Hamas Holds Rallies in Judea and Samaria: Raising Security Concerns in Knesset Elections
N.B. The entrance to the exhibition is carpeted with an Israeli flag for visitors to walk on (Pictures from Hamas' Filastin
In the wake of the UN granting the Palestinian Authority (PA) observer status and the cease fire between Israel and Hamas concluding Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas’ public presence in Judea and Samaria has increased. This has been abetted by the PA and President Abbas reflected in recent public rallies on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of this Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. These public Hamas rallies have attracted thousands. The PA leadership believes the rallies might allow the restive Palestinians to blow off steam. However, it might also lead to a possible takeover by Hamas akin to the 2006 Legislative council elections and the 2007 defenestration of the PLO-Fatah that enabled Hamas to control Gaza.
While the PA security is monitoring these rallies, doubtless Israel’s security services may be concerned about rising support in the disputed territories for Hamas and its charter that seeks destruction of the Jewish state. Israel also has to be concerned about the homegrown version of Hamas, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement whose leader, Sheik Raed Salah has called for the establishment of a mini-Caliphate in Jerusalem. What may also concern Israel is whether the PLO-Fatah/ Hamas marriage of convenience might foster the eruption of possible Third Intifada in the disputed territories.
The Amir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel drew attention to these latest development of the PA - Hamas unity drive in a recent assessment - see here. Among its conclusion are:
1. The Palestinian Authority recently allowed Hamas operatives in Judea and Samaria to hold mass public events to mark the 25th anniversary of the movement's founding [. . . ] in the main cities and on university campuses in Judea and Samaria, primarily in Nablus, Hebron, Qalqiliya and Tulkarm. Thousands of Palestinians participated, a clear demonstration of Hamas' power in Judea and Samaria after four years in which the Palestinian Authority forbade or limited public Hamas activities. The PA's security services oversaw the rallies and prevented them from turning into violent confrontations with the IDF.
2. The rallies emphasized Hamas' narrative of "victory" in Operation Pillar of Defense. Demonstrators carried models of rockets and listened to speeches given by Hamas activists in Judea and Samaria and from the Gaza Strip. The speeches, especially those by Hamas activists and operatives in the Gaza Strip, stressed the importance of the path of terrorism (jihad and the so-called "resistance") as the only way to restore the Palestinians' "full rights" (i.e., the destruction of the State of Israel). Senior Hamas figures called for strengthening the "resistance" in Judea and Samaria, claiming that all local, regional and international conditions were ripe for a third intifada, which would be "hard and decisive."
3. Providing the unusual authorization for Hamas to hold mass rallies in Judea and Samaria is part of the PA's current policy of redefining the limits placed on its political rivals and promoting an atmosphere of reconciliation. It is a trend which has continued for the past year and a half, especially since the reconciliation agreement (signed in May 2011) and the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal (October 2011). Since then Hamas has significantly increased its public presence in Judea and Samaria, especially on issues where a Palestinian consensus is perceived to exist (such as the struggle of the Palestinian terrorist operatives imprisoned in Israeli jails). At the same time the PA allows the Hamas media to operate, and they cover various events through the prism of Hamas, inciting the local populace to terrorism and goading Palestinians to revolt against Israel. The most prominent media with correspondents on the ground in Judea and Samaria are Al-Aqsa TV, which broadcasts from the Gaza Strip, and Al-Quds TV, which broadcasts from Beirut.
4. In our assessment the Palestinian Authority gave Hamas permission to hold mass rallies because it understood that given the atmosphere prevailing in the Arab world in general and on the Palestinian street in particular, it would be hard to prevent such rallies from being held. Therefore, the PA considered it best to allow the local residents let off steam under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority and its security services. In addition, permission may have been given as a signal to Israel and the international community as to the possible consequences of a political freeze and the need to strengthen the PA.
5. The mass participation of the Palestinian population in the rallies reflects, in our assessment, extensive support for Hamas in Judea and Samaria. The support for Hamas and its accompanying incitement to terrorism are liable to contribute to an increase in violence in Judea and Samaria, even if the PA can be expected to prevent the situation from getting out of control. Violence in Judea and Samaria, so far limited to various types of "popular" activities (throwing stones and Molotov cocktails and attacking IDF soldiers), has risen since Operation Pillar of Defense, and especially since the upgrading of the PA's status in the UN.
It is ironic that during Operation Pillar of Defense Israel’s Iron Dome system and its Air Force successfully intercepted and destroyed more than 425 rockets, including the longer range Iranian supplied Fajr-5s. However, the Hamas cease fire and support within the Islamist Arab Muslim world has won the Arab street media war. That irony is not lost on the Israeli public and the Palestinians. Jewish News Onecited a poll conducted by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah:
The poll found that only 26 percent of Israelis think the Jewish State won the conflict. In contrast 81 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas was the victor.
That Israeli poll result may be reflected in the electoral campaign for a new Knesset and a possible new conservative coalition government alignment led by incumbent PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s campaign announcement focused on security and expanded construction in the disputed territories surrounding Jerusalem, especially the recently announced E-1 project to the east of Ma’aleh Adumim. The Knesset electoral campaign ends on January 22nd. A revitalized National Religious [Zionist] Party (Habayit Yehudi) led by Naftali Bennett with right wing secular allies has entered the electoral fray challenging Netanyahu. Habayit Yehudi called for annexation of 60% of the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria. Habayit Yehudi zoomed to third place in polls possibly closing in on Labor in second position.
The emerging conservative shift may also be reflected in Israeli PM Netanyahu’s campaign message emphasizing dealing with Iran, and the Islamic Republic’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. That campaign message focuses on Israel’s “long arm” reach preventing achievement of Iran’s nuclear weapons program possibly crossing red lines of nuclear enrichment in 2013. So far, the Iranian Islamic Republic has not been deflected by US and EU sanctions, or P5+1 negotiations. This despite reports that Iran’s economy may be in meltdown. This come amidst new reports of another Stuxnet malworm attack on Iran’s commercial oil and uranium processing facilities at Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf. As Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington, DC- based Foundation for Defense of Democracy, said on Fox News "Happening Now" yesterday, that US and Israeli resolve to counter Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons must be backed by a credible military option – watch here. That bolsters Netanyahu’s electoral campaign message of putting security first.