A PA police commander was killed by Hamas gunmen in a Gaza City street battle on Sunday, and several policemen stormed into the parliament compound the next day, demanding a crackdown on Hamas. Shots were fired outside the building, and one armed policeman entered the chamber and interrupted the session. Shortly afterwards, the PA legislature resolved overwhelmingly to vote Abbas out of office if he does not form a new government within two weeks.
Against this backdrop, King Abdullah II of Jordan announced last night that he had arranged a meeting for next Tuesday between Sharon and Abbas. This, only ten days after the king met with rabbis and Jewish students in the U.S. and delivered a message of tolerance and respect for Judaism.
Middle East expert Prof. Rafi Yisraeli, speaking with Arutz-7 today, said that the Sharon-Abbas meeting is an "SOS call from Abbas to Sharon." Before he elaborated, however, he said that King Abdullah's intervention in arranging it requires explanation:
"When he has problems with Iraq, he doesn't come and ask for our help, so why is he getting involved between us and the Palestinians? In my opinion, this shows the basic flaw in the entire process known as the 'peace process' - including our peace treaty with Jordan. The whole country [Israel] was excited about the 'great' thing we did by signing a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 - but the fact is that we didn't sign an agreement with Jordan, but rather with the Hashemite Kingdom.
"[The problem is that] the Hashemite family is not a state, nor is it a nation, but is rather a regime that controls a country that is mostly Palestinian. It is well known that King Abdullah is scared to death, just like his father King Hussein was, that one day they will be told that Jordan is really the Palestinian state, or part thereof. Therefore, King Hussein made a very smart move by making peace with Israel, thus having Israel recognize Jordan as a Hashemite country - leaving the Palestinian problem for us [Israel] to deal with all alone. And we fell into this trap, and in fact the Palestinian problem is all ours. In the meantime, Abdullah plays the role of the hero, the mediator, etc.
"But the [Palestinian] problem won't go away, because if the Arabs of Judea and Samaria receive a state, and even if they are fine and perfect, they still only comprise a third of those who see themselves as Palestinian; the 2/3 who are in other countries will still continue to knock on our doors. There is simply no solution to the Palestinian problem if [the area of] Jordan is not involved - and yet Sharon is going along with Abdullah's strategy."
Returning to the immediate problems within the Palestinian Authority, Prof. Yisraeli said, "The PA tries to act like a democracy, and pass itself off as one - but the fact is that the PA police ran into the PA parliament in protest of the PA's lack of action against Hamas. That's a democracy? That's more like Franco's regime in Spain... In addition, Hamas is planning to run in the elections, which are now scheduled for this coming January, and has already announced its intentions if it wins: a Hamas fundamentalist state, outlawing all contacts with Israel, etc."
Given these issues, Yisraeli said, "I think that the purpose of this meeting is for Abu Mazen to ask for Israel's help in postponing the elections [because he does not want to risk a Hamas victory]. But this is also a two-edged sword for the PA, because if the elections are pushed off, this will give an excuse to Hamas to start acting up; also, there are others who want the elections, so that it can be clearly seen how much support the PA has. On the other hand, if the elections are held on time, neither Sharon nor U.S. can prevent Hamas from taking part - and then Abu Mazen will be in trouble. That's why he comes with an SOS to Sharon, whom he previously didn't want to meet at all. And what will Abu Mazen demand? He wants Israel to release more terrorist prisoners, including murderers, so that he can come to his people with this achievement and thus gain their support."
Yisrael continued his analysis, relating it to the recent expulsion/abandonment of Gaza:
"This whole process will put the entire disengagement process to a critical test. For if there are elections and Hamas wins, then we really will have accomplished nothing at all [by leaving Gaza] - we'll simply have a very hostile state on our border, with rocket attacks and terrorism, leaving us with no option; we certainly won't fire rockets at a civilian population... But if Abu Mazen succeeds in getting us to free his prisoners, and then he wins the election, Hamas won't take this quietly, and Hamas-PA clashes can be expected. This will mean that the PA is not receiving the public legitimacy it needs, especially in light of the armed police break-in on Monday, etc. In short, the situation is quite volatile, and Israel does not appear to have anything to gain, as usual."
Hamas members have already said that they object to any postponement of the elections. Hamas spokesman Moshir Al-Masri announced that holding the elections on time is a "popular demand and a national necessity," threatening that the "Palestinian nation will not tolerate any further postponement of the elections."
Elections in the Palestinian Authority have only been held once, in January 1996, and have been postponed three times in recent years.
The Hamas concerns are not groundless. At least one PA parliament member, Hatam Abdel Kader from the Jerusalem district, has confirmed that there is high-level talk of pushing off the elections.
Though Prime Minister Sharon has said in the past that Israel would do everything it could to prevent the elections if the Hamas terrorist organization were to take part, Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz has waffled on the issue. He told Army Radio this week that Israel "need not intervene in the PA elections," though he said that Israel is totally within its rights in demanding that Hamas be disarmed first.
Hamas leader Mahmoud A-Zahar said this week that any attempt by the Palestinian Authority to disarm any of the other organizations would be considered "treachery" and could lead to a civil war. He said that the groups' weapons are "clean and pure" and are directed only against the enemy [Israel].