Palestine: Large picture lost

August 15th, 2008 | Posted in Palestine, Politics, Solidarity

    Al-Ahram. Khaled Amayreh, Ramallah, Palestine.


Photo: Active Stills. Palestinians protest against Israel’s apartheid wall in Bil’in.

Despite largely facetious denials, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) has been carrying out a vindictive campaign against Hamas sympathisers and supporters. According to various sources, hundreds of school teachers, college students, journalists, and other professionals as well as ordinary citizens have been arrested and imprisoned on largely amorphous charges such as “constituting a threat to state security” — when the PA is neither a state nor a sovereign entity — and “violating the rule of law”.

In cities and villages throughout the West Bank, PA security agencies raided Islamic-oriented cultural and academic centres, non-governmental organisations, sports clubs as well as schools and charitable associations, closing them down and arresting members.

In the Hebron region, security forces this week closed down four charitable associations aiding orphans and needy kids. In Dura, 10 miles southwest of Hebron, heavily armed PA security personnel stormed the Anwar Cultural Centre where high-school students receive tutoring in such subjects as math, sciences and English. When two teachers showed up at the centre the next day, PA security personnel ganged up on them, beating them savagely before dumping them in the local jail in Hebron.

Similarly, journalists critical of the PA crackdown on human rights and civil liberties have been detained on frivolous charges such as “libelling the legitimate Palestinian government” and “stirring up division” among the people. Among the detained journalists is Awadh Rajoub, a young journalist who works for the Arabic service of Rajoub was arrested nearly two weeks ago from his office in Dura. The PA is refusing to say why he is being detained.

Even lawyers defending detainees, such as Mohamed Farrah from Hebron, are being arrested. Al-Ahram Weekly asked Hussein Al-Araj, governor of Hebron, why the PA security agencies were arresting people nearly haphazardly and closing down civilian institutions with Islamic orientations. The governor said the PA was targeting “Hamas’s military presence only”. “We don’t arrest Hamas’s people. Supporting Hamas is not against the law. We are only targeting real and potential members of the Executive Force.”

The “Executive Force”, which is made up of a few thousand well-trained Hamas fighters, spearheaded Hamas’s counter-coup in Gaza in June 2007, which eventually thwarted Fatah’s plans — reportedly in collusion with the United States — to dismantle the Hamas government in Gaza. The PA and Fatah continue to claim that Hamas is planning to repeat the “coup” in the West Bank — hence the heavy-handed clampdown. However, this claim seems as ridiculous as it is mendacious.

Hamas maintains a negligible “armed presence” in the West Bank and Hamas’s “wanted fugitives” spend more time hiding from the ubiquitous eyes of Israel’s domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, than fighting Israel or preparing to fight the PA. Moreover, in order for Hamas to be able to defeat Fatah in the West Bank and take over, it would have to defeat the Israeli occupation army first, which is currently far-fetched.

This shows that the ongoing campaign by Fatah against Hamas’s “public presence” in the West Bank has more to do with revenge than with efforts to forestall an imagined coup by Hamas in the West Bank. Nonetheless, Fatah is miscalculating since the exaggerated repression by Fatah militias of Hamas’s public presence is bound to generate a backlash, at least in terms of people’s perceptions.

“They are behaving like a gang, not as a government. Their actions are spurred by an overwhelming desire for revenge without any thought for Palestinian national interests,” said one Fatah leader in the southern West Bank who spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity. “They have been brainwashed into believing that Hamas, not Israel, is the enemy.”

It is not really clear who stands behind the crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas ordered “his” security agencies to free all Hamas political activists rounded up two weeks ago in retaliation for Hamas’s crackdown on Fatah elements suspected of involvement in a Gaza-beach bombing that killed six people, including a young girl, three weeks ago. However, the security agencies have apparently refused to heed the “presidential order”, which suggests that either the order was disingenuous and meant as a PR manoeuvre — or that Abbas is losing all authority over the security agencies.

On the political front, Fatah has been successfully enlisting Arab — especially Egyptian — support against Hamas, apparently in order to force the Islamic movement into an inferior position in any prospective national reconciliation dialogue. According to reliable sources in Ramallah, Fatah has been able to convince Cairo to refrain from reopening the Rafah border crossing unless Hamas agrees to allow Abbas’s Presidential Guard to monitor the crossing. Leaving the crossing closed effectively continues the strangulation of Gaza and its people.

But Fatah precisely hopes that “strangling Hamas” in Gaza would eventually force its political rival to succumb to Fatah’s demands of “ending the coup” of 2007 and agreeing to the organisation of new elections early next year. Egypt’s siding with Fatah has drawn angry — though measured — reactions from Hamas. Moussa Abu Marzouq called on the Egyptian leadership to keep “an equal distance from [all] Palestinian factions” and not to take sides. Similarly, Yehia Moussa, a Hamas lawmaker, accused Egypt of foot-dragging in its efforts to spur Palestinian reconciliation.

Regardless, it unlikely that Hamas, which has showed an extraordinary level of resilience and fortitude in withstanding the harsh Israeli blockade of Gaza, will cave in to the combined pressure of Egypt and Fatah. In terms of its options, Hamas could abruptly terminate the ceasefire with Israel, stonewall vis-à-vis the Gilad Shalit affair, or repeat January’s massive incursion by tens of thousands of desperate Gazans across the border into Egypt. This could end up with Egyptian blood being shed by Palestinians and Palestinian blood being shed by Egyptians, which would be in no one’s interests, except perhaps Israel.

While Hamas is facing a predicament, mainly due to Egyptian obstruction, Fatah, too, is facing a real crisis. This week, chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei admitted that peace talks with Israel were going nowhere. Speaking during a meeting of Fatah leaders, Qurei warned that the Palestinians would abandon the goal of Palestinian statehood and opt for the one-state solution if Israel continues to insist on retaining settlements and rejecting a total withdrawal from the occupied territories.

Israel immediately rejected Qurei’s warning, saying that the one-state solution was unthinkable. However, Palestinians are fast coming to the conclusion that the creation of a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank is impossible, given the intensive proliferation of Jewish-only settlements and roads. Locked in a dead end, much will ride on who prevails as the just representative of the will of the Palestinian people — Fatah or Hamas.

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