On the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s send visit to Israel so far this year, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has expressed fears that Ismail Haniyeh’s radical Hamas organization could wind up taking control of the West Bank from Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, either by force or arms, or by democratic election. Barak, who was meeting with a U.S. envoy to the Middle East, said that he is afraid that all of the efforts that the Israeli government is trying to make in giving support to the Abbas led section of the Palestinian Authority will be for naught, should this happen, and Israel will then be in even greater danger, with hostile Hamas militiamen on Israel’s most vulnerable sections, ready to launch even more Qassam and Grad type rockets into Israel’s most populated areas.
With Palestinian general elections not far away, many disenchanted Palestinians may see Hamas’ victories as reason to elect them to be the political entity in the West Bank as well, as Abbas’ Fatah organization has not really done much to satisfy the people, and is about as corrupt as it was in Gaza. Hamas, on the other hand, is known for giving social assistance to its constituents, even though it has been much harsher on the lives of most Palestinians, including forcing them to live according to strict Shaari Islamic law. West Bank Palestinians, on the other hand, have much more individual social and religious freedoms, which even includes am FM radio station which plays the latest popular Western hit tunes. The West Bank is also the home of approximately 200,000 Jewish residents, many of whom live in well established towns and settlements which include large sections of northern and eastern Jerusalem. This number is a far cry from the 9,000 settlers, who were evacuated from 21 settlements in Gaza back in August, 2005.
Judging from the experience of the Gaza disengagement, which many Israelis now blame for the continuous launchings of rockets into Israeli cities and towns like Sderot and Ashkelon, it will be more difficult to stage massive evacuations of Jewish settlers from the West Bank, as doing so could result in Qassam rockets striking cities like Kfar Saba and Grad-type rockets hitting Tel Aviv. Of course, it is more difficult to smuggle large quantities of arms and explosives into the West Bank as compared to Gaza (with its numerous tunnels on the border with Egypt). This wouldn’t stop resourceful terrorists from making their own rockets, however, and fueling with ammonium nitrate fertilizer as is now being done in Gaza.
Hamas has recently been increasing it’s activities in many West cities and towns, and for this reason, Barak and other Israeli officials fear that it might not make much for a weakened Abbas led government to be defeated either at the ballot box or by a coup. These fears have been advised to American and European government officials, and will be discussed with Secretary Rice during her visit.