Khaled Abu Toameh - Aug 16, 2012
Those who think that Hamas and other Islamic groups do not have a strong presence in the West Bank are completely detached from reality.
True, these groups are lacking in arms and ammunition in the West Bank, but they still enjoy broad public support among Palestinians.
For now, security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is all that is preventing Muslim fundamentalists from taking over the West Bank.
The Jordanians also have an interest in cooperating with Israel to stop the fundamentalists from rising to power in the West Bank. Over the past decade, Israel and Jordan have been working closely to block the Islamic tornado from sweeping the West Bank.
These efforts have thus far been successful in thwarting attempts by radical groups to set up terror cells in the West Bank.
Wary of the growing threat, the Palestinian Authority has been waging a fierce battle against supporters of Hamas and other radical groups there.
Thousands of suspected fundamentalists have been rounded up separately by Palestinian Authority security forces and the Israel Defense Forces.
Thanks to intelligence provided by the Palestinian Authority government, many Hamas supporters are now being held under administrative detention in Israel. The detainees are being held without trial to avoid embarrassment of the Palestinian Authority.
But the tough security clampdown has not been able to stop Hamas and its allies from increasing their political power in the West Bank.
Hamas continues to operate in the West Bank under the cover of hundreds of Islamic charities and organizations: the movement also has a strong presence on most of the Palestinian universities and colleges in the West Bank, where its supporters operate under different labels such as the Islamic Bloc and Islamic Union.
Hamas, moreover, still has direct and indirect control over many mosques in the West Bank despite efforts by the Palestinian Authority to "liberate" the holy sites.
Yet Hamas is not the only Islamic group that is very active in the West Bank.
In recent years, Hamas has been challenged by Hizb-ut-Tahrir [Party of Liberation], an international pan-Islamic organization seeking to unify all Muslims under an Islamic state, or caliphate, ruled by Islamic law.
In the past few months, in Ramallah and Hebron, Hizb-ut-Tahrir held two major rallies calling for and Islamic caliphate; they attracted tens of thousands of supporters. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority was able to stop the organization from holding them.
Hamas, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and their political and ideological allies in the West Bank have been emboldened by the "Arab Spring," which has seen the rise of Muslim Brotherhood to power in a number of Arab countries, including Tunisia and the largest Arab country, Egypt.
These organizations have further been encouraged by the apparent emergence of an Islamic emirate in Sinai, next to the one that already exists in the neighboring Gaza Strip.
The only way to keep Hamas and other radicals groups from taking over the West Bank is by enhancing security coordination between Israel on the one end, and the Palestinian Authority and Jordan on the other.
An Israeli pullout from any part of the West Bank, under the current circumstances, will undermine the Palestinian Authority and most likely lead to its collapse, paving the way for the radicals to seize control.
A strong Israeli presence along the border with Jordan is also needed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and Muslim fundamentalists into the West Bank. The Jordanians also need Israel on their border to keep Hamas and the radicals from infiltrating the kingdom.
Without all these measures, the West Bank will quickly turn into an Islamic emirate.
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