Palestinians in Jenin Area Increasingly Alienated From PA Leadership
Palestinian gunmen participate in the funeral ceremony of Ahmad Al-Saadi, 24, who was killed during a raid launched by the Israeli army on Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, April 9, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Palestinians in Jenin Area Increasingly Alienated From PA Leadership

Divisions within Fatah create space for its young guard to return to armed struggle, expert says

Israel faces a wave of terrorism. Since March 22, terrorists have carried out four deadly attacks in the country’s cities. The first two were committed by Arab citizens and said to be inspired by the Islamic State.

The latest two, however – the shooting attacks in Bnei Brak on March 29 and in Tel Aviv on April 7 − were carried out by Palestinians who illegally crossed into Israel from the Jenin area in the northernmost West Bank, and who belonged to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terror organization that identifies itself as the military wing of Fatah, the secular ruling party in the Palestinian Authority.

An Israeli security official told The Media Line, “It’s unsurprising that Jenin and the surrounding area has emerged as the origin of the two terrorists; it’s long been a source of violence.”

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the chairman of both Fatah and the PLO, publicly condemned the last two attacks.

But the governor of the Jenin, Akram Rajoub, who belongs to the same party, paid his condolences in person to the family of the Tel Aviv terrorist, who murdered three Israeli civilians and wounded several others as he indiscriminately shot at three locations on Dizengoff Street in the heart of the city, and told Israeli media outlets that he does not consider him as a terrorist.

Ido Zelkovitz, head of Middle Eastern Studies at Jezreel Valley Academic College and a research fellow at the University of Haifa, told The Media Line this illustrates a gap among the players in the Palestinian Authority and its leading party, Fatah.

It could jeopardize the existing cooperation between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, he said.

“If someone like the governor of Jenin and many of the leaders of Fatah express their sorrow and identification with the slain [terrorists] and the pain of their families, I think this is a huge problem for everything that we [Israel] built with the Palestinians,” said Zelkovitz.

He believes that in doing so, they are showing support for attacks on civilians.

Abbas wants to prevent the Palestinians from embarking on an armed struggle against Israel, Zelkovitz said. “Abu Mazen [Abbas] said it very clearly, that it works against the interests of the Palestinian people.”

But from below, he added, “you can feel that the younger generation of Fatah supporters, mainly in the refugee camps in the areas of Jenin and Nablus, want to write their own story of struggle, and they see the return to armed struggle as an option.”

A researcher from the Birzeit University near Ramallah, who asked to stay anonymous, told The Media Line that the PA condemns publicly the attacks to protect its position in the international arena.

“The president, when issuing statements, is bound by international reaction,” she said.

The PA has been trying for the past decade to prove that it is a liberation movement, and not a terrorist organization, the researcher said.

“They [senior PA leaders] fear these kinds of actions by Palestinians, and that is why they condemn them. They feel that the international community will link them and say that it is terrorism, while the PA wants to stick to peaceful means in solving the Palestinian issue,” she continued.

However, she added, “It is obvious that the people are not content with those methods and tools that are being used by the PA.”

Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster, reported the Palestinian Authority is being challenged for control of the area around Jenin by both the Islamic Jihad terror group and members of Fatah.

Zelkovitz believes the Palestinian Authority won’t cease to officially control any of the Palestinian cities that it controls today. However, its actual power over some areas is certainly limited.

“I would say that the Palestinian Authority has control over all the Palestinian cities of the West Bank. However, inside Jenin, especially in the Jenin refugee camp, you can find some sort of a local autonomy, and the Palestinian Authority has big difficulties there,” he said.

He pointed to an example. “A couple of months ago the Palestinian Authority wanted to get inside the [Jenin] refugee camp in order to collect what they called illegal weapons, and its security forces were pushed away out of the camp,” he said.

The researcher from Birzeit University said, “I believe the PA is not necessarily losing control of Jenin; it is more of a political gap that has expanded over the years.”

Zelkovitz noted how today, Fatah is divided. “There are different voices and ideas. Also, there is a disconnection between its political heads and the commanders in the field,” he said.

“That creates a huge space for its youngsters to promote more extreme ideas, and also to challenge the political and traditional positions of Fatah’s old guard, the one that led the Palestinians into the Oslo process,” he continued.

They are trying to build their own positions of leadership inside Palestinian society, he said.

“This is worrying for Israel because once Fatah returns to its mode of armed struggle, that can take us back 15 or 20 years back, in the sense that it will be hard to the rebuild bridges of understanding, of mutual trust, that are needed ahead of a political process that will be based upon the two-state solution.”

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