Some ten days ago, a week of heightened tensions led to sporadic incidents of internal violence in Gaza. Indeed, the recent months and weeks have witnessed a spike in internal Palestinian friction that has led to an unusually high risk of direct confrontation. But although this recent infighting was politically inspired, there has also in the last weeks and months been violence that is based neither on political nor ideological differences.
In general, there is a weakness in the enforcement of law and order on the Palestinian side, whether regarding civil and criminal law or clamping down on politically or ideologically motivated transgressions.
This deterioration has continued in spite of a greater political will on behalf of the leadership to enforce law and order and maintain internal security, in addition to more serious attempts by the PA to fulfill any obligations toward the Israeli side that that the two have agreed upon. There are different ways to explain it.
The most obvious explanation is the state of limbo Palestinians find themselves in. We’re neither under the full control of the Israeli occupation, nor are we under the full control of the PA. By the same token, we are not involved in a full-blown and publicly accepted resistance to that occupation nor are we in the process of the implementation of any agreement with the Israeli side.
This situation, where essentially Israel is enjoying having its cake and eating it, is making the task very difficult for the PA. Israel, when it chooses, behaves as the party responsible for security; yet it also holds the PA responsible in the same territories for not fulfilling its security obligations.
One partial outcome of this situation is the huge and uncontrollable quantity of weapons and ammunition in the Palestinian territories that is mostly smuggled in from Israel or through borders supposedly under full and complete Israeli control.
The recent sharp increase in tensions that led to the direct confrontations resulted from the nearness of the scheduled Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The approach of this event has led some opposition forces to try to test the waters to see if they can prepare the ground for a post-withdrawal situation of either chaos, to ensure that nobody can wield effective authority, or an actual take-over.
One complicating aspect of the actions of the opposition factions is that their way of putting pressure on the PA is by either themselves breaking the truce or by responding violently to Israeli breaches of the same. This has a double negative effect. On the one hand, it complicates Palestinian-Israeli relations and on the other it complicates Palestinian-Palestinian relations. This not only provokes the PA, it weakens it internally and externally.
The justification the opposition presents for its provocations is simply that the PA is not living up to the commitments it undertook in the Cairo dialogue. The evidence presented for this is first, the postponement of parliamentary elections, second, the delay in reforming the PLO, i.e., including the opposition factions, and third, the failure to form an all-faction committee with certain responsibilities vis-a-vis preparations for the day after withdrawal.
The suggestion to form a joint committee to administer matters after an Israeli withdrawal was countered by a PA offer to invite the opposition into a coalition government. That offer was rejected by the opposition.
Parliamentary elections, however, do seem to offer a way out for both sides. The opposition has the right to compete for power, but only through legitimate political and democratic means. Any agreement for all parties to respect law and order should include proceeding toward elections to allow everybody a share of power and responsibility on the basis of the democratic choice of the public. But the opposition cannot have it both ways: It cannot on the one hand take the law into its own hands yet at the same time take part in elections, a democratic process that requires respect for law and order.