TEL AVIV, Israel – An election this week in the West Bank has alarmed the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority, combining with other recent developments to prompt fears the Hamas terrorist organization is seeking to take over the strategic West Bank just as it seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
The West Bank borders Jerusalem and is within rocket range of Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport.
President Obama has stated he seeks to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
Earlier this week, Palestinian students at the West Bank’s Barzeit University held elections for the student council parliament. Hamas scored 22 seats, while PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization garnered 24, according to final results provided to WND yesterday. Another five seats went to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
While Fatah won a plurality, Hamas’ almost equal showing sounded alarm bells for Fatah. Barzeit is located in the Fatah stronghold city of Ramallah. Fatah previously dominated the university student body, while most of the staff is oriented toward Fatah. As well, most West Bank Hamas leaders are locked up in Israeli prisons and were thus unable to provide the students with any support in the election, while Fatah donated money to its constituents.
In a related development, Fatah yesterday discovered a warehouse in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya that Hamas had used to store weapons and incitement material against Fatah. The discovery came one week after Fatah found a Hamas explosives lab under a mosque in the same city.
“Hamas is developing their military infrastructure in the West Bank,” said a Fatah security source.
Earlier this month, WND reported a Fatah intelligence investigation quietly concluded the PA’s general intelligence service, as well as members of Fatah’s militias, are in a “heavy” state of infiltration by Hamas, according to Palestinian security sources.
The U.S. arms, trains and funds Fatah militias. The issue of Hamas infiltration is significant since Hamas’ penetration of Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip was thought to have been the Achilles heel that led to the terror group’s 2007 takeover of the entire Gaza Strip in which it forcibly expelled Fatah.
‘Hamas setting stage for West Bank takeover’
Both Israeli and Palestinian security officials recently told WND they have specific information Hamas is quietly setting the stage for an eventual West Bank takeover attempt. The officials said that among other things, Hamas has been acquiring weaponry in the West Bank and has set up a sophisticated system of communication between cells that could be used in a seizure attempt.
The U.S. backs Israeli-Palestinian talks leading to the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet Security Services, estimated during a Knesset meeting last November that if control of the West Bank were handed over to Abbas, Israel would suffer a “significant threat to its security.”
A Fatah investigation last year – the results of which were shared with WND – found Hamas was establishing a quasi-militia in the northern West Bank. The city of Jenin, for example, was thought to contain a Hamas infrastructure of gunmen numbered only in the dozens. But Fatah says it found out Hamas last purchased more than 600 high-powered assault rifles and distributed them to fighters in the city, the security officials said.
Palestinian officials said Fatah raids confiscated about 100 rifles in Jenin, but they believe 500 more were handed out by Hamas.
Fatah’s investigation last year found that members of its declared military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, were recruited by Hamas in Jenin with higher paychecks, security officials said.
The investigation also found that many Fatah Brigades gunmen granted amnesty in June 2006 by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sold their weapons to Hamas, which stockpiled and distributed the rifles in Jenin, said Palestinian security officials. The amnesty was granted as an Israeli gesture to bolster Abbas against Hamas and was conditioned on Brigades terrorists handing in their weapons to the PA for a fee.
Fatah’s 2008 investigation was initially sparked because of a noticeable spike in the price of assault rifles in the West Bank that year, Palestinian security officials told WND. The officials said Fatah also recently confiscated $350,000 in cash from a Hamas official in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which is considered a Fatah stronghold. The cash was meant to purchase more weapons for Hamas gunmen in the West Bank, the officials said.
WND recently conducted an exclusive interview with Mahmoud Al-Zahar, the Hamas chief in Gaza, who said Hamas is the rightful representative of the Palestinian people and should control the entire West Bank just as they rule the Gaza Strip.
“According to our rights, we are the elected majority, and a majority in a democracy should control all the Palestinian areas, whether in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. This is not an extraordinary issue,” said Al-Zahar, who is considered the second most powerful Hamas leader following the group’s overall chief, Khaled Meshaal, who resides in exile in Damascus.
“Do you respect democracy? If you respect democracy, the elections in January ’06 indicated Hamas is the majority, and it should run the administration in Gaza and the West Bank,” said al-Zahar, speaking from Gaza.
Al-Zahar was referring to Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 in which Hamas was victorious by a large margin. Abbas unilaterally disbanded the Hamas-led Palestinian government after Hamas’ Gaza takeover.
ieve a peaceful settlement in the region,” Yousef added.
Yousef’s talk of peace and Israeli military raids ignored Hamas’ constant barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip aimed at nearby Jewish civilian population zones that prompted a 22-day Israeli military raid that ended in January. The raid on Gaza was launched after Hamas refused to extend a cease-fire with Israel and amid multiple Hamas violations of the truce, including rocket attacks and attempted cross-border raids.
Hamas’ official charter calls for the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel. The Islamist group is responsible for scores of suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks aimed at Jewish civilians.
Earlier this week, it was revealed a group of former senior American officials and one current top adviser to the Obama administration are petitioning the U.S. president to open talks with Hamas, believing the group can be part of the Palestinian peace process.
Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman who was selected by Obama to head the president’s new economic recovery advisory board, reportedly signed a letter advocating dialogue with Hamas. The letter was also signed by nine other Washington veterans, according to a report in the Boston Globe.
Other signatories include Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to George Bush Sr., and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s security adviser. Brzezinski’s pro-Hamas views have been aired publicly in newspaper opinion pieces and policy speeches.
“I see no reason not to talk to Hamas,” Scowcroft told the Globe.
“The main gist (of the letter) is that you need to push hard on the Palestinian peace process,” Scowcroft said. “Don’t move it to the end of your agenda and say you have too much to do. And the U.S. needs to have a position, not just hold their coats while they sit down.”
Also reportedly signing the letter were former House International Relations Committee chairman Lee Hamilton; former United Nations ambassador Thomas Pickering; former World Bank president James Wolfensohn; former U.S. trade representative Carla Hills; Theodore Sorensen, former special counsel to President John F. Kennedy; and former Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel and Nancy Kassebaum Baker.
The Telegraph of London reported the group is expected to be granted an audience at the White House as early as this week to make their case to Obama that lines of communication should be opened with Hamas.
Just last week, WND reported there was concern among Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization that the Obama administration already changed its attitude toward Hamas and may be ready to end the terrorist group’s isolation.
“Three years of the siege against Hamas is ending,” said a top PA negotiator, speaking from Ramallah on condition his name be withheld. “There is a new policy in the Obama administration regarding Hamas. We are concerned Hamas is starting to be a legitimate player in the equation of the Mideast and the PA.”
The negotiator met earlier this month with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Asked by WND whether Clinton or any other U.S. official expressed direct support for opening U.S. dialogue with Hamas, the PA negotiator replied, “No. But there are troubling signs.”
He pointed to recent U.S. support for a unity government between Hamas and Fatah.
“This is the first time the U.S. has supported such a unity government. There was no objection from the U.S. about Hamas joining the PA,” he said.
He also pointed to Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s visit last month to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Massachusetts lawmaker’s reported acceptance of a letter from the Islamist group as “legitimizing Hamas.”
Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, became the most senior U.S. government official to enter Gaza since 2000. The senator announced his trip – which focused on U.N. facilities in Gaza – did not signal any change in U.S. policy toward Hamas, while it was reported he accepted a letter from the group to deliver to President Obama. A Kerry spokesman said the senator was not aware the letter, provided to him by a U.N. employee, originated with Hamas.
Mushir al-Massri, a Hamas spokesman and parliament member, told WND from Gaza: “Kerry can say there is no change, but Hamas controls Gaza. It’s very important that he came here. I hope next time the U.S. can more openly support Hamas.”
A spokesman for the State Department told WND yesterday there is no change in the U.S. policy of isolating Hamas.
Al-Massri, however, claimed Hamas is in direct communication with members of Congress.
“We are speaking to U.S. congressmen,” he claimed, “also members of the European Parliament.”