This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.
Palestinian officials reacting to Israeli media reports of a thwarted Hamas plot to ignite a third Intifada (Palestinian uprising) as cover for a take-over of the West Bank and the overthrow of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas say they are “doubtful” that the story is accurate.
The Israeli account says the Shin Bet domestic security agency made almost 100 arrests during the past several months, 93 of whom were Hamas operatives creating more than 40 of what they termed “terror cells” in towns and villages throughout the West Bank. The plot included the staging of mass attacks on Jewish targets including Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims, in order to trigger an Intifada (like the period between 2000 and 2005 typified by bus bombings and unbridled violence) during which Hamas would oust the Fatah-aligned Palestinian Authority (PA) and its president.
Brigadier General Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security services, told The Media Line that, “There are no other sources to back up these claims and we are doubtful.” He asked, “If these arrests were made back in May, why are we hearing about it only now?”
Despite their skepticism, PA officials say they are taking the matter “very seriously.”
“The President is following up very closely on this and has asked the relevant security departments within the PA to check the accuracy of the details in the Shabak (Shin Bet) report,” he said.
A Palestinian official close to President Abbas speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly confirmed to The Media Line that “For sure the President is taking this seriously. Leadership agreed last night that ‘it needs more investigation,’ including a fact check on the numbers” quoted in the story.
The Shin Bet claims it confiscated at least $600,000 in cash from the Hamas members who were alleged to be planning operations against Israel. The agency also claims it seized 24 weapons, among them M-16 automatic rifles, handguns, rocket launchers and large amount of ammunition.
“We are checking on the names (mentioned in the report) and the facts,” Damiri said, adding that “all appropriate personnel” from the PA had been called up to work on these accusations. He said he had not been informed whether anyone from the Palestinian security echelon had contacted their Israeli counterparts to coordinate investigations; and Damiri did not say whether the Israelis had shared their findings with PA officials prior to releasing details to the media. Damiri did say that “It’s clear the Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation is going downwards.”
Spokesmen for the Israeli government and Israel Defense Forces respectively declined to comment for this article.
Wasef Uraiqat, a Palestinian military analyst and retired major general told The Media Line that the incident underscores the lack of security coordination and casts the Palestinian security apparatus in a negative light. Echoing Damiri, Uraiqat remarked that “Israel says there is security coordination. If this is the case, why didn’t they tell Abbas or the PA security back in May?”
He charged that the report weakens the PA security infrastructure because it begs the question how the security forces missed something like this. “The PA does not have an army and the security forces are working under occupation,” defends Uraiqat. He goes on to suggest that Israel has a hidden agenda, “to divert attention away from Gaza, a place where Israel does not want to have its troops on the ground.” He argued that, “The Israeli army lost the deterrent force in Gaza and they want to regain it in the West Bank,” he said, adding that this, “changes the rules of the game.”
Uraiqat predicts that the Israeli army will operate in West Bank cities as it did in Hebron in June when it arrested hundreds of men following the kidnapping of three Israeli teens and the subsequent revenge killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khdeir by a Jewish gang.
At the time, the Palestinian leadership came under heavy criticism from citizens calling for an end to the PA -- Israeli security cooperation because they viewed it as collaboration. Abbas-loyal security agencies were helping Israel look for the three missing teenagers who ultimately turned up dead. Although never proven, Israel still insists that Hamas was behind the kidnap/murders.
Uraiqat also says this is not an easy matter for Abbas because the release of this report could be seen “as an attempt to divide the Palestinian negotiators representing various factions in Cairo. This can be a new scene. In Israel’s 2002 invasion of the West Bank, it was Israel versus Palestine. What Israel is trying to do is create is ‘Palestine versus Palestine.’”
In response, President Abbas told the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that the report poses a serious threat to the future of the Palestinian unity government. Damiri agrees. “This report is a hit on the national unity government, namely the unity which exists between Fatah, Hamas and all Palestinian factions,” he said.
The report was released as negotiators are presumed to be in the final stages of negotiations for a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas following a month of fierce fighting that left some 2,000 Palestinians dead and 10,000 wounded some of them critically.
Damiri says he thinks that this report is a way to influence the President to pressure Palestinian negotiators in Cairo to make concessions. “This report could be an attempt to throw a spoke in the wheels of the indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said, adding that this is “negative” for the attempts to secure a truce.
“Israel is looking for excuses to engage in a battle with us. They started in the West Bank, in cities like Hebron and Ramallah, then they waged war on Gaza and have now returned to the West Bank,” Damiri said.