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Great expectations

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had a grand old time on Tuesday, as they talked of ways to transform Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into something he's never been: a competent leader who is willing and able to effectively combat Hamas. Messrs. Olmert and Bush correctly noted that Mr. Abbas has spoken out in favor of moderation and had plenty of positive things to say about the importance of strengthening "moderates," however defined. Left unexplained thus far is how to ensure the U.S.-Israeli plan to bolster Mr. Abbas' Fatah organization by lifting sanctions, training its army and providing it with access to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of frozen tax revenues actually goes to fight terrorism rather than bolstering it.

If there's one thought that unites Israeli analysts outside the government, as well as representatives of both Fatah and Hamas, it's that Hamas operatives in the West Bank — who were driven underground by a Fatah campaign of arrests and kidnappings — will be back with a vengeance. Fatah's ex-security boss in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, had the good fortune to be away for "medical treatment" when Hamas decapitated his security forces. Mr. Dahlan warns that if Palestinians are not careful, Hamas and its financial backers in Iran will try the same thing in the West Bank. The Associated Press on Tuesday quoted Hamas operatives as warning that "they'll eventually come out of hiding to try to destabilize the rule of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with car bombings and assassinations." A senior Palestinian security official acknowledged that Hamas has recruited hundreds of armed agents in West Bank sleeper cells in preparation for a campaign to destabilize the West Bank, and Hamas claims to have thousands of gunmen in Nablus and Hebron. A Hamas terror campaign would also be aided by the presence of Hamas explosives experts and bomb-making laboratories.

Messrs. Bush and Olmert hope that by strengthening Fatah security forces, they can prevent this from happening. But Fatah's performance thus far is hardly encouraging on that score. Last week in Gaza, for example, Hamas announced it had captured more than 50,000 rifles and pistols during their rout of security forces at Fatah's Gaza City headquarters. Over the weekend, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (whose cadres are expected to provide the lion's share of Mr. Abbas' new security force), fatally shot a Palestinian patient in a hospital for "collaborating" with Israel; other reports suggest that Fatah's operations in the West Bank in recent days are almost a mirror image of Hamas' Gaza bloodbath against Fatah — rather than any kind of serious anti-terror operation against Hamas terror cells. In this context, throwing hundreds of millions of additional dollars to Mr. Abbas without attaching some major strings is a recipe for folly.