PALESTINIAN CIVIL WAR OR RENEWED NATIONAL ASPIRATIONS?
PALESTINIAN CIVIL WAR OR RENEWED NATIONAL ASPIRATIONS?
The international community inflicted new suffering on the Palestinians this week. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu commented on the dire humanitarian situation in
"We are," Tutu said, "concerned to learn, among other things, that the suspension of aid and the non-payment of border tax revenue, amounting in effect to the imposition of sanctions, has crippled the organs of government to the extent that health services are able to provide only the bare minimum of treatment; that prohibitions on movement are preventing among other things the transfer of seriously ill patients to specialist hospitals elsewhere; that the unemployment figure in this area of 1.5 million people is now 60% of the potentially employable; that the level of basic family income has dropped to an untenable level; and that misery and real hardship are a reality of everyday life for the majority of the people in the area."
This, then, is no natural disaster. It is far worse as it is the policy of some nations to make the Palestinians suffer in the hope that they will throw off the elected Hamas leadership rather than rally around it.
Lately, however, governing Hamas officials have shown unexpected success in breaking the siege. Life is still miserable in
Acting in collusion with European Union monitors, Egyptian officials, and even it seems the Palestinian presidential guard,
Indeed, most European nations now appear more intent on squeezing the Palestinians into submission than advancing any positive ideas for their liberation from Israeli occupation. Though mostly resistant to
Ha'aretz reported that "Palestinian official Hani Jabour, a coordinator at the Rafah crossing, said Israeli authorities closed the border after Haniyeh told Egyptian authorities he was carrying the money." This suggests Egyptian officials phoned Israeli counterparts with the news of the cash Haniyeh had with him. In effect, the Egyptian officials were colluding with Israeli officials in the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians.
Finally, the Palestinian presidential guard did not acquit itself well in behaving much like automatons or stooges in siding against efforts to aid the Palestinian people. The guard, which is under the direction of President Mahmoud Abbas, fired on armed members of Hamas attempting to open the crossing and secure desperately needed aid for Palestinians in refugee camps from Rafah north to Jabaliya and perhaps into the West Bank.
Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to the Palestinian prime minister, was one of the restraining voices on the scene. He succeeded in convincing many there with Hamas to stand down for the moment. Despite his efforts he was injured later that evening in shooting by Fatah-aligned gunmen apparently attempting to assassinate Haniyeh. The prime minister's son was injured in the attack and a bodyguard killed.
According to Hamas officials the assassination attempt came on orders of the CIA-connected Mohammed Dahlan who has a long track record of human rights violations against members of Hamas and other critics of government corruption and abuse. Dahlan, whose self-enrichment project in the
Tensions over the past 10 days were already running very high following an attempt on the life of the Palestinian Interior Minister, Said Siyam of Hamas, and the grisly, though apparently accidental, murder of three Palestinian children of Hamas antagonist Baha Balousha on Monday 11 December. Fatah members squarely assigned responsibility to Hamas for the children's deaths. The building internal anger is in fact the reason Haniyeh cut short his trip.
While most Hamas gunmen eventually listened to Yousef at the Rafah crossing, they displayed little of the discipline for which Hamas is generally known. This reputation has slipped in recent months. Most distressing for Palestinian civilians caught in the middle is that all parties engaged in hostilities jeopardized the lives of Palestinian civilians at the crossing. Increasingly, it is clear to Palestinians in
Undoubtedly, the Hamas Charter's reference to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is repugnant, but the outcry over this is striking in comparison with the American silence on the racism of
Perhaps most remarkable of all is the speed with which
Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal stated what was once obvious in a Friday 15 December radio interview from
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also noted on 16 December that she will attempt to convince Congress to back the security forces of Abbas with additional funding. Many Palestinians will likely conclude from this that Abbas is not an authentic Palestinian leader, but a disconnected puppet doing the bidding of
Surely many Palestinians will also recognize that Israel benefits from the internal Palestinian crisis as it allows illegal Israeli settlement and barrier work to progress more easily while Palestinian national interests implode in a masochistic bout of internal recrimination and violence. Many of the Palestinian leaders who would once have surmounted this self-defeating fiasco -- through either the creation of a unity government or insistence that President Abbas not exercise a legal authority to call new elections that he does not actually possess -- are either dead or imprisoned. A critical moment is before younger community leaders to determine whether the worst fears of civil war develop or Palestinians will rise to the occasion and reunite over the shared goal to end Israeli domination.
Also in play are growing fracture lines between Palestinians in the
The American policy on Hamas is currently being proved to be the failure predicted months ago. Fears were raised early in the year that a siege on the Hamas leadership would drive it into the arms of
The track record of the Bush administration in the region is abysmal -- from Israel/Palestine to
Certainly aspects of Hamas are deeply troubling, including its frequent use in the course of this intifada of suicide bombings against Israeli civilian targets, but to Palestinians Hamas appears in a favorable light compared to Fatah when Hamas's efforts to secure aid for Palestinians are blocked at nearly every turn by those willing to reduce Palestinians to abject poverty in the hope of securing political concessions. The incident in Rafah will serve mainly to reinforce the internal view within
And the Palestinian people may well look to the Rafah incident as well as to both Fatah and Hamas and wonder how it came to infighting while the Israeli occupation still held sway over their lives, land, and liberty. Many of them are sure to insist that no matter how deep the internal grievances that they be expeditiously resolved in order to address larger national interests. These voices may still be heeded, but the Palestinians are perilously close to exchanging steadfast opposition to occupation for self-defeating internecine conflict. If so,
Michael F. Brown is a fellow at the