Sunday, January 8, 2006

Even before the major stroke that felled Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israelis were bracing themselves for the reality that security conditions in Gaza have rapidly deteriorated in the wake of the IDF withdrawal, completed four months ago. The Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas does not function as a government, democratic or otherwise, in Gaza; right now, Gaza resembles Lebanon during its 15-year civil war that ended in 1990 and Afghanistan throughout the 1990s: nations with weak to nonexistent central governments, where local warlords and militias ruled individual regions and the rule of law was absent.

Last Monday, 200 Palestinian policemen stormed government offices in Rafah, located on the border between Gaza and Egypt, smashing windows in the Interior Ministry building there. The police said they rioted to protest the failure of Mr. Abbas’s PA to fight growing lawlessness. The following day, armed members of Mr. Abbas’s own Fatah faction of the PLO stormed the Interior Ministry building there to demand the release of several colleagues for kidnapping a British human rights worker and her parents. Then, on Wednesday, Palestinian gangs in Rafah crashed stolen bulldozers through the border wall separating Egypt from Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians streamed across the border into Egypt. Two Egyptian soldiers were killed and 30 others were wounded in the violence, and an Egyptian armed vehicle was set afire.

In Gaza today, more than 1 million Palestinians are “governed” by terrorist groups and criminals. Some areas are dominated by one or more of the armed bands affiliated with Fatah (many of these militia members are themselves members of Mr. Abbas’s security forces); others by Hamas or by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, controlled and financed by Iran and Syria, and still others by an amalgam of terrorist groups calling themselves the Popular Resistance Committees.

Al Qaeda, which is already operating in parts of the Egyptian-controlled Sinai, is trying to infiltrate Gaza, and Hezbollah is already operating there. Last month, Israel arrested a Gaza resident carrying an explosive belt in the western Negev Desert who was planning to blow himself up at the Dimona nuclear reactor.

Meanwhile, Israel is struggling to find a solution to the problem of Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza; last year, terrorists there fired 377 barrages of the rockets into Israel. Last week, a catastrophe was narrowly averted in Sderot when a rocket narrowly missed hitting a gas station.

Given the facts on the ground, it is delusional to believe that the Palestinian elections scheduled for Jan. 25 will improve things anytime soon. If anything, with the likelihood that Hamas will gain enough political strength to join Mr. Abbas’s government as a result of those elections, the forces who are tearing Gaza apart will probably become stronger in the short run.

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