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Hamas instigates further West Bank unrest

Hamas is seeking to take advantage of the latest acts of violence against Israelis in the occupied territories, but is hindered by tight security measures by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
A Palestinian protester holds a Hamas flag during clashes with Israeli troops following a protest against what organizers say are recent visits by Jewish activists to al-Aqsa mosque, at Qalandia checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah November 7, 2014. In recent months, a campaign for the prayer ban on Jewish worshippers at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, to be overturned, led by settler activists, has gathered momentum, raising alarm among Palestinians

Hamas has not concealed its intentions to take advantage of the unrest at Al-Aqsa Mosque to foment trouble in the West Bank, whether through popular protests or armed operations.

On Nov. 16, Hamas gave its blessing to the latest violence, during which many Israeli soldiers and settlers have been stabbed or run over with vehicles. The movement considers these actions a normal response to Israel’s acts of desecration, attacks on worshipers and displacement of Jerusalemites, and has called upon Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank to increase them.

On Nov. 11, Hamas’ political bureau head Khaled Meshaal confirmed in a press interview that Hamas seeks to retaliate against Israel’s schemes in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa by resisting and pushing people to rise up against the occupation forces. Meshaal said the problem was not the lack of readiness of the Palestinian people to resist, but in weak policies and official choices. Resistance is the people’s right, and the mere existence of occupation is reason enough for people to resist, he said.

Mona Mansour, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor in an interview, “The latest operations in the West Bank were carried out by individuals. There are no organized armed actions there, as the Israeli and Palestinian security forces are both tracking down any suspicious commando operations.”

Mansour, the wife of Jamal Mansour, a senior Hamas leader who was assassinated by Israel in 2001, said, “The talk about exporting the armed actions from Gaza to the West Bank is not an easy task to achieve, as the Israelis consider Gaza a demographic and economic burden that they have gotten rid of. However, their view of the West Bank is totally different. Israel’s military presence and cooperation with the Palestinian Authority [PA] allows it to completely control any armed actions on the ground.”

The PA has denounced the successive security tensions in the West Bank and the confrontations with the Israeli army and settlers. After the end of the Gaza war in August, the PA’s General Intelligence and Preventive Security agencies summoned and arrested dozens of Hamas members of all ranks in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Tulkarm and Bethlehem.

On Nov. 10, the Palestinian Prisoners Club confirmed that Israeli courts extended the detention of 84 Palestinians arrested by the army in the past few weeks in the West Bank under the pretext of completing investigations and judicial proceedings.

“The serious security situation in the West Bank could impede armed actions, as security [crackdowns] and monitoring have been intensified so as to prevent any operations of this sort. Instead of advancing and developing in terms of operational combat, the resistance has resorted to primitive methods such as stabbing and [vehicular attacks], which was the case during the uprising in 1987,” Mansour said.

During an opening meeting held Nov. 15 in the city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza and attended by Al-Monitor, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said that his movement is banking on what he considers the “resistance in the West Bank.” He said that the resistance’s capacities are not limited to targeting Haifa only, as its skills will develop to target all occupied territories, as happened in the tunnels in Gaza.

A report issued Nov. 5 by Al-Zaytouna Center for Studies and Consultations stated that the West Bank was almost totally geographically isolated, surrounded by Israel on three sides and Jordan on the fourth. Both Israel and Jordan have agreed to prevent the emergence of an armed resistance in the West Bank, and are working to block arms supplies. Any chance of establishing a safe ground for military training and armament is practically impossible.

A PA security official in the West Bank told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Despite Israel’s violations in Jerusalem — which are condemned by the PA — we are reassured that no armed operations would break out in the West Bank, as any such act would spell doom for the Palestinian political status quo. We have strict orders to stifle any opportunity to build a military structure.”

He went on, “The accurate security information we have confirms that the Hamas leadership in Gaza is involved in fomenting security troubles in the West Bank by promoting armed operations and attempting to create military cells, which is not approved by Hamas’ political leadership in the West Bank. However, there is coordination through members on the ground who are communicating with their superiors from Hamas in Gaza.”

On Nov. 12, Vice President of the Legislative Council Hassan Khreisheh said in a news release that the PA is incapable of preventing the outbreak of a new intifada in the West Bank. He called on the PA to end security coordination with Israel.

Hamas spokesman Hossam Badran, who resides in Qatar, said in an interview with Al-Monitor, “The latest operations in Jerusalem and the West Bank are the natural rights of Palestinians to retaliate against Israel’s violations. The West Bank has not abandoned the resistance, as the new generations are following in the footsteps of the generations before them.” He called for innovation and creativity in the resistance, through organized operations or individual initiatives.

In light of the difficult security situation in the West Bank, Hamas called for intensifying what it calls the “people’s operations” against the Israeli military and settlers by burning checkpoints and military towers, sabotaging barbed wire fences around settlements, destroying the separation wall and surveillance equipment and attacking settlers and military vehicles with Molotov cocktails, rudimentary and primitive improvised explosive devices and locally-made guns.

Hamas stated on its official website that these operations are more effective than traditional protests in harming the Israeli military. These operations do not need organizing or a big budget. All they need is a group of up to six young men, a sum of 20-100 Israeli shekels ($5-$20) and good monitoring of the areas to be targeted to detect weak points.

Hamas is making strenuous efforts to ignite the West Bank and Jerusalem and pave the way for a third intifada. The movement wants to complete the latest war on Gaza and turn attention away from the catastrophic situation in the Gaza Strip. By doing so, it seeks to end the PA's security coordination with Israel and the political arrests of Hamas’ cadres. Hamas’ efforts are, however, constrained by problems within the movement itself in addition to the tight security control of the West Bank by Israel and the PA.