- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

Since Monday, when we suggested that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to take meaningful actions against terrorist groups was jeopardizing the peace process, the situation has continued to deteriorate. Meanwhile, some Israelis are threatening armed resistance against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from some settlements.

On Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces sought to stop continuing efforts spearheaded by the Damascus-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad to rebuild a West Bank terrorist infrastructure that was decimated in Israel’s 2002 military campaign. IDF troops tried to arrest two armed members of PIJ in the West Bank. A firefight ensued after the fugitives barricaded themselves inside a house. Israeli troops subsequently killed both men.

Later that same day, Hamas, still smarting from Mr. Abbas’ decision to indefinitely postpone parliamentary elections, responded by launching a rocket barrage at the Israeli village of Sderot as children headed to school. No children were killed, but three workers — two Palestinians and one Chinese — died in the attack. Several Israelis were wounded in a Qassam rocket attack on Ganei Tal, one of the Gaza settlements in the upcoming disengagement plan.

The violence bodes well for neither Mr. Abbas, who helped broker a truce with Hamas leadership, nor Mr. Sharon, whose idea it was to withdraw from some settlements. But the violence, perhaps, was expected — especially after the Palestinian Authority announced this week that it was postponing parliamentary elections that were expected to be held in July. Hamas had done quite well in this spring’s municipal elections, and was anticipated to make a strong showing in the national elections.

In an interview last month with editors of The Washington Times, Sheik Hasan Yousef, a Hamas leader on the West Bank, said: “As long as Israel is not acting aggressively toward us, we are committed to a state of calm: “We can’t postpone the election. That would be a horrific setback for the democratic policy.” Indeed, it also might be a setback for Mr. Sharon. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, in a separate interview, told us: “We can’t allow Hamas to run for election and gain more power … It would be a catastrophe for the Palestinian Authority.” Mr. Shalom also said that because Hamas is “scoring points” with Palestinians, including those in Gaza and the West Bank, planned sites for the withdrawal, he favored halting the pullout if the elections went forward and Hamas gained control of the parliament.

Israeli militants calling themselves Moaz Hayam are threatening to ensure, as one member said, that the disengagement “won’t be carried out.” Moving into derelict buildings and tents along the Gaza Strip, the men, women and children will be 150,000-strong by the time the Sharon evacuation plan moves further into the summer. Despite the fact that the Sharon plan has been sanctioned by the Knesset and the Supreme Court, many politicians, religious leaders and settlers oppose the pullout — and understandably so, since they will be losing their homes and communities.

While Sharon supporters try to quell concerns, Palestinian security officials met with their Israeli counterparts to discuss the logistics of Israel’s pullout from Gaza, and Mr. Abbas met with Fatah, Hamas and others involved in the truce. The fact is that Mr. Abbas is in a tenuous position, trying to instigate democracy among a population that has no constitutional rights or freedoms. The reality is that both Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas have their hands full.

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