"Let them play before us" this is the common attitude among the Israeli public to the increasingly worsening clashes in the Palestinian Authority. As if this was yet another conflict involving tribes somewhere far away in Africa, the Israeli establishment chooses to watch developments in the PA from the sidelines and shirk any direct or indirect responsibility for what's going on.
Of course, just like in any conflict, we have the good guys and bad guys, and are hoping to see the good guys score an overwhelming victory. However, the reality in the region is much more complicated and Israel has a significant role in the clashes' outbreak and in determining the end results.
The Intra-Palestinian conflict, which threatens the whole region's stability, reflects the impossible situation Gaza residents find themselves in since the execution of the disengagement plan about a year and a half ago, and particularly since the PA elections.
Rice In Ramallah
'US to advance Palestinian state' / Ali Waked and AP
American secretary of state says following Ramallah meeting with Abbas, 'In these next months I'll focus on trying to accelerate progress on the Road Map, which after all would lead us to a Palestinian state'; PA president: We reject any temporary solutions
The ongoing siege, closure of crossings to incoming and outgoing goods, confiscation of tax funds, and the disconnection between Gaza and the West Bank all those have turned the Strip into a crowded prison where more than a million people live without anything.
It's easy to ignore the objective situation and blame "Palestinian mentality" as the main factor behind the civil war, yet in practice, the fact Israel left Gaza, locked the gate, and imprisoned the Palestinians behind it is the main factor behind the violent outbreak and anarchy.
Now that clashes between Fatah and Hamas have already erupted,
Israel has many options at its disposal that can influence the results of this struggle, whether directly or indirectly. In the wake of the disengagement, the two major movements in the PA are competing for the population's heart and attempting to present their diplomatic, economic, and military achievements.
For that end, Abbas asked in his meeting with Olmert for the release of prisoners on the occasion of the Feast of Sacrifice. After he agreed, the prime minister went back on his promise, and Abbas was forced to go back to his people empty-handed and without any significant accomplishment. On the other hand, Hamas continues to negotiate for the release of Gilad Shalit, for whom the Palestinians will receive hundreds of prisoners jailed din Israeli prisons.
The Israeli message coming out of Jerusalem is clear: A Palestinian leader such as Abbas, who calls for an end to Qassam rocket fire and a diplomatic compromise with Israel, will make do with a symbolic kiss on his cheek from the Israeli prime minister and go back to his people empty-handed.
On the other hand, a radical group such as Hamas, which uses forces and abducts Israeli soldiers, would prove to its people that "the Jews only understand force" and that terrorism is the only tool that would eventually lead to the release of prisoners.
Releasing Shalit in a prisoner swap is a necessity and must be undertaken soon. At the same time, the Israeli leadership must act courageously to boost Abbas and allow him to prove to his people that negotiations are better than violent clashes.
In this critical junction where moderates in the PA are fighting fort their lives, Israel must not remain indifferent and make do with symbolic gestures. The government must transfer without delay tax funds directly to Abbas, make the life of residents in Gaza and the West Bank easier, remove roadblocks and lift closures, and allow the Palestinian president to present significant achievements as a result of negotiations.
Continued Israeli disregard to the distress in Gaza and Abbas' requests assists in creating the anarchy in the Territories and the boost in the power of radical elements within Palestinian society that will very soon again direct their weapons at us.
The writer is Peace Now's director general