GAZA - The friends of Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah members in the Gaza Strip, are calling him a suicidal. This is because he accepted the thankless task of being in charge of security matters in the government of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), a task which is increasingly turning out to consist of mediation between the Israel Defense Forces and the military arms of the Islamic organizations. Dahlan's friends say that had he considered only his own personal interests, he wouldn't have agreed to take the job. But they were the ones who encouraged him to take it.
They envisioned not only the chances for a cease-fire and for halting the deterioration of security. Judging by the words of some of them - who wish to remain anonymous - they see the calming of the security situation as an important corridor to the establishment of internal reform. According to one senior Fatah official, that means working to minimize the involvement of one person - namely, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat - in any appointment or decision. "For the first time in Palestinian history someone other than Yasser Arafat is moving officers from their places and appointing others," one said. "I told him [Dahlan]: `Concentrate on building a strong police force and establishing the rule of law, so that everyone will be equal before it.' And Dahlan took this risk [vis-a-vis Arafat]."
Even those who don't consider Dahlan a savior and the right man to carry out reforms speak about the need for calm in the security realm, especially in order to change internal Palestinian arrangements. That is the main reason why Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi, a veteran leader who is close to the Palestinian left, a man who is independent of any organization and who has moral influence but no political influence, was invited to participate in the talks held last week between representatives of the Palestinian organizations.
This has long been his thesis: Internal organization, a reform in the decision-making process (by establishing a national emergency government, together with the Islamic organizations), establishing institutions that will be concerned with everyone's welfare rather than that of some associate or other - all these are essential prerequisites for a fight for independence.
Ghazi Abu Jiyab, another independent activist, formerly a senior official in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, suggests to Hamas that they, as one of the strongest organizations among the Palestinian public, exploit the opportunity, and in exchange for a cease-fire agreement, "grab the PA by the throat on the issue of corruption, and demand it carry out basic reforms in its style of governing."
The Palestinian dowry
Whatever the expectations from Dahlan, in the past two weeks he has been busier with security issues with Israel. The difficulties involved in security mediation were self-evident even before the wave of Israeli assassination attempts in Gaza and the killing of Abdullah Qawasmeh, a Hamas leader, in Hebron on Saturday night. They only increased afterward. Although Dahlan is not personally conducting the internal negotiations with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, he is expected to bring each side a dowry from the opposing side, in order to be able to "accept responsibility for security," as the Israelis demand, in the areas from which the IDF will once again withdraw.
As became apparent during the talks in Gaza last week, the Palestinian public and the Islamic organizations expect Dahlan to obtain Israeli guarantees that there will be no more assassination attempts, that the daily attacks by Israel on refugee camps, villages and neighborhoods will cease, and that there will be free movement for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, i.e. travel from the south of the strip to the north, a distance of 10 or 20 kilometers, without a wait of 12 hours or five hours or three days at the junctions near the settlements.
Free movement also means access to their plots of land (many Palestinian orchards have already been uprooted by the IDF) in order to start cultivating them again. The release of prisoners and detainees is a central demand of all the Palestinian organizations. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades of the Fatah have also added to the top of the list the demand to lift the siege on Arafat. So far, Dahlan has returned home empty-handed from every security meeting with IDF commanders.
The Palestinian dowry that the IDF expects is a total cessation of terror attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers, on both sides of the Green Line. Dahlan's friends have already explained that this dowry and "taking responsibility for security" in certain areas will not be provided by means of a campaign of mass arrests and by the disarming of the organizations and the collection of their weapons. "Nobody is demanding that the weapons of the settlers be collected," said various people involved in the dialogue with Hamas, including Dr. Ziad Abu Amar.
He is a lecturer in political science, who has published books and papers about Hamas; at present, he is culture minister in the Abu Mazen government and was also appointed to head government talks with the Palestinian opposition. "If Israel is serious in the matter of security, it shouldn't try to dictate the means to us. They want us to kill, destroy, collect weapons. But if Israel wants to restore quiet, why is it insisting on methods that we know have already failed, and we know will only arouse the opposite response?"
Those who aren't friends of Dahlan say the government is his government, not that of Abu Mazen, and that Dahlan is using Abu Mazen as a springboard to his next, high-level position, when the present government collapses. There is tremendous suspicion regarding him and his motives for taking on the job. Dahlan has admitted to his associates that it was very painful for him to refute the theory being heard in Gaza, that Israel's attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi was carried out after they got a green light from him.
Like every Israeli assassination effort, the attempt on Rantisi raised the question in Gaza about the degree of deployment and penetration of Palestinian collaborators with the Israeli Shin Bet security service. Here there is consensus between the Palestinian security services and Hamas and its military arm: Both sides claim Israel has highly sophisticated technological means, and locating a man like Rantisi or armed activists doesn't require information from a collaborator. A senior Hamas activist said that with these technological means, "Israel knows everything about us."
For hours every day, there is interference with satellite broadcasts on Gaza television; 1,200,000 people know there are unmanned aircraft or helicopters, hovering above them all the time, filming, investigating, waiting in ambush. Hamas and the PA are certain that Israel makes extensive use of wiretapping: The members of Iz a Din al-Kassam are no less careless than are the members of Fatah in their constant use of their mobile phones.
Give the money back
Samir Masharawi, whose official position is that of deputy to Rashid Abu Shabak, the head of Preventive Security in Gaza, says the reason for the carelessness in the use of mobile phones is confidence that "everything is in the hands of Allah." And then, he says, when there is an assassination attempt, they blame "anonymous collaborators."
Last week Rantisi told Haaretz that Fatah "has become close to Hamas in its views" and that there is a possibility of discussing a national leadership of all the organizations.
Masharawi, who over the past two years has devoted much of his time to activity within his movement, Fatah, says in response, "I didn't hear that Rantisi has been appointed as spokesman for Fatah. But even if in Rantisi's opinion our views are similar, I am pleased, because all the echelons of Fatah - from Arafat to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - accept the road map [with the guarantees mentioned above]."
Masharawi justifies Hamas' demand to be "part of the Palestinians' political map, among the decision-makers. They deserve it because they contributed their part to the struggle against the occupation, not because of their numerical strength. It's in Israel's interest as well that we aren't dragged into a civil war with them." Masharawi, for his part, allows himself to be the spokesman for Rantisi's inner thoughts: "Rantisi doesn't mean what he says - that the conflict will end when the last Jew leaves, or that this is a religious war." Masharawi believes Hamas accepts the two-state solution.
Masharawi is an important link in the connection between internal reform and calm on the security front. Dahlan appointed him to be the internal ombudsman of all the Palestinian security services in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Masharawi - who is being boycotted both by the Israelis and the Americans, who claim he is involved in terror (along with Abu Shabak) - has made a name for himself in Gaza as one of those fighting against the corruption and arbitrariness of the Palestinian security services. He has still not officially received the job, he still wants to have his authority made clear.
He is following the internal developments in the fight against corruption. "There's a beginning, but it is slow and still not apparent. We spoke to Abu Mazen, who has to promise that there will be monitoring and justice in the distribution of jobs: There is still a phenomenon of dual jobs for associates, of unjust distribution. There are leaders whose children are studying abroad, but who receive a salary from the PA. The wife of a certain senior official sits at home and receives a salary. All this has to be stopped.
"People expect those who exploited their senior position in past years to get money illegally to stand trial, and they expect the money to be returned. People have to feel they are equal before the law, but they still don't feel this. In our meetings, when I discuss the internal situation, I say I am trying to change the system for our children. We have power now. But who will guarantee that in the future, if arbitrary decisions and power are the determining factors rather than the law, will my son be strong enough? If he isn't the leader of a gang, will he have to pay bribes in order to survive? I don't want such a future for him."
But Fatah knows it's not enough to convince Hamas to accept a hudna (cease-fire) for the sake of internal reform in the PA, to which they don't belong (and the less popular the PA, because of its corrupt practices, the more powerful Hamas becomes). Sufian Abu Zaida, a senior official in Fatah and the PA, who has developed many friendly ties with Israelis, says to the members of Hamas, in his attempts to convince them to accept the idea of a cease-fire: "You must recognize the fact that the situation has changed. The world, led by the United States, has given Israel a green light to act against us by any means. It is impossible to say `things can't be worse,' because Israel has proved that each time, it crosses another red line, which in the past we thought it wouldn't cross. Tomorrow Israel can bomb the house of [Hamas elder statesman] Sheikh Yassin, or shell a mosque, in order to hit a senior wanted man, and the world will allow Israel to do so - in the context of the war against terror." In the opinion of the Palestinians, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech in Jericho only strengthens Abu Zaida's assessments.