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The consequences in the long-term are disastrous: they embolden the radicals and help raise new generations of Arabs and Muslims on hatred and anti-Western sentiments.

Earlier this week, Hussam Khader, a prominent Fatah activist, woke up to the sounds of gunfire outside his home in the Balata refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

Khader, a staunch critic of the Palestinian Authority leadership and government corruption, discovered when he walked out that his car and front door had been sprayed with more than 20 bullets.

Some of his terrified neighbors reported seeing masked gunmen fleeing the scene.

Although no group or individual claimed responsibility for the shooting attack, Khader has held Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responsible.

Khader is convinced that Abbas or someone close to him wanted to send him a "warning message" -- namely to keep his mouth shut.

This was the third attack of its kind against prominent Fatah representatives in the past 18 months.

A few weeks ago, unidentified gunmen opened fire at the car of Majed Abu Shamaleh, an elected Fatah legislator, outside his home in Ramallah.

A third Fatah official, Shami al-Shami, who is also an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was less fortunate. Last year, he was shot and wounded near his home in Jenin.

All three Fatah representatives have one thing in common; they represent the young guard of their faction and are known to be outspoken critics of the Palestinian Authority leadership.

Palestinians see the shooting attacks in the context of a power struggle between the old guard and young guard of Abbas's ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank.

Headed by Abbas, Fatah's old guard has always sought to block the emergence of a young leadership within the faction. So far, the old guard seems to have been successful in its efforts to maintain exclusive control over the Palestinian Authority.

This power struggle surfaced after the signing of the Oslo Accords, when Yasser Arafat and the PLO and Fatah leadership moved from Tunisia and other Arab countries to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Most young guard Fatah members still feel marginalized by Abbas and his veteran loyalists.

At the age of 78, Abbas feels no need to pave the way for the rise of new and younger leaders to power.

At this stage, he and his inner circle seem determined to maintain their tight grip on the Palestinian Authority, even if that requires dispatching masked gunmen to scare their critics.

This is perhaps why there is no "Palestinian Spring" in the West Bank. When a Palestinian sees masked gunmen shooting at the cars, homes and bodies of prominent Fatah figures, he or she will think ten times before uttering a word against Abbas or a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah.

Moreover, this is what is driving an increasing number of Palestinians into the open arms of Hamas and other radical groups.

Of course none of those who carried out the three attacks against the Fatah representatives was ever caught. And there is good reason to believe they will never be apprehended or brought to trial.

The reason? The attackers, according to Palestinians, are most likely members of the Palestinian security forces or Fatah's armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

It is one thing when Abbas uses Fatah gunmen to intimidate his critics, but it is a completely different story when he or any of his aides resort to the Western-trained and -financed security services to carry out shooting attacks.

A sign of how the Palestinian Authority leadership uses its security forces to intimidate critics was provided again this week when another Fatah operative, Sufian Abu Zayda, published an op-ed strongly denouncing Abbas's "autocratic" governance.

Abu Zayda is also considered a representative of Fatah's young guard.

His article enraged Abbas and his top aides in Ramallah. But instead of responding to the charges raised by Abu Zayda's article, Abbas's office issued a statement on behalf of the "Palestinian security establishment" threatening and condemning the Fatah representative.

"This statement is an assault on public freedoms," remarked Abu Zayda. "It would have been preferable had the [Palestinian] security establishment tried to uncover the identity of those behind the shooting attacks instead of preoccupying itself with a political essay."

Those who fund autocratic regimes apparently do not care about the long-term repercussions, so long as short-term stability can be secured. The consequences in the long-term are disastrous: they embolden the radicals and help raise new generations of Arabs and Muslims on hatred and anti-Western sentiments.

Related Topics:  Khaled Abu Toameh receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free gatestone institute mailing list

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