Internal Palestinian Struggles May Not Work to Israel's Advantage

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - "Bad for the Palestinians" does not necessarily mean "good for Israel," experts here said, as inter-Palestinian violence continued to rage on Monday.

A power struggle between the Hamas-led government and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah faction) has been escalating for weeks, and it reached another crisis point over the weekend when Abbas called for new elections.

Hamas leaders rejected the call, and they accused Abbas of a power grab.

Israeli Defense officials are warning of an upsurge in terrorism against Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported. One senior official told the paper that the way out of inter-Palestinian fighting is for the Palestinians to "join forces and fight against their common enemy - Israel."

Israel should be concerned that the escalating Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence could be harnessed and turned against Israel, one counter-terrorism expert said.

Reserve Col. Jonathon Fighel of the International Policy Institute on Counter-terrorism told Cybercast News Service that Israel has reason to be concerned. The Palestinians can inflict damage on Israel by firing rockets from the Gaza Strip, and if anarchy results, neither Fatah nor Hamas will be able to curb the attacks, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed government ministers over the weekend not to comment on Abbas' call for elections or on the Palestinian situation in general.

From Israel's point of view, Israeli officials should not intervene in any way, not even to declare support for Abbas, which would be "counter-productive," said Fighel.

Israel has been plagued by near-daily rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities that have done extensive damage and claimed some lives.

A recent truce between Israel and the Palestinians has greatly reduced, but not stopped, the number of Kassam rockets that militants fire at Israel.

Any event could cause local groups to unite and retaliate -- even in the West Bank, which is closer to Israeli population centers, said Fighel.

Fighel warned that roads in the West Bank where Israeli settlers travel close to Palestinian villages are particularly vulnerable. He described a possible scenario where Fatah-Hamas fighting could spill over into the roads, possibly killing Israeli civilians - something that would change the situation completely.

In a symbolic way, Fighel said, the Islamic struggle against the West is being played out in the Palestinian territories. Hamas represents radical Islam and -- armed by Iran -- is facing off against Abbas and his Fatah faction, which represents democracy and is equipped by the U.S.

Jordanian King Abdullah II recently warned that there are three civil wars brewing in the region: in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. But Fighel, a former Israeli military governor of several West Bank cities, described the situation as "gang wars" rather than a civil war.

Professional armed gangs are roaming the streets, he said. Yesterday they carried out attacks against Israel; today they are carrying out attacks against their own people, he explained.

Fighel said the militants are professionals. They know how to shoot. But most people in the society are just sitting and crying. They are in despair, he added.

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