Al Qaeda in Gaza?

Al Qaeda’s number 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, is calling for Palestinians to boycott PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s proposed referendum on Palestinian statehood because it would implicitly recognize Israel. While the statement from al-Zawahri is nothing out of the ordinary, you have to wonder how much weight it actually has in the Palestinian territories. Prior to disengagement, the ...

605431_Abbas_0025.jpg
605431_Abbas_0025.jpg

Al Qaeda's number 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, is calling for Palestinians to boycott PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's proposed referendum on Palestinian statehood because it would implicitly recognize Israel.

While the statement from al-Zawahri is nothing out of the ordinary, you have to wonder how much weight it actually has in the Palestinian territories. Prior to disengagement, the tight Israeli control of border crossings and internal security kept most international terrorists out of Gaza. However, in March, Abbas and the Israeli Defense Ministry agreed that Al Qaeda had infiltrated Gaza. Three months since their announcement, there isn't much word as to the strength of Al Qaeda cells there, but they could be a destabilizing factor for any new policy proposals.

Al Qaeda’s number 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, is calling for Palestinians to boycott PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s proposed referendum on Palestinian statehood because it would implicitly recognize Israel.

While the statement from al-Zawahri is nothing out of the ordinary, you have to wonder how much weight it actually has in the Palestinian territories. Prior to disengagement, the tight Israeli control of border crossings and internal security kept most international terrorists out of Gaza. However, in March, Abbas and the Israeli Defense Ministry agreed that Al Qaeda had infiltrated Gaza. Three months since their announcement, there isn’t much word as to the strength of Al Qaeda cells there, but they could be a destabilizing factor for any new policy proposals.

In light of these difficulties, an interesting new order emerged in Palestinian domestic politics. Following the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, many pundits argued that governing would force Hamas into adopting a more moderate position. It seems, however, that Hamas is still stubborn and Abbas is the one undergoing a metamorphosis. He is becoming a true opposition leader, doing what he can to reassert himself and Fatah as the rulers of Palestine. His referendum proposal is an important step to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. More importantly for Abbas’s future, though, it serves the dual purpose of allowing the Palestinian people an up-or-down vote of Hamas’s position against recognizing Israel (since it was widely reported that Fatah corruption, not policy, was the driving force in Hamas’s victory).

Abbas is backed into a corner here. He doesn’t control his legislature, the PA is desperately lacking funding, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent trip to Washington didn’t seem to evoke any strong desire on the part of the US to energetically re-engage the peace process. If his referendum passes, though, he will have some serious ammunition against Hamas.

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