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December 13, 2005
Has Abbas Gotten Serious?

The Palestinian Authority has done something remarkable the past few days; they have arrested dozens of islamic Jihad operatives in response to attacks on Israel, a unique demonstration of authority that PA president Mahmoud Abbas had long avoided:

Masked Palestinian security forces have arrested dozens of Islamic Jihad activists in a series of overnight raids across the West Bank in recent days — an operation the Palestinian Authority says is aimed at bringing those behind attacks on Israel to justice.

However, the biggest crackdown on militants since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas took office a year ago has netted only low-level operatives, and some suspect the goal is to appease the United States and Israel rather than crush the militant group.

At the same time, analysts and Israeli security officials said the arrests have sent an important message to the Palestinians — and Israelis — that militant groups can no longer operate with impunity.

"It is a symbolic way to tell everybody, 'I am serious,'" said Israeli security analyst Boaz Ganor.

Has Abbas finally gotten the message from Israel and the US that his continued defiance of his obligations to disarm the militias made him and the PA irrelevant in future negotiations? Perhaps. With Ariel Sharon moving ahead with his unilateral securing of Israel and redefinition of the borders between the West Bank and Israel proper -- including Jerusalem -- Abbas could watch the doors close on his opportunity to influence the literal parameters of his proto-state as well as the figurative parameters of peace. The US has made clear that we would prefer to negotiate these points with a serious partner for peace from the Palestinian side -- but that so far, we haven't found one.

Islamic Jihad gives Abbas the safest route to pick up some sorely needed credibility. They have the most radically Islamist philosophy and have the lowest political backing in the territories. Even so, it looks like Abbas has carefully picked his detainees to ensure that he doesn't overly anger IJ commanders -- who I suspect will see their street thugs back under their command soon enough anyway. Abbas doesn't have the juice to go after Hamas, whose political popularity probably surpasses his own Fatah faction and would touch off a civil war.

Can Abbas play this game for long? Unfortunately for him, no. The Palestinians have made it clear that they do not want peace with their neighbor -- they want a war of annihilation, and Hamas and IJ give them that chance. Abbas' only hope is to make a deal quickly with the Israelis and the US and hope it's good enough to convince ordinary Palestinians to change their minds. Otherwise, one way or the other, Abbas will shortly be out and the war will be back on again.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 13, 2005 7:23 AM

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