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Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has had a credibility problem ever since Yasser Arafat named him as Prime Minister. He has never had a mandate for action of any kind, as the Palestinian electoral fraud that hoisted him into the presidency demonstrated. His Fatah faction has only minority support, as the Palestinians have openly endorsed Hamas by a 2-1 margin in the only election cycle that Hamas contested.
Now it appears that even his Fatah faction may be deserting Abbas, as their al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has now overtly turned their guns on their leader -- and Abbas suddenly has become a convert to the rule of law:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered a crackdown on Thursday on Ramallah militants who defied demands that they lay down their arms under peace moves he had agreed with Israel.
Abbas took a tougher line after half a dozen gunmen from his own ruling Fatah faction fired at his Ramallah compound on Wednesday night while he was inside and then went on a rampage in the West Bank city, damaging several restaurants and shops.
In another sign of lawlessness plaguing the Palestinian territories, an angry crowd burned down tents used as offices by Palestinian police in the West Bank town of Tulkarm early on Thursday after police shot and wounded three suspects.
"President Mahmoud Abbas has issued an order to prevent any security violations and harm to citizens' property," a spokesman said. "Security units have been deployed to prevent further attacks."
Expect to see more of this infighting, probably escalating to the point of civil war in the territories, if Abbas cracks down and tries to reach a compromise with Israel. The Palestinian people have made clear their preference for the Hamas approach to Israeli relations, which means that any agreement that falls short of the Mediterranean for the Palestinians will not be accepted by them. His Fatah faction can only count on about 30% of the electorate's support at any time, and this clearly shows that even Fatah's loyalties are split -- and since they qualify as the moderate party in the Palestinian Authority, Abbas' presidency is puttering on political Empty.
Abbas has nothing to lose with his new get-tough policy, and perhaps it will lead to one of the key goals of the so-called Road Map: the elimination of the militias in favor of a state-controlled security apparatus than can get the nutcases under control. With the thin support he enjoys inside and outside his own power base, however, one must conclude that Abbas needs a lot of luck and tremendous strategic stupidity on the part of his opponents to succeed. Given the history of the PA, that's still possible, but it looks more and more unlikely.
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