestinian security forces “only serve the occupation.” He pointed out that the PA crackdown coincided with an increase in “the Zionist aggression against Palestinians” in the West Bank. “Instead of targeting Palestinian factions and preventing them from holding activities, the Palestinian Authority should be defending Palestinians,” Qassem said in a statement.

Qassem’s charge could be turned on its head: it is the terror groups Hamas and the PIJ whose murders of Israeli civilians have sullied the image of the Palestinian cause and thereby “serve the occupation” (that is, the state of Israel). The PA’s Fatah faction has been “defending Palestinians” who are loyal to it, just as Hamas and the PIJ have defended their own members. And at the same time the P.A. tries ferociously to suppress its political rivals within the Palestinian camp. Hazem Qassem has some gall in denouncing the PA crackdown on Hamas, when he knows perfectly well that the greatest internecine bloodletting among the Palestinians has been that let loose by Hamas on members of Fatah in 2006-2007.

Hussein Abu Kweik, a senior Hamas official from Ramallah, condemned the PA for targeting events to celebrate the release of Palestinians from Israeli prison. “This behavior violates Palestinian values that respect the prisoners and glorify their struggle,” he said.

The targeting of Hamas members and its banners will not “discourage the movement from continuing with its honorable path of resistance and pursuit of national unity,” Abu Kwiek added.

The PA is not against celebrating the release of all prisoners from Israeli prisons. But it will not allow an event celebrating their release if they belong to Hamas or the PIJ, when it is likely these events will turn into celebrations not only of the individual prisoner, but of the group to which he belongs. It thus can become a vehicle for the public display of anti-PA sentiments, and this is something that Abbas will not permit.

PIJ said in a statement that the “abduction of our activists by the Palestinian security forces in Jenin is an unpatriotic and immoral act.” The group claimed that the PA crackdown was intended “to serve the occupation.”

The PA is not interested in “serving the occupation.” It remains an implacable enemy of Israel, as its “Pay-For-Slay” program, providing generous monthly subsidies to imprisoned terrorists and to the families of terrorists killed in action, demonstrates. It even goes beyond dispensing money to reward past, and incentivize future, acts of terrorism. The PA also names schools, streets, squares, sports teams, and much more, after terrorists, including such people as Dalia Moghrabi, responsible for the Coastal Road Massacre in which 38 Israeli civilians, 13 of them children, were murdered. Naming public places for these terrorist murderers keeps them fresh in the Palestinians’ pantheon, and encourages young Palestinians to emulate those whose names have been memorialized in such a fashion.

The PA crackdown has nothing to do with “the occupation” and everything to do with maintaining the PA’s continued despotic rule over West Bank Palestinians, by forcibly suppressing any public demonstrations of support for the PA’s rivals Hamas and PIJ.

But for the PA there is only one legitimate Palestinian group – its own – and those who, in Hamas and PIJ, challenge the PA’s authority, and the rule of Mahmoud Abbas, must be suppressed.

Commenting on the incident during the funeral in Bethlehem, the PFLP accused the PA security forces of carrying out a “brutal assault” on the mourners.

“What happened confirms that the [PA] security forces have not learned lessons from their assaults on public freedoms and that they insist on proceeding with their repressive measures,” the PFLP said in a statement. “The attack on the funeral represents a dangerous shift in the practices of the Palestinian security services, which requires the prosecution of those involved in it and of those who gave the orders.”…

The Palestinian security services are being told by the PFLP that they should investigate the practices of the Palestinian security services. I can believe six impossible things before breakfast, but that scenario is not among them.

Referring to the PA ban on public events, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said that such actions by the Palestinian security forces “only serve the occupation.” He pointed out that the PA crackdown coincided with an increase in “the Zionist aggression against Palestinians” in the West Bank. “Instead of targeting Palestinian factions and preventing them from holding activities, the Palestinian Authority should be defending Palestinians,” Qassem said in a statement….

Hazem Qassem denounces the PA’s attack on other factions – that is, Hamas, the PIJ, and the PLP – insisting that Palestinians should always “defend” and never “target” other Palestinians. Has he forgotten the bloodbath carried out by Hamas in Gaza in 2006-2007, when it attacked Fatah members, murdering many hundreds and causing many more to flee the Strip? A total of 616 Palestinians were killed in internecine warfare in Gaza between 2006 and 2007, most of them members of Fatah murdered by Hamas.

Mahmoud Abbas is engaged in a full-scale crackdown on his Palestinian political rivals, Hamas and the PIJ, and cannot now back down. It’s a case of what the Soviets used to call “Kto kovo” – “Who (does it to) Whom.” Among the Palestinians in the West Bank, this rivalry has become a zero-sum game. Abbas knows perfectly well that those rivals – Hamas, the PIJ — would gladly do to him what he is now doing to them. He remembers how Hamas murdered hundreds of Fatah members in Gaza in 2006-2007. He’s determined to squeeze Hamas and PIJ out of the public square, by closing down all their events in the West Bank, including funerals of their members, and welcome-homes to released prisoners who belong to Hamas or the PIJ. He’s had some of their members rounded up for interrogations, and detained still others. He’s even banned the public display of their flags and banners.

There is no grand principle at stake here. It’s purely a contest over power and money: who is to prevail among the Palestinians — the Slow Jihadists of the PA, or the Fast Jihadists of Hamas and the PIJ? It’s nothing like the political rivalries in the advanced West, between Tories and Labor, or Democrats and Republicans. No, these Palestinians at daggers drawn should make us think only of the Crips and the Bloods.

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