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Turbulence in Palestinian Territories

Israel is threatening to impose sanctions by canceling a customs union between Israel and Gaza after raising concerns that the Palestinian border authorities and their EU observers are allowing Hamas members to enter back into Gaza from Egypt. As many as 15 wanted or expelled terrorists have been allowed back into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing recently, which was confirmed by Palestinian authorities who said there is nothing in the Rafah Crossing agreement that prevents this.

Palestinian security officials acknowledged that wanted men entered Gaza through Rafah, but said anyone with a Palestinian identity card can come into the coastal strip. They said Israel was making demands that are not part of the crossing accord.

Israel disputed this without clarification on the wording and also noted that they are at the mercy of the Egyptians, Palestinians and Europeans monitoring the border crossing.

Israel also has complained that the information it is receiving has been delayed. “Israel will not allow there to be a violation of the agreements as they were reached with Condoleezza Rice,” Gissin said, referring to the Secretary of State who clinched the border deal.

Included among the 15 allowed in that Israel is objecting to are one of the co-founders of Hamas, Ahmed el-Malah, and Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar’s brother, Fadel Zahar. Both Zahar and el-Malah fled Gaza during the 1980’s and are wanted by Israel on terrorism charges.

In the West Bank, Fatah has cancelled polling for its staggered primaries in Salfit and Qalqiliya due to violence and polling corruption. Armed Palestinians took and burned at least one ballot box and, at other places, kept potential voters from the polls by firing their weapons into the air. There were also disputes within Fatah about candidates, districting and voter eligibility.

Fatah officials in Qalqiliya also canceled voting due to disputes between residents and candidates in surrounding villages. Each group fears voting procedures will favor the other. Despite the cancellation, some people continued to vote in Salfit, even though officials said the results would not be valid. Voting also continued without incident in several surrounding villages, as well as the city of Hebron.

With the staggered primary polling system, the added time to complete the process will only add to the building of frustrations and internal dispute within Fatah. This will simply serve to bolster the already formidable Hamas challenge in the coming elections, who are running on a platform of ‘clean government’ while Fatah is closing polls amid internal disputes and mistrust. Until the primaries draw to a close, it will be more of the same throughout the Palestinian territories.

Add to that the growing tensions over control at the newly-reopened Rafah Crossing and it is clear that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in trouble. The current turbulence in the Palestinian territories may turn to tremors once the elections draw nearer.