Reuters reports: After crushing the Muslim Brotherhood at home, Egypt’s military rulers plan to undermine the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which runs the neighboring Gaza Strip, senior Egyptian security officials told Reuters.
The aim, which the officials say could take years to pull off, includes working with Hamas’s political rivals Fatah and supporting popular anti-Hamas activities in Gaza, four security and diplomatic officials said.
Since it seized power in Egypt last summer, Egypt’s military has squeezed Gaza’s economy by destroying most of the 1,200 tunnels used to smuggle food, cars and weapons to the coastal enclave, which is under an Israeli blockade.
Now Cairo is becoming even more ambitious in its drive to eradicate what it says are militant organizations that threaten its national security.
Intelligence operatives, with help from Hamas’s political rivals and activists, plan to undermine the credibility of Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 after a brief civil war against the Fatah movement led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
According to the Egyptian officials, Hamas will face growing resistance by activists who will launch protests similar to those in Egypt that have led to the downfall of two presidents since the Arab Spring in 2011. Cairo plans to support such protests in an effort to cripple Hamas.
“Gaza is next,” said one senior security official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We cannot get liberated from the terrorism of the Brotherhood in Egypt without ending it in Gaza, which lies on our borders.” [Continue reading...]
Ma’an News Agency reports: Prime minister of the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday called on Palestinians to oppose any new negotiations with Israel, arguing that they “jeopardize the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people’s rights.”
“These negotiations mark the violation of the Palestinian national consensus as negotiations are carried out as a result of US pressure and blackmail,” he said, urging Palestinians to protect Jerusalem and never abandon any Palestinian right, especially the right of return of refugees.
Haniyeh made the comments during a speech delivered in Gaza City on the second anniversary of the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel which saw 1,027 Palestinian prisoners freed in a deal for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In order to ensure the protection of Palestinian rights, “negotiations must stop and the Oslo approach must be ignored. Political forces must together find a new national strategy adopting diverse visions and means,” he continued.
“To confront any dangers or possible compromises emerging from negotiations,” added Haniyeh, “Palestinian factions and dignitaries should get together and build a Palestinian national strategy.”
This strategy, Haniyeh said, must include all possible options including armed resistance and popular resistance in addition to political and diplomatic means including academic and diplomatic divestment using all regional and international platforms.
Haniyeh also reiterated that his movement remained committed to reconciliation with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on the basis of the agreements reached through Cairo dialogue.
Dalia Hatuqa writes: After nearly a half-century of existence, Fatah has left many loyalists and critics alike pondering its accomplishments. On New Year’s Eve, the Palestinian political party — which has led the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for decades and currently holds the presidency of the Palestianian Authority (PA) — celebrated its 48th anniversary. In Ramallah, a few thousand mostly young men marched across the West Bank city to the Muqata’, the headquarters of the PA president and Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas. The streets were lined with the party’s younger supporters, some elderly veterans clad in military fatigues and several high-ranking members of the group’s leadership who are based in the West Bank.
As the marchers converged upon the headquarters — once a ravaged icon of the second Intifada, today it stands a revamped modern military compound — many started to trickle away. Addressing the enthusiastic group that remained, Abbas, looking every day of his 77 years, spoke of Palestinian leaders of years past. He started with Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian figure unrivaled in his persona, then moved on to Abu Jihad and Abu Eyad — both icons of Palestinian resistance — and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s late spiritual leader, whose group Fatah has been at loggerheads with since it wrested control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Abbas recited the litany of names as if lamenting his party’s failure to deliver a unifying leader since Arafat to guide Palestinians through exceptionally troubling times: a moribund peace process, dire economic circumstances brought about by dwindling international aid, mushrooming Israeli settlements, and a political and geographical rift with the Gaza Strip.
Besides the marching band and the rally, few people in town seemed aware, let alone interested, in the festivities. Discussion of the economy and the E1 Israeli settlement plan dominated TV and radio station talk shows and café conversations. On the domestic political front, Fatah hasn’t been faring as well as should be expected on its home turf. During last October’s municipal elections, only 54 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots. Despite a Hamas boycott, Fatah was unable to present a unified front and many of its members broke with the party line by running on independent platforms. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: Palestinian election officials said Sunday that voters choosing new local councils in the West Bank rebuffed candidates from President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement in five of the 11 main towns, an apparent blow to the Palestinian leader.
Fatah had hoped to revive its flagging political legitimacy with Saturday’s municipal elections, the first voting in the Palestinian territories in more than six years. With main rival Hamas boycotting the election, Fatah counted on a strong endorsement from voters.
Fatah won local council majorities in six towns, but lost in five others, a performance some said fell below expectations. In four of the towns where Fatah lost, including Ramallah, the seat of Abbas’ government, voters preferred independent lists dominated by Fatah breakaways. In a fifth, biblical Bethlehem, never a Fatah stronghold, leftists and independents won.
Election officials spoke anonymously as official results were not to be released until later in the day.
Fatah spokesman Ahmed Assad claimed Sunday that the results, also reported in the local media, signaled “huge support for the party and its program.”
However, analysts portrayed the outcome as a blow to Abbas and Fatah’s leadership. “The elections reflected people’s disappointment in the leadership’s ability to lead them to a common goal,” said pollster Nader Said.
Elections were held in 93 West Bank towns and villages, with close to 55 percent of 505,000 eligible voters casting ballots, election officials said. In 261 smaller communities, local leaders were picked by consensus or there were no candidates. Official results were expected later Sunday.
The vote was held at a difficult time for Abbas.
His Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government that controls parts of the West Bank, has been plagued by a chronic cash crisis for months, struggling to pay the salaries of some 150,000 public sector employees.
Fatah once dominated Palestinian politics, but has been in disarray since the death of Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, in 2004. Even after being trounced by the Islamic militant group Hamas in parliament elections in 2006, Fatah largely failed to reform or reinvent itself. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have agreed to form a new unity government in the West Bank and Gaza, which will be headed by Mahmoud Abbas, it was announced on Monday.
Reconciliation talks between the two factions have struggled to make progress since an agreement in principle was signed last spring. A major issue has been who would lead the government. Hamas insisted on the removal of the present prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who has strong western backing for the progress he has made on building the institutions of a future Palestinian state.
Abbas and the exiled Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, who has been pushing for reconciliation, agreed at a meeting in Qatar on the formation of the new government of independent technocrats, led by Abbas, which will be in place until elections can be held.
Meshaal said: “We are serious, both Fatah and Hamas, in healing the wounds and ending the chapter of division and reinforcing and accomplishing reconciliation.” Rapprochement was necessary “to resist the enemy and achieve our national goals”, he added.
The agreement would be “implemented in the shortest time possible”, Abbas said.
Fayyad “warmly welcomed” Monday’s agreement, a Palestinian spokesman told the Associated Press. It was unclear whether he would remain in the government after stepping down as prime minister.
AFP reports: The Hamas premier of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, praised steps toward reconciliation taken by the Islamist group and its former rival Fatah, which were angrily denounced in Israel.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal took steps in Cairo on Thursday towards reforming the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation, such that Hamas could join.
“We want to pursue positive dialogue with Fatah from this point”, Haniya told journalists.
“Practical measures must however be taken, like the liberation of political prisoners from Hamas detained by Fatah,” he said, adding that Fatah must also stop its repeated questioning of Hamas supporters during investigations.
The reconciliation moves drew an angry response from Israel, with one minister saying the Jewish state must now annex more territory to ensure the safety of its citizens in case “terrorist” Hamas gains influence in the West Bank.
“This alarming rapprochement between Abu Mazen (Abbas) and Hamas is aimed at forming a government that one can only say is aimed at bringing about a genocide,” Transport Minister Israel Katz of the right-wing Likud party said.
The New York Times reports: For years, the imposing black gate that sealed the border between Egypt and Gaza symbolized the pain and isolation that decades of conflict have wrought on this tiny coastal strip, especially under Hamas in recent years.
But recently, the gate has come to represent a new turn for the increasingly confident Hamas leadership. The twin arches of the border crossing have swung open twice in recent weeks for V.I.P. arrivals, first to receive hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails as one captive Israeli soldier moved in the other direction, and a second time for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to visit Gaza for the first time in decades.
Both instances lifted the fortunes of the Islamists at a critical time ahead of negotiations scheduled to be held in Cairo this week with their main rival, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who leads the Fatah party.
Hamas’s leader, Khalid Meshal, arrives at those talks with a sense of regional winds at his back. Dictators have fallen, replaced by protest movements and governments that include the Islamist movements those dictators suppressed. Hamas has lost no opportunity to highlight this development as it basks in the growing regional importance of its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest and most powerful Islamist movement in the world.
“This is a hot Arab winter that has not until now ripened into spring,” a Hamas official, Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, proclaimed in Gaza last month as he claimed the Arab revolutions for Islamic revivalism. The campaigns to oust corrupted leaders have reached a “critical stage,” he said, before concluding, “With God’s help, next year we will see the flowering of Islam.”
Mr. Abbas, by contrast, arrives with mixed success for his plan to gain United Nations recognition of statehood for Palestine. He has gained huge domestic support — polls are 80 percent in his favor — but the bid has faltered and he has alienated a crucial ally in Washington.
Hamas, on the other hand, trumpets its success in trading one captive Israeli soldier, Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit, for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, hoping that the Egyptian-brokered exchange will erase Palestinians’ memories of the increased isolation and blockades that Gaza suffered during Sergeant Shalit’s captivity.
Boaz Ganor, an Israeli security analyst and the founder of the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, believes that Hamas is now “much stronger” than it was before. The Shalit deal, he believes, was part of a “very detailed, sophisticated plan” by Hamas, which the United States and the European Union have labeled a terrorist organization, to break free from its Gaza enclave and secure greater legitimacy “at least in the international arena, if not in the eyes of Israel,” before Palestinian elections, scheduled for May.
“As long as they were holding an Israeli soldier against the Geneva Conventions and so forth, they would not be regarded as a legitimate candidate,” he said.
Both Hamas and Fatah leaders say that the Cairo talks will focus on setting up a unity transitional government of technocrats to take Palestinians through to elections, already long overdue.
Nabil Shaath, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said that the talks would focus on unity, nonviolence and finding a cabinet and a prime minister acceptable to both sides. He said there was now a “much better opportunity” for agreement. Hamas had enjoyed success with the prisoner swap, and Fatah gained domestic support for the statehood bid, he said, and “success reduces the need for competition.”
Ben White writes:
For a few months now, discussion of Palestine/Israel has focused on the looming UN vote on Palestinian statehood, but this is obscuring more fundamental problems in the Palestinian political arena – of which the forthcoming UN vote is a symptom.
In three critical areas, there are significant flaws hampering Palestinian political leadership.
The first is a legitimacy deficit. Both the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas have, with the most generous interpretation, a minority mandate from the Palestinian people. The last elections of any sort took place in 2005-2006, and overdue local elections have been indefinitely postponed. And even if presidential or parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza were to take place tomorrow, they would still exclude Palestinian refugees. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) remains a potential vehicle for democratic decision-making, but serious reform is still not on the horizon.
The second critical problem is a lack of creativity and strategic thinking when it comes to tactics. This has a number of root causes which are beyond the scope of this article but the main point is a marked inability to adapt to circumstances with regard to the kind of smart resistance most appropriate for confronting Israeli colonisation. This is more than simply an issue of “violent” versus “nonviolent” (a discussion often plagued by patronising western double standards).
Fear of losing control over the course of events can be one factor inhibiting an openness to change – which brings us to the third problematic area: a focus on power for its own sake rather than for the achievement of a specific goal.
This criticism applies to both Fatah and Hamas, though the former has been guilty of it for a longer period of time and with more devastating consequences. Over the past five years or so, the conflict between these two factions has frequently resembled a fight for who can occupy the Bantustan palace, rather than who can serve most effectively the unfinished Palestinian revolution.
This fight for fake authority has resulted in a dangerous phenomenon: the harassment of youth activists (such as the 15 March movement) and dissidents in the West Bank and Gaza. The growing expressions of dissatisfaction, particularly from young Palestinians, have contributed to a hardening grip on power by two regimes that fear they stand to lose from an overhauled democratic system.
Helena Cobban writes:
The Gaza Strip is a heavily urbanized sliver of land, some 30 miles long, that nestles against the southeast corner of the Mediterranean and that for many reasons– including the fact that more than 75% of its 1.6 million are refugees from within what is now Israel– has always been a crucible for the Palestinian movement. In the 1950s, Yasser Arafat and his comrades founded the secular nationalist movement Fateh here. In the 1970s, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a local preacher, founded the network of Islamist organizations that later became Hamas, right here in Gaza. In 1987, Gaza was where the overwhelmingly nonviolent First Intifada was first ignited…
On a recent Wednesday morning, I sat in the neat, second-story office of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights with its deputy director, a grizzled veteran of the rights movement called Jaber Wishah. We were discussing the prospects for the reconciliation agreement that Fateh and Hamas concluded in Cairo on May 3. Wishah said he hoped that the agreement would result in the formation of a ‘national salvation government’ that could end and reverse the many kinds of assault that the Israeli government has sustained against the Palestinians of the occupied territories: primarily, the multi-year siege that suffocates the Gaza Strip’s 1.6 million residents and the continuing land expropriations and regime of deeply abusive control that Israel maintains over the 2.6 million Palestinians of the West Bank.
“We desperately need this salvation government, to halt the deterioration of our situation,” Wishah said.
Like all the politically connected Palestinians I talked with during my three-day visit to Gaza, Wishah stressed that the key factor that was now– however slowly– starting to ease the harsh, five-year rift between Hamas and Fateh was the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in neighboring Egypt.
Gaza’s longest land border is the one lined (by Israel) with high concrete walls, hi-tech sensors, and a series of watchtowers with machine-gun nests that can fire automatically if any Palestinian approaches any closer than 500 meters to the wall. Gaza’s shorter border is the one with Egypt that, since 2006, has been the only way that Gaza’s people– or rather, a carefully screened subset of them– can ever hope to travel outside the tiny Strip, whether for business, studies, or family reunions. So long as Mubarak and his widely loathed intel chief Omar Sulaiman were still in power in Cairo, they used their power over Egypt’s Rafah crossing point with Gaza to maintain tight control over the Strip and they worked with Israel, the United States, and their allies in Fateh to squeeze Gaza’ss Hamas rulers as hard as they could. Many Arab governments have long expressed support for intra-Palestinian reconciliation. But they (and the western powers) were always content to let Egypt take the lead in brokering all reconciliation efforts. To no-one’s surprise, so long as Mubarak and Sulaiman were in charge in Cairo, those efforts went nowhere. [Continue reading...]