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Netanyahu: We're 'Cooperating' With the Palestinian Authority

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel's conduct in the Palestinian conflict -- and his vision for Gaza. For most of the speech delivered in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, he hit his government's usual talking points: The Israeli operation was "justified and proportional"; the relationship with the United States was much better than has been reported; and Hamas must be disarmed and Gaza demilitarized.

On one issue, however, Netanyahu's position has shifted dramatically since before violence broke out on July 8. The Palestinian Authority (PA), he noted, has a place in rebuilding Gaza and controlling the territory's borders. "We're cooperating with them and are prepared to see a role for them," Netanyahu said.

This is the same PA whose unity government was approved by Fatah and Hamas -- and which Netanyahu urged the world not to recognize because doing so would "strengthen terrorism." On Wednesday, the Israeli prime minister did not reiterate his demand that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dissolve the government.

Perhaps Netanyahu sees the PA as a vehicle for empowering Hamas's rivals in the Gaza Strip. The PA is almost entirely controlled by Fatah: Abbas is its most important figure and its bureaucracy comprises mainly technocrats who are almost exclusively close to Fatah. An agreement giving PA security forces responsibility for guarding the Rafah border crossing with Egypt appears set. The Wall Street Journal reported a U.S., Israeli, and Arab effort "to place the Palestinian Authority ... at the heart of efforts to disarm Hamas and open Gaza to economic development." 

These plans are as risky as they are beneficial for Fatah. Party officials don't want Palestinians to see them as returning to Gaza on the back of an Israeli Merkava tank, metaphorically speaking.

"They are damn liars," said Abdullah Abdullah, deputy commissioner of Fatah's International Relations Commission, when asked about Israeli officials' suggestions that the PA could fill the vacuum left by a defeated Hamas. "No, we're not quislings. Israel is against Palestine, against Palestinian rights. Don't believe their lies."

Abdullah's angry reaction was par for the course -- it would be political suicide for the party to be seen as siding with the Israelis in such a way. However, Fatah officials see themselves as members of a ruling party with a responsibility to govern -- not only in the West Bank but also in the Gaza Strip. 

The dilemma is the very heart of the party's split identity; it's "schizophrenia," as Husam Zumlot, a senior foreign affairs advisor for Fatah, put it. On one hand, Fatah was a liberation movement; on the other, a ruling party that must provide for an occupied people. Fatah organized mass demonstrations and pressed for Israel's condemnation at the United Nations. It also tried offering basic services, such as education, health programs, and a support for a functioning economy, Zumlot said. 

By contrast, Hamas only cares about revolution, he said. "When they tried to have the governance side in Gaza, they failed miserably." 

Fatah may also find itself under pressure from two of its most important patrons, the United States and Egypt, who would be keen to bolster the PA in Gaza. Add a dash of competition between Hamas and Fatah for control of the Palestinian national movement, a healthy dose of mistrust, and it's not hard to see the recipe for more conflict. The Israeli military campaign may have just been the first battle in a much longer struggle for control of Gaza.   

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

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American General Killed in Afghanistan in Insider Attack Is First Since 1970

An American general who was shot Tuesday allegedly by a member of the Afghan military became the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be killed in a war zone since 1970.

The inside attack, which took place at Afghanistan's National Defense University in Kabul, also injured more than a dozen members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), defense officials said. A one-star German was wounded, the German armed forces said. The shooter, allegedly a member of the Afghan military, was killed in the course of the attack, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby confirmed Tuesday.

So-called "green-on-blue," or insider attacks, when insurgents either disguised as or within the Afghan security forces turn their weapons on NATO-led international forces in Afghanistan, are common. But a number of factors, including measures implemented by ISAF, have diminished their prevalence in the last two years. The last confirmed green-on-blue incident occurred in February in Afghanistan's Kapisa province, although a June 23 attack involving an Afghan police officer and two injured ISAF soldiers is still being investigated.

The Pentagon would not confirm the officer's identity but reportedly it was Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, a two-star general. He is the highest-ranking officer killed in a war zone since 2001. Before that, the last time such a high-ranking officer was killed on the battlefield was in the Vietnam era.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Kirby said the shooting began during a "routine site visit" at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University. Kirby did not say whether the general was specifically targeted. A Defense official said Tuesday that it was fairly clear that Greene was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. An investigation into the incident is underway, Kirby said.

Insider attacks against ISAF and Afghan forces hit an all-time high in 2012, resulting in 48 deaths, or approximately 15 percent of coalition casualties that year. In comparison, green-on-blue attacks accounted for 6 percent of coalition deaths in 2011 and 2 percent in 2010. Prior to that, only 14 personnel were killed in insider attacks from 2003 to 2009. The 2011 increase and 2012 spike corresponded with President Barack Obama's 2011 pledge to end U.S. combat operations by 2014 and shift security responsibility to Afghan forces. The looming transition led to a large recruiting push for more Afghan troops. Moreover, ramped-up training of Afghan forces by ISAF personnel created new opportunities for cultural misunderstandings and friction. During the same span, the Taliban increased the frequency of their attacks and supposedly stepped up efforts to infiltrate Afghan forces.

 

Cultural differences and personal enmity between coalition and Afghan soldiers cause the majority of green-on-blue attacks, NATO commanders claim. However, the Afghan government blames infiltration by foreign spy agencies.

In light of the surge in green-on-blue violence, the U.S. military and ISAF implemented a number of measures to help mitigate -- but not eliminate, as Defense officials are quick to note -- the attacks' damage. Limiting the number of ISAF personnel working closely with Afghan soldiers and launching a program in which so-called "Guardian Angels" -- armed guards -- stand watch over coalition personnel during training exercises and other close engagements are among the changes since 2012. The Taliban eventually took credit for many such attacks, leading the Afghanistan National Security Forces to better vet recruits. That has slowed the level of Taliban infiltration.

Green-on-blue attacks dropped to 15 in 2013.

"Despite this sharp decline, these attacks may still have strategic effects on the campaign and could jeopardize the relationship between coalition and Afghan National Security Force personnel," according to a Pentagon report on progress made in Afghanistan published in April.

The latest attack isn't about numbers, military groups point out.

"We know that today, somewhere in America, a military family is receiving the dreaded knock on the door, telling them that a life has been given in service to country," a statement issued by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) read Tuesday. "For the family of a fallen service member -- it is not a news story, it is personal."

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images