(Dari CSM/Christian Science Monitor)
The Bush administration has spent most of its $84 million in aid to Palestinians to train an elite corps of Fatah-loyal fighters.By Dan Murphy | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Cairo and Tel Aviv – Senior US officials in Washington on Wednesday promised ongoing military support for secular Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas amid his power struggle with Islamist Hamas as part of an $84 million aid package largely aimed at improving the fighting ability of an elite corps of loyalists from his Fatah Party.
Israel, too, is making overtures to Mr. Abbas, reported the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday, allowing light arms to flow to members of his Presidential Guard and saying that it would allow some of the US training of his forces to take place in the West Bank.
That policy puts the US and Israel on a highly unusual course in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: Four-square support for Fatah to contain, if not defeat, the growing power of Hamas, which won the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) last election.
But whether the effort will succeed is far from certain, and some analysts say there are risks to that course, chief among them the possibility of further fueling the internal Palestinian conflict, leading to deeper despair in the occupied territories and a PA less able to make the compromises on peace with
“They want to see Hamas removed from office and see Fatah in control of everything, and [the military assistance program] should be seen as part and parcel of that approach,” says Mouin Rabbani, of the International Crisis Group (ICG), reached in
“If you want to reach a stable and durable Palestinian settlement you can’t do that by empowering one faction at the expense of the other, since you very much guarantee that the other faction, which is being marginalized, will seek to undermine any peace agreement.”
The US insists that all of its aid to the Presidential Guard is “nonlethal,” consisting of training, uniforms, and supplies, as well as paying for better infrastructure at Gaza’s borders.
Regional analysts and Palestinian officials say the rifles being provided to the guards are being provided by other Arab states with close ties to the
And supporters of the program say the
“As a soldier, I believe there’s a point when inaction, a wait-and-see attitude, is no longer an option,” said Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who is overseeing the program, in testimony to a congressional subcommittee Wednesday.
“The situation has gotten to be quite dire in
Abbas now finds himself engaged in an elaborate, multiparty dance involving Hamas, the
He has been quietly urging Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah, of Hamas, to stop rocket fire at
Last week, when that fighting veered towards open warfare between the Palestinian factions, Israel allowed about 500 Fatah loyalists to cross back over the Rafah crossing into Gaza from Egypt, where they were receiving US training, an unusual move for Israel, which seeks to strictly limit the movement of fighting-age men through the Gaza border with Egypt.
These men have been widely reported to be members of the Presidential Guard, though a source who works in
The return of the 500 troops followed a Hamas attack on another camp for Abbas’s Presidential Guard near the Karni crossing with
That attack was a “wake-up call” to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas on the need to do more to strengthen forces loyal to the Palestinian president, says Gershon Baskin, codirector of the independent
“If Abbas’s forces aren’t strengthened with weapons, technical training, and money,
But the impression shared by many in
“Palestinians believe the American support to Abbas is to take out Hamas rather than help secure the border crossings,” says Omar Shaban, a political expert in
“All of the support by the
Mr. Baskin said that while the Israeli military establishment was at first leery of allowing shipments of arms to forces loyal to Abbas, the prevailing view among Israel’s generals is that a direct military confrontation inside Gaza with Hamas is inevitable, so some generals believe it’s worth arming Abbas first.
Whether a Palestinian civil war is good or bad for
“We can not accept the point of view that the US and
“The Egyptian regime here is trying to minimize the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and any success for the Hamas government means more support for the Brotherhood in
Mr. Gad says
The internal Palestinian fighting has helped bolster the position of Fatah members like Mohammed Dahlan, who heads the Palestinian National Security Council. Mr. Dahlan, who has spent five years in prison for alleged terrorism against