Egypt’s military rulers plot to provoke uprising in Gaza

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...]

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Human tragedy unfolds as Gaza runs on empty

The Telegraph reports: The horrific scars disfigure Mona Abu Mraleel’s otherwise strikingly beautiful face. Swathes of bandages cover the injuries the 17-year-old sustained to her arms and legs in a blaze from which she narrowly escaped with her life.

Still racked by pain from burns to 40 per cent of her body, she goes to hospital on a daily basis to have her dressings changed. Specialist doctors are preparing to carry out a delicate skin graft operation in the coming days.

Yet the hospital on which her recovery depends is woefully ill-fitted to the task – riddled by equipment failures, power cuts and shortages in a mounting crisis that doctors fear is leading to a “health catastrophe”.

Mona lives in Gaza, the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave where chronic fuel shortages have led to electricity cuts of up to 18 hours a day and reduced ordinary life and public services to a standstill.

She is just one of many Gazans suffering in a rapidly worsening economic climate that this week prompted the British Foreign Office minister, Hugh Robertson, to demand urgent action to restore an adequate fuel supply to the territory. [Continue reading...]

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With Gulf support, Palestinian strongman attempts to reclaim power

Paul Mutter wrotes: Youth organizer turned leg-breaker, charity worker turned embezzler, and nationalist propagandist turned bargaining chip for foreign aid donors.

All three of these descriptions fit just one person: Mohammad Dahlan.

As we enter another round of “did they resign or didn’t they?” for the Palestinian negotiating team led by Saeb Erekat, for sheer chutzpah, this has to take the cake: Daoud Kattab reports that Dahlan, formerly Fatah’s enforcer-in-chief in Gaza (emphasis on “former” – more on that below) may yet return to the fold of the party that he was expelled from in 2010.

Reportedly, his reintegration into Fatah is being accomplished by the promise of Emirati foreign assistance to the PNA: Dahlan’s exile saw him take up an advisory position to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, and this is his vehicle for returning to political life in the Territories, not unlike how American aid was his vehicle for the abortive 2007 operation to disarm Hamas before it could consolidate military control over the strip.

Absent from this account of Dahlan’s coming in from the cold, though, is one important detail about Dahlan’s career, perhaps the most important one. In the institutionalization of internal Palestinian political violence, Dahlan has a strong claim to be first among equals for his actions in Gaza after Oslo. But he is the former enforcer-in-chief in Gaza precisely because his attempt to force a confrontation with Hamas after it won the 2006 elections there backfired. Even though his efforts were backed by the US, Fatah’s paramilitaries and party officials were unable to implement their plan properly, and Hamas took the initiative, meting out violence to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service (PSS) equal to that inflicted upon their own cadres by Dahlan’s forces. [Continue reading...]

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Hamas rejects Palestinian negotiations with Israel based on U.S. ‘blackmail’

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.

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The death of Fatah and the future of Palestine

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...]

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Fatah’s support in West Bank continues to dwindle

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...]

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Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas to form unity government

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.

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West Bank theatre founder wanted by Israel after amnesty deal revoked

The Guardian reports: A former Palestinian militant who renounced violence in favour of “cultural resistance” is in custody after Israel apparently revoked an amnesty deal, in a move seen by his associates as part of a campaign of harassment against a radical West Bank theatre.

Zakaria Zubeidi, a former of leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, is being held by Palestinian security forces after being told he would be arrested by Israeli authorities if he did not hand himself in.

“I am in a Palestinian Authority jail in Jenin,” he told the Guardian by phone. His account could not be confirmed by either Israeli or Palestinian sources.

Zubeidi, 33, was one of Israel’s most wanted militants during the Palestinian intifada in the early years of the last decade, suspected of making bombs used in suicide attacks. In 2007, he was included in an amnesty offered by the Israeli government to around 200 militants, and handed his weapons over to PA security forces.

He became the director of the Freedom theatre in Jenin, which claims to use art as “a form of resistance to oppression”. The Freedom theatre aims to challenge Israel’s “violent military occupation” through its productions and workshops, but it has also tackled taboo issues in Palestinian society. According to Zubeidi, “I continued my struggle against occupation through cultural resistance”.

He had adhered to the conditions of the amnesty deal and had been given no explanation of why it had been rescinded, he told other media outlets.

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Hamas forces ordered to cease attacks on Israeli targets, Palestinian sources say

Haaretz reports: Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has instructed the group’s military wing to cease attacks on Israeli targets, senior sources in Fatah say.

The sources say Meshal issued the order based on understandings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Meshal during their recent talks in Cairo.

Israeli defense sources say they are unaware of such an order.

According to the sources in Fatah, the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization, Meshal ordered a de facto cease-fire with Israel not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank. Hamas had already refrained from launching rockets from Gaza.

The sources say Meshal issued the order in late November, after the first round of reconciliation talks in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah.

After that meeting, it emerged that the two organizations agreed also to focus on a popular struggle along the lines of the Arab Spring.

Israeli defense sources say they were unaware that Meshal had issued a direct instruction to activists in the West Bank and Gaza. They add that there has been no strategic or ideological change in Hamas’ policy.

Rather, Hamas realizes that this is a bad time for terror attacks, both because of Palestinian public opinion and a fear of an Israeli reprisal that would compromise Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip.

But if the group’s terror networks in the West Bank spot an opportunity to carry out a significant attack, they are expected to take advantage of the chance, as they have done in the past.

Hamas’ leadership in Gaza said it was surprised by Meshal’s statement and that “the only way to liberate the occupied lands is through the armed struggle.” The Hamas interior minister in Gaza, Fathi Hamad, added that the group’s “internal leadership” does not necessarily intend to abide by Meshal’s policy.

Meshal reiterated late last week that popular protest had “the power of a tsunami” and has already proved itself in the Arab world. But he added that the organization would not give up the use of violence against Israel.

“We and Fatah now have a common basis that we can work on, and that is popular protest, which expresses the power of the people,” Meshal said.

The Hamas leader also expressed his support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. “Fatah and we have political differences, but the common ground is agreement on a state within the 1967 borders,” he said.

Meshal said the decision to focus on the popular struggle was made by the Hamas advisory body, the Shura Council. This means all senior members of the organization were on board.

The Fatah sources said Hamas does not intend to officially recognize Israel or accept peace agreements with it. Rather, the focus is simply popular protest and consent to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The sources say Hamas does not plan to stop arming itself, and will respond if attacked by Israel.

The Fatah sources say the statements by the Hamas officials in Gaza show that some leaders in the enclave might seek to undermine the move by Meshal, and that they might also launch attacks on Israel, mainly to prove their political power in the internal struggle in Hamas.

But the sources added that Meshal clearly seems interested in unity and in bringing Hamas into the PLO.

Militants from other factions in the Gaza Strip are still launching attacks, like the group that was hit Tuesday by the Israel Air Force. Islamic Jihad, one of these factions, is not expected to join Meshal’s move.

The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinians had not proposed to renew negotiations based on a prisoner release.

Erekat said that stopping the settlements, negotiations based on the 1967 borders, and the release of prisoners are not preconditions but rather Israeli obligations. Without them, the Palestinians don’t see a renewal of talks with Israel, he said.

Meanwhile, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Duwaik, a Hamas member, said yesterday that parliament would convene a joint session in both Gaza and the West Bank as early as the beginning of February.

Parliamentary activity has been suspended since June 2007, after Hamas’ coup in the Gaza Strip. According to Duwaik, a Palestinian unity government will be established at the end of January, and it will have no political tasks other than preparing for elections.

Duwaik denied reports that he would head the unity government.

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Israel shouldn’t ignore Palestinian reconciliation deal

Zvi Bar’el writes: [T]hanks to Syria’s murderousness, along with help from Egypt and support from Jordan, Hamas is reexamining the map of the region’s political topography and changing course: no more armed struggle against Israel, but a popular struggle, meaning demonstrations and civil disobedience, as well as a willingness to drop its previous preconditions for joining the Palestine Liberation Organization, an understanding that it must recognize the agreements the PLO has signed and a return to the ballot box as the accepted method of achieving political victory.

Hamas cannot be more righteous than the Muslim Brotherhood, and if the Brotherhood in Egypt is participating in the political game – and winning it – then so can Hamas.

Six years have passed since the last election in the territories, in which Hamas won a sweeping victory. That election derived its authority from the Oslo Accords, which the PLO signed with Israel, and the U.S. administration was the driving force behind it. But since then, the administration has repeatedly rued its democratic aspirations, and together with Israel, it boycotted the electoral results. Even Hamas’ willingness to cooperate with Israel, albeit only on the administrative level, was pushed away with a 10-foot pole. “Hamas or Abbas” became the diplomatic slogan – and an excellent excuse for Israel to abandon any serious diplomatic process.

The illusion that has been peddled ever since is that it is possible to sign a separate peace with the Palestinian Authority while continuing to bomb Gaza – to allow the Palestinians to open department stores and discotheques in Ramallah while strangling 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. The split between Fatah and Hamas was seen as irreversible, something that could be relied on to perpetuate the diplomatic freeze. Fatahland and Hamastan were etched into the Israeli consciousness as two states for two peoples, the people of the West Bank and the people of Gaza, rather than as a struggle between rival political leaderships. The possibility that the Palestinians would view this split as an anomaly never even entered Israelis’ heads.

But things change. Hamas and Fatah are reconciling – not because of Israel’s beaux yeux [how it will look], but because it is in the Palestinians’ interest, and new regional circumstances laid the groundwork for this to come about. Israel can either ignore this development, wage all-out war against the reconciliation or try to correct the diplomatic error it made half a dozen years ago.

There’s no need to hold your breath. Israel has already announced its choice. But there’s no law (yet ) against playing “what if,” so it’s permissible to think about what would have happened had Israel instead announced that it welcomes Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s statements, hopes Hamas will turn into a legitimate political party and agrees to negotiate with any elected Palestinian government that is willing to negotiate with it. Such a government, established on the basis of a Palestinian consensus, would in any case be acceptable to most countries in the world, making Israel’s refusal to recognize it irrelevant.

It’s also permissible to wonder: Will Israel refuse contacts with an Egyptian government established by the Muslim Brotherhood? Will it abrogate the peace treaty with Jordan should the Hashemite king grant sanctuary to Hamas’ leadership? And if not, why should it boycott the Palestinian Authority?

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Hamas’s Haniya applauds, Israel denounces PLO unity moves

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.

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Hamas edges closer to the mainstream: agreeing to nonviolence, opening the door to recognizing Israel

Time magazine reports: The leaders of the two biggest Palestinian parties met in Cairo on Thanksgiving, and just going by the headlines afterward, you’d have thought nothing had happened. “Palestinians talk unity, no sign of progress,” said Reuters. AP: “Palestinian rivals talk, but fail to resolve rifts.” But read the stories, and it becomes clear that a great deal is going on, with immense implications for the future of peace talks with Israel.

Israel’s government dismissed the meeting with a wave of the terrorist card. Hamas is regarded by the West and Israel as first and foremost a terrorist organization, and so Mark Regev, who speaks for prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, framed the reconciliation as something that can only contaminate the pacifist credentials of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah party chief widely known as Abu Mazen:

“The closer Abu Mazen gets to Hamas,” Regev said, “the farther he moves away from peace.”

But what if Abbas is holding still, and Hamas is moving closer to Abbas? That’s what’s been happening, from nearly all appearances, for the last two or three years, and everything coming out of the Cairo meeting points in the same direction. The head of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, and Abbas spoke for two hours, Abbas in the big chair, Meshaal on the couch with two others. Afterwards both met the cameras smiling. “There are no differences between us now,” Abbas said. Mashaal went with: “We have opened a new page of partnership.” And on whose terms? Hamas stands for resistance, its formal name being the Islamic Resistance Movement. But in the Gaza Strip where it governs, Hamas has largely enforced a truce with Israel since January 2009. And in Cairo it signed a paper committing itself to “popular resistance” against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. That’s “popular” in contrast to “violent” or “military” resistance. We’re talking marches here. Chanting and signs, not booby traps or suicide bombs.

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New winds in Mideast favor Hamas

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.”

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The problem with Palestinian political leadership

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.

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Eyes open in Gaza, June 2011

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...]

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Fayyad to stay on as Palestinian prime minister

DPA reports:

Salam Fayyad on Tuesday dismissed reports that he was thinking of stepping down as Palestinian prime minister after the Islamist Hamas movement rejected him as a candidate to run the new government.

The Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas had insisted on Fayyad staying as prime minister. Abbas told a Lebanese television station on Monday that since he would name the new government, his only choice would be Fayyad, regardless of Hamas’s position.

The move caused concern that the national reconciliation agreement that Fatah and Hamas concluded on May 4, and which was supposed to result in a government of consensus, may not work because of strong differences over Fayyad.

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