|Mahmoud Abbas (r) meets with the Hamas |
political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in Qatar,
July 20, 2014. (Image source: Handout from the
Palestinian Authority President's Office/Thaer Ghanem)
07 September '14..
If the West Bank had one quarter of the weapons that the Gaza Strip has, Israel would be eliminated in one day. This is what Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told worshippers during a sermon he delivered on September 5.
Zahar, who, during Israel's Operation Protective Edge, spent his time in hiding, was speaking during Friday prayers at Martyr Abdullah Azzam Mosque in Gaza City.
Abdullah Azzam, by the way, was a Palestinian "scholar," teacher and mentor of Osama bin Laden, the slain leader of Al-Qaeda. Azzam was killed in Pakistan in 1989.
Back to Zahar, who delivered his first sermon since the Egypt-brokered cease-fire between Hamas and Israel was announced in late August: he chose to remind Palestinians and the rest of the world of his movement's dream to destroy Israel.
"If only the West Bank had one quarter of what Gaza has of resistance tools, the Israeli entity would end in one day," Zahar declared, reiterating the claim that Hamas had scored a "big victory" in the war.
The Hamas leader went on to criticize those who still have doubts as to whether Israel could be destroyed.
"Those who were skeptical as to whether Palestine could be liberated are no longer doubtful after the enemy was hit from the Gaza Strip," Zahar said. "Can you imagine what would happen if the enemy is targeted from the West Bank, which makes up 20% of the size of Palestine?"
Zahar's wish to see the West Bank flooded with rockets and mortars and other "tools of resistance" was echoed by other Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders and spokesmen after the recent war in the Gaza Strip.
Zahar himself was quoted recently as saying that Hamas's goal now was to "move the Gaza example of resistance" to the West Bank.
Even the Iranians seem to think that the time has come to turn the West Bank into a launching pad for attacks on Israel.
During the war in the Gaza Strip, a senior Iranian commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohamed Reza Naqdi, announced that Tehran had plans to "arm Palestinians in the West Bank" in order to destroy Israel.
Naqdi boasted that the weapons used by Hamas and other Palestinian groups during the recent war had been manufactured and supplied by Iran.
The threats by Hamas and Iran regarding the West Bank show why it is critically important for Israel (and the Palestinian Authority) to insist on the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip as part of any long-term cease-fire agreement.
Even more significantly, these threats underline the need to keep the West Bank a demilitarized area in any future peace agreement, especially one that would see the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.
Moreover, these threats support Israel's insistence on maintaining permanent security control over the border with Jordan. Without such a presence, Iranian-made weapons would easily find their way into the West Bank.
What Hamas and Iran are saying is that if and when Israel pulls back to the pre-1967 lines, they, together with other Palestinians, would bring weapons into the West Bank to achieve their goal of eliminating the "Zionist entity."
Zahar does not even believe that there is a need for large amounts of weapons – just one fourth of what Hamas and Islamic Jihad already have in the Gaza Strip are sufficient, in his eyes, to destroy Israel in one day.
In the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, it is not difficult to understand why flooding the West Bank with weapons poses an existential threat to Israel.
But this is also something that would wreak havoc on Palestinians in the West Bank.
Fortunately, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority are fully aware of attempts by Iran and Hamas to turn the West Bank into a base for terrorism and jihadis.
Thanks to Israel, they are also aware of Hamas's effort to topple the Palestinian Authority and replace it with an Islamist government.
Last month, Israel announced the arrest of more than 90 West Bank Hamas members who planned to stage a coup against Abbas and renew terror attacks against Israelis. Were it not for Israel's effort, Abbas and his top officials would have been either killed or imprisoned by Hamas.
That episode explains why Abbas has now ordered a massive crackdown on Hamas members and supporters in the West Bank. During the Gaza war, Abbas refrained from such measures against his Hamas rivals out of fear of being accused of "collaboration" with Israel.
Since the cease-fire went into effect, Abbas's security forces in the West Bank have detained more than 80 Hamas men. They have also stopped Hamas-affiliated preachers from delivering sermons during Friday prayers.
Abbas will be able to rein in Hamas in the West Bank only if he pursues security coordination with Israel.
However, it would be unrealistic to expect Abbas or any Palestinian government to disarm Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority would not be able to survive for one day in the West Bank without the presence of the IDF, especially given Hamas's rising popularity among Palestinians in the aftermath of the war.
Last week, Abbas sent two senior officials, Saeb Erekat and Majed Faraj, to Washington to present his "new peace initiative" to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Abbas's initiative envisages the establishment of a Palestinian state within three years either through negotiations or by having the UN Security Council impose a solution on Israel.
Abbas's initiative, however, ignores the threat from Hamas and Iran to use the West Bank as a launching pad for destroying Israel. It also ignores that Hamas could easily seize control over a future Palestinian state by force or through the promised free and democratic elections, as assured by a recent public opinion poll published by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
Abbas is demanding a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines (including the border with Jordan). But he cannot offer any assurances that Hamas and Iran would not use this border to smuggle weapons into the West Bank.
In fact, Abbas is demanding from the Israelis and Americans something that would bring about his own demise. His only option for now is to hold onto power in the West Bank and continue to work with Israel against the common enemy – Hamas. The day Hamas agrees to lay down its weapons and abandon its dream of destroying Israel, he will then be able to go to the U.S. and Security Council and ask for an independent state next to Israel.