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January 6, 2007
The Real Civil War, Continued (Updated)

Mahmoud Abbas raised the stakes in the slow-motion approach to civil war in the Palestinian territories today by declaring Hamas' militias illegal:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday declared Hamas' paramilitary militia in the Gaza Strip illegal, raising the stakes in his standoff with the Islamic movement.

Abbas made the announcement two days after members of the Hamas force attacked the home of a senior security commander in Gaza, killing the man and seven of his bodyguards. The man was a member of the Preventive Security force, which is loyal to Abbas' Fatah party.

Abbas' office said the decision was made "in light of continued security chaos and assassinations that got to a number of our fighters … and in light of the failure of existing agencies and security apparatuses in imposing law and order and protecting the security of the citizens."

Technically, Abbas has this right. If the Palestinian Authority exists as a proto-state, then the PA has to have a monopoly on the organized use of force for legitimate law enforcement purposes. No state can long survive having a competing organized army within its borders without falling into anarchy or civil war. Lebanon has the same problem and is experiencing the same results.

However right Abbas might be, he still has a problem -- and that's the difference in perceived legitimacy between Hamas' militias and the PA police force. After experiencing years of corrupt police power through Fatah's management, a good portion of the Palestinian people obviously prefer the governance of Hamas, such as it is. They elected them to a majority in the PA assembly and still apparently support them to this day. Or, put another way, they see no more state legitimacy in Fatah's militia than they do in Hamas -- which speaks volumes about the nature and status of the PA.

Now that the militias of Hamas have been declared illegal ... who will enforce that law? Will Abbas move to disarm Hamas by force? Or is this more of a carte-blanche to Fatah militias to openly attack Hamas in the streets? Abbas has let slip the dogs of war, and we are on the precipice of a catastrophic free-for-all in Gaza and the West Bank. Now is the time for the Palestinian people to rise up and demand peace, and to generate the leadership that can impose it, before they kill so many of themselves that no hope for future leadership will exist at all.

Addendum: This follows on the heels of the assassination of a Hamas critic and another Fatah activist:

Witnesses said Adel Nassar, 50, was murdered because, during his sermon, he dared criticise the killers of a Fatah security chief and seven of his bodyguards. That attack, on Thursday, was widely blamed on Hamas.

The killing of a cleric represents a new low in the internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah which has already claimed dozens of lives and defied attempts by the parties' leaderships to agree peace terms.

The latest call for a ceasefire by the leaders of both groups ended in the co-ordinated attack on the home of Col Mohammed Ghayeb on Thursday night, the bloodiest single recent battle.

Col Ghayeb made a phone call to Palestinian television describing how men fired a rocket-propelled grenade into his fortified home in the Jabalya refugee camp. Moments later the colonel was killed. When the battle eventually subsided six of his men were dead and a seventh died in hospital yesterday.

The cleric, by the way, was unarmed and walking to his house when Hamas assassinated him. Even the deliberate murders of clerics and children have not satiated the blood thirst of the Palestinians. It's not clear what will do so, except the annihilation of Israel and each other. Some state.

UPDATE: Hamas doubles down -- literally:

Ruling Palestinian movement Hamas has said it will double its armed force to 12,000 men, hours after President Mahmoud Abbas declared it illegal.

Mr Abbas had demanded the militia's integration into existing security structures.

They're choosing up sides. If this follows traditional civil-war dynamics, there will be no such thing as non-combatants -- which pretty much sums up their entire political and military approach anyway. It will be interesting to see what happens to both sides when they attack people for the first time who have the ability to defend themselves.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 6, 2007 9:43 AM

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Tracked on January 7, 2007 12:44 AM


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