By Khaled Abu Toameh
Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak believes that Israel should consider a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank if negotiations with the Palestinian Authority fail to bear fruit.
Under the current circumstances, such a move would lead to the creation of another radical Palestinian Islamic entity, this time in those parts of the West Bank that would be handed over to Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad.
Any land that is handed over to the Palestinian Authority would end up in the hands of Hamas.
In the summer of 2005, Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip, passing it to Abbas and his 40,000-strong Fatah-dominated security forces.
A few months later, thanks to a free and fair parliamentary election that was held at the request of the US and some EU countries, Hamas came to power.
One of the main reasons Hamas scored a victory in that election was because it took credit for driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip through rockets and suicide bombings.
A year later, in the summer of 2007, it took fewer than 10,000 Hamas militiamen to defeat Abbas’s security forces and bring down the entire Palestinian Authority regime in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas’s rule over the Gaza Strip has since brought more suffering and bloodshed for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Once Israel carries out a unilateral withdrawal, the same scenario is likely to be repeated in the West Bank.
Even though Hamas does not have a strong military presence in the West Bank, the movement seems to enjoy much popularity among Palestinians.
The so-called Arab Spring, which has seen the rise of Islamists to power in a number of Arab countries, has emboldened Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups, such as Islamic Jihad.
These groups have managed to attract many followers by offering themselves as the best alternative to Western-backed corrupt secular dictatorships in the Arab world.
As before, Hamas’s chances of taking over the West Bank are high after the failure of Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction to implement significant reforms or combat rampant corruption.
Fatah lost the 2006 parliamentary election mainly because of its leaders’ involvement in the embezzlement of public funds. Since then, Fatah has failed to draw the conclusions from its defeat and has not even been able to come up with a new list of capable candidates that could attract Palestinian voters.
The same Fatah men who lost the vote are, in fact, continuing to run the show in Ramallah — as if they had never lost.
Even if the Islamists do not take over the West Bank in the aftermath of a unilateral Israeli pullout, it is almost certain that the Palestinian Authority would not be able to prevent local gangs and clans from seizing power.
The case of Jenin, a city in the West Bank, is a good example of the weakness of the Palestinian Authority security forces, especially with regard to imposing law and order: Palestinian Authority officials have admitted that Jenin has been controlled over the past two years by Fatah militiamen and thugs who worked closely with many top Palestinian security officers, imposing a reign of terror and intimidation on the city’s residents.
A unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank could mean that Palestinian cities like Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem and Hebron would fall either into the hands of Hamas or armed Fatah gangs.
Abbas and Fayyad would not be able to do much to prevent a return to scenes of anarchy and lawlessness that were once prevalent on the Palestinian street.
The chaos and violence inside the Palestinian cities would also spill over into Israel, forcing it to launch another “Defensive Shield” type of operation, like the one in 2002, to clear the area of armed gangs.
Before withdrawing from any area, Israel needs to make sure that those who would be in charge would not run away, handing the territories to Hamas or any other local gangs. Under the current circumstances, a unilateral and unconditional withdrawal would only be a recipe for more violence and bloodshed and repression.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades. His articles have appeared in numerous newspapers around the world, including The Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report and The Sunday Times of London. He cover Palestian affairs for the Jerusalem Post and serves as a producer/consultant for NBC News. His article was originally published by the Gatestone Institute on June 8, 2012.