These people have every right to poke fun at our tragedy-turned-farce after the bloodshed on the streets of Gaza during infighting between brothers turned foes. Still, in spite of the outcome from the bloody confrontations in Gaza, the resulting violent tear in the Palestinian political fabric and the ramifications these clashes had at the social and moral levels, there are still major questions that require answers.
Why and how did matters reach such a point? Who is responsible for pushing Palestinian society to the precipice of internal fighting? And what are the reasons that turned our tragedy into farce? Finally, what options are open to the various parties?
Dealing with these questions in a methodological and accurate fashion needs a return to the beginning so that our study and evaluation is not a superficial and naïve process, as if the bloody events occurred on the spur of the moment without any background. This radically contradicts the logic imposed by the analysis of any socio-political event.
A methodological reading of the events will protect the analysis from hasty and erroneous conclusions. It will also provide us with an opportunity to view it in its historical, political and social context, thus uncovering the depth of the crisis, the failed strategies or the exaggerated wagers on delusional and feeble choices.
This method in studying the events will force us to go back to the reasons that brought about the contradictions to the Palestinian arena so that we do not fall into the illusion of interpreting the infighting that gripped the Gaza Strip as if it were simply a reaction. The truth is that it was a reflection of the growing struggle between visions and options of the feuding political forces, regardless of the political rhetoric of each one and their justifications for resorting to arms as a way of defending the Palestinian national interest, as if this interest would not be achieved except though shedding Palestinian blood at the hands of other Palestinians.
Some of the reasons
Hence, in order for the truth not to be lost, we must return to the basics. The infighting did not take place on an isolated island. Rather, it was the result of political contexts, environments and events which created fertile ground for the contradictions between Fateh and Hamas, leading to the moment of confrontation. This environment clarified the failure of strategies for a political solution according to the American-Israeli project – these strategies which are so good at losing opportunities and continuing to insist that peace is possible, but only a peace that is in full harmony with the conditions of the Israeli-US alliance.
Hence, we can understand why the Israeli political elite insisted on saying there is no Palestinian partner for peace and disseminating this phrase in Israeli political and media discourse.
Since the defeat of 1967, Israel has refused to commit to international resolutions, namely UN resolutions 242 and 338. It also rejected the opportunity presented by Yasser Arafat in his famous speech to the UN in 1974 in which he said, “I have come here holding an olive branch in one hand and a gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” Still, Israel continued its rejection and arrogance…
Then came the first Intifada that peaked with the Madrid Conference, where the Palestinians showed willingness for peace and for offering difficult concessions. However, in the Oslo Accords, Israel saw a tool and a method of continuing its domination and occupation in a new form. Even though these accords were signed, the Palestinians found themselves living an increasingly desperate reality: land confiscations, settlement construction and expansion, poverty, unemployment, checkpoints, humiliation, demographic divisions and the transformation of Palestinian cities into besieged Bantustans.
Still, with each new bump in the political process, Israel continued to cast blame on the Palestinians, always saying, “There is no Palestinian partner for peace.” Then the second Intifada came as a rebellion, rejection and expression of the desperation and frustration the Palestinian people had reached. And still, Israel continued to sing to the same tune. In exchange for the historical and political concessions the Palestinians offered, Israel escalated its intransigence with direct support from the United States. In light of this policy, Arafat was described as an obstacle to peace and a complete siege was imposed on him right until the time of his passing. Then came Mahmoud Abbas and the American-Israeli alliance continued its foolish policy. And despite his realistic outlook and flexibility, Abbas was still unable to convince Israel that he was the right partner.
The logical explanation for this policy is that the standards and conditions specified by Israel for any Palestinian partner to accept is represented in their necessary submission and full surrender to the Israeli conditions and agenda.
This policy has led all of the resolution projects on the table to a dead end. In light of this, the Palestinian side, which showed willingness to be flexible and realistic with these projects, found that what was required of them was no less than surrender; they were also expected to accept the role of a tool limited to executing Israeli dictates.
Israel and its ally, the United States, did not realize that the boundaries of Palestinian concessions remained, in all cases, governed by a group of red lines. This meant that any Palestinian political force or leadership that sidestepped these would lose their legitimacy and status, something that would put it in a state of fierce contradiction with the majority of the Palestinian people and its social and political forces.
This failed American course and strategies put Fateh and its late leader Yasser Arafat and later Mahmoud Abbas at a dead end. It paved the way for the rise of Hamas, which built up its forces and fortified its role based on the failure of settlement projects and the futile concessions Fateh presented without achieving peace.
The aforementioned brings us to the second reason for these contradictions.
Hamas found its golden opportunity in the failed settlement project, which was based on the Oslo Accords and other initiatives proposed since the Madrid Conference in 1990. In addition to this was the corruption that came in tandem with Fateh’s experience throughout its rule over the Palestinian Authority. In light of these results, Hamas began to present itself as an alternative and the loyal defender of Palestinian national rights.
This socio-political movement is what explains Hamas’ decisive victory in the legislative elections and municipal council elections in 2006. These elections were a reflection of the accumulation of previous years and not only a momentary and isolated reaction. The election results bred a number of basic facts:
* Hamas’ control over the majority of PLC seats and municipalities in the largest Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza.
* Fateh’s loss, for the first time, of its absolute control over PA institutions. This led the political and social Palestinian reality to a process of disintegration and a radical, deep restructuring for the first time.
* Marginalization of all the democratic Palestinian political forces (the PFLP, DFLP, PPP) in light of the election results. This deprived Palestinian society of a role these forces could have played in controlling the escalating tension between the two politically and socially feuding poles.
* Palestinian society reached an unprecedented state of polarization, whereby the conflict revolved around Fateh and Hamas. The remaining political and social forces that make up the Palestinian socio-political fabric were excluded and dealt with as if they did not exist.
* The United States, Europe, Israel and most Arab countries declared their boycott of Hamas; an economic siege was imposed on the Palestinian people, which most Palestinians perceived as collective punishment for their democratic choice.
In light of these developments, the components and conditions for the creation of a dual authority began to develop on the Palestinian political and social scene. On the one hand, Hamas controls the majority seats of the PLC and municipalities in the most important West Bank and Gaza Strip cities. On the other, Fateh controls the presidential institution, the security services and PA civil institutions (various ministries).
This reality quickly began to feed into a struggle over authority. Fateh continued to behave as if it did not lose its power, falling back on the fact that it controlled the security services (presidential security, national security, intelligence and preventative security). At the same time, it began escalating its pressure on the field against Hamas (strikes and demonstrations for payment of civil servant salaries.)
Concomitantly, Hamas believed it was its right that its role in PA institutions and security services should equal its overwhelming electoral victory…and hence, it began to equate its electoral legitimacy with security legitimacy. In Gaza it took the initiative to form the executive force…and thus it may have quickly established the conditions for an inevitable clash over authority between the two poles.
Furthermore, in spite of its defeat, Fateh did not really acknowledge Hamas’ authority. And Hamas, in spite of its victory, could not exercise this authority like it had envisioned. This was all accompanied by continuous campaigns of incitement and mobilization: Fateh accused Hamas of pushing an extremist religious agenda linked to external references. It also said the movement does not possess a realistic political project. On the other hand, Hamas accused Fateh of carrying out an American political agenda and that it feeds into the corruption within Palestinian society.
Hence, we have the failure of the American political strategies in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its full adoption of the Israeli vision, conditions and discourse, in addition to imposing the economic and political siege on the Palestinians by the United States and EU with Arab collaboration. The Palestinians considered this as punishment for their democratic choice. This is in addition to the continued Israeli policies of closures, assassinations, arrests, demolitions, settlements, the construction of the separation wall, incursions into cities and villages, etc. This has all led to the creation of a dual authority on the Palestinian political scene and set the stage for an eruption of Palestinian-Palestinian infighting in the Gaza Strip. The confrontations ended with Hamas taking control over the Strip. Events then progressed quickly – Mahmoud Abbas announced the dissolution of the national unity government and considered the executive force, formed in Gaza by Hamas, as illegal. He described Hamas’ actions as a coup against legitimacy. At the same time, Abbas mandated Salaam Fayyad to form an emergency government, which was sworn in by President Abbas on June 17, 2006.
Hence, we are now before a new reality and facts in the Palestinian arena that are extremely interrelated and complex.
A reading into the new scene
Those who are delusional into thinking that things are moving towards a final settlement are sorely mistaken. On the contrary, the course of events and the reactions that followed, which lack any logic or reason, will push the Palestinian reality and political projects into a new cycle of loss and confusion.
True, Hamas has taken control over the Gaza Strip and has raised its flags at every corner. Then what? What are the next steps?
And yes, the formation of an emergency government in the West Bank was declared. Good, but then what? Yes, Israel and the United States have succeeded in pushing the Palestinian people and its political forces to infighting and splits and into a cycle of creative chaos…okay, then what?
The truth is, everyone, whether they wanted to or not, has been brought into this new cycle of conflict, which will be more entangled and more intertwined. Anyone who believes they have won the round with the final blow is greatly mistaken, be it a military or political blow. The same difficult questions, challenges and options still surround everyone.
In spite of Hamas’ control over the Gaza Strip, it continues to orbit within the specifics of the conflict and the balances of power that govern it objectively and subjectively. Hence, it is unable to surpass the bottle neck of the Palestinian reality wrought with political/social/economic/strategic challenges…in light of this, any stronghold on Gaza will not suffice, nor will any clinging to the legitimacy of the dismissed national unity government and refusing to recognize the government of Salaam Fayyad.
In the end, it must present a vision and project that surpasses the borders of the Gaza Strip and it must search for a political solution and vision that allows it to overcome the walls of the ghetto that surrounds it.
Was Hamas really aware of the depth of the crisis it pushed itself into? Or did it walk into the trap willingly, only to find itself besieged politically, economically and diplomatically…and hence, how will it behave? What are the choices available to it to get out of this trap and to cut its losses as much as possible?
As for Fateh and President Mahmoud Abbas, they are in no better state. The margins of the movement will remain limited to them…the declaration of an emergency government constituted a sort of reaction and will fail to deal with the components of Palestinian political, social and economic contradictions.
Hence, words and illusions are not enough such as: the emergency government is legitimate and it represents all of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza…in the end, it will face the wall of reality…how will this government practically exercise its authority over the Gaza Strip?
Therefore, the government of Salaam Fayyad will face a series of major challenges:
First: It must prove its existence and legitimacy in the Gaza Strip, or else it will be considered and dealt with as a government whose jurisdictions do not exceed the West Bank.
Second: It must realize that without the cushion of the political forces, it will face difficult questions at the level of its national legitimacy. In the end, it is a group of independent personalities and technocrats. However, the tasks it must face are not limited to administrative and service-oriented tasks and distributing salaries. The Palestinian cause is first and foremost a political cause, and it is impossible to separate politics from economic and political issues.
Third: It is facing the most important and dangerous challenge of all, represented in its ability to overcome the trap of American-European-Israeli generosity that has opened its doors in all directions. This is something the majority of the Palestinian people will not view as an innocent gesture. On the contrary, they will perceive it with skepticism and wariness, a form of political control over the emergency government.
The American administration and Israel moved with the speed of light in declaring their absolute support for Salaam Fayyad’s government, an immediate lifting of the economic siege and Israel’s announcement to release seized tax money. All of this took place in the first moments after Fayyad was mandated to form the government, even before this government announced its political and social platform.
This reality will create a component of serious threat and will portray the emergency government as it if rode in on the tanks of American, European and Israeli financial support. This move has created a trap that Fateh is moving toward, whether consciously or not, and which will therefore strip it of any ability to convince the Palestinian street of its political and social choice. The final equation will look as if the Hamas government was punished for adhering to the option of resistance and national rights, while the emergency government is being rewarded for its willingness to concede on these rights.
The American-Israeli position
Perhaps the United States and Israel believe they have finally picked the fruit of their policy of creative chaos, siege and military pressure, while actually they must realize that this pressure will lead the entire Palestinian reality into a cycle of total eruption, the fires of which will not stop at the Palestinian situation alone. Most likely (this has become very clear now), through their dubious embracement of the emergency government, the United States and its allies are pushing the Palestinians toward more crises and conflict.
Despite all of these risks and warnings, in the coming weeks the United States will probably still seek to prove the soundness of its vision over the success of its political and economic model in the West Bank through lifting the siege, pouring in money and easing restrictions on Palestinian movement. This is based on a previously formed conviction that the emergency government will fall within the trend of moderation and realism to which American-quality standards will be applicable. Meanwhile, the siege will be tightened on the Gaza Strip and on Hamas as the representative of extremism and terrorism.
This is what the drawn-up scenarios look like now, but will matters move according to this logic?
Hamas may believe it scored an important victory by taking control over the Gaza Strip and Fateh may believe it succeeded in pushing Hamas into the Gaza trap and that it is now capable of putting forth its successful and internationally acceptable model for the West Bank. Similarly, the United States may seem to have succeeded in isolating Hamas and dismembering the Palestinian political structure and in finally achieving a state of real categorization on the Palestinian scene between moderates and extremists.
So, let each party think what it wants and that it achieved some sort of victory or accomplishment, which will guarantee them a chance to get their hold on all the links in the chain of the Palestinian reality.
Still, in spite of all that has happened, all the parties must realize that the canvas of the Palestinian reality has become even more complicated and is far from being decided by one final blow. Therefore, they should be careful not to exaggerate any wagers or expectations because the options will continue to be governed by the balance of powers in motion in this reality and the major political and social questions they pose.
In this sense, Hamas must realize that its national role does not end at the borders of the Gaza Strip. It is required to provide answers to the Palestinian people in all their locations. Therefore, it must determine its political and social choices clearly in a way that would reflect its rational awareness of the objective and subjective forces that govern the arena of this conflict. In addition, it must also recognize the boundaries of its own power. In spite of Fateh’s military defeat in Gaza, it is still an effective power and a force to be reckoned with that is not easy or wise to sidestep. Hamas should also not view the Gaza events only from its own perspective but should acknowledge the magnitude of the shock it created in the Palestinian conscience and collective memory given the bloody fighting in which it was involved. The impact of this clash will also affect Hamas’ image and role to the core. No nationalist Palestinian will ever justify or forget any force that participated in this massacre, which violated the sanctity of Palestinian blood and consciousness and struck them at the heart.
Will Hamas search for bridges – or build them if they do not exist – to ensure for itself a way out of the Gaza ghetto? Will it rethink its behavior and assess its role so as to recognize in the end that the PLC and municipal council election results do not mean that it is the only destiny for the Palestinian people and must therefore create a mutual space with others (Fateh, and the democratic and national forces, etc.)? This is because the option of dialogue and national unity on the basis of the Palestinian national consensus program remains the only possible realistic choice to escape the cycle of infighting, dismemberment and severance with the culture of denial and exclusion of the other.
As for Fateh, it must realize that the balance of powers in the Palestinian arena has changed and it can no longer continue its policy of domination as if nothing ever happened.
It must also realize that forming an emergency government and Hamas’ calm response to this (in the West Bank) does not mean the latter has surrendered to the status quo. Hamas has also become a considerable force that is not easy or wise to sidestep. Also, on the popular and military level, it constitutes a latent force that can, upon necessity, push these elements into action to throw off any projects. Those who base their calculations on the premise that Hamas does not have the opportunity to resist in the West Bank are very wrong. Such an assumption reflects a naïve analysis which may also, due to this miscalculation, lead the West Bank into a cycle of confrontation in which everyone will burn in its fire.
Fateh must also face an obligation to reevaluate its experience and choices. It must pay attention to its role and national function so that, in light of what happened in Gaza, its reactions do not push it into corners that would put it and its political platform in a dubious position on the street. If it does reach this state, it will look like it is playing the role of political instrument to further the US-Israeli agenda.
Hence, Fateh is at a crossroads. It must seek and find a meeting point with others in a manner that would save the Palestinian cause, its liberation project and political and social constants from loss and squander. This is not possible unless there is a commitment to the principles of national unity as the only option with an abandonment of the policy of exclusion and domination.
However, what about the hundreds of Palestinian democratic forces, civil society institutions and non-governmental organizations throughout Palestinian society?
In light of this stark polarization and bloody clash between Fateh and Hamas, it seems the biggest absent factor on the scene are the Palestinian democratic forces (PFLP, DFLP, PPP, FIDA and the Palestinian National Initiative). The recent developments uncovered the tragic consequences of the absence of these democratic poles. Because of their weakness and unsteady role, they lost an opportunity – they should have played the role of an active force that could regulate the intensity of the contradictions between the two poles feuding over authority. Additionally, the state of retreat of these forces pushed them to the sidelines of the events, regardless of the soundness and morality of their social and national perspectives. When matters reached confrontations and a resort to arms to settle internal contradictions, pleas and calls from these forces were not enough. The situation needed an initiative in the field to lead the street in countering the insanity of the fighting. However, the ability to play this role needs a dynamic and strong force that would qualify it to impose this equation and to draw boundaries for these two parties. The most important condition for the success of such a mission is represented in unifying the democratic forces and developing the democratic choice politically and socially as an active choice with the ability to have an effect. It should also be able to engage in this conflict and to build a social pressure movement and not leave the Palestinian society and national project at the mercy of the battles and conflicts between Fateh and Hamas.
By the same logic, we can judge and assess the role and performance of the so-called Palestinian civil society institutions and NGO’s, which have always marketed themselves and their programs as the protectors of Palestinian society and its democratic choices. However, they revealed their state of inability and proved how weak they were when they did not rise to the occasion in performance or reactions in terms of the dangerous events that swept Palestinian society ever since the PLC elections up until the eruption of internal fighting.
This shortcoming has placed these institutions, organizations and centers before serious questions in terms of their role, weight and ability to have any effect, something which should push them to reevaluate their programs, projects, structure and relationships with Palestinian society.
As for the United States, its insistence to continue its wager on erroneous strategies in this region in general, and at the Palestinian level in particular, will undoubtedly lead it from one failure to another. Hence, it will fall into the same mistake for the thousandth time if it believes that the Palestinian people will simply accept to compromise over their national rights in exchange for an economic bribe.
In light of what has been presented, any project of political wager based on pitting the Palestinians of the West Bank against those in the Gaza Strip, thus sidestepping the political and social specifics that govern the Palestinian reality or those that put the Palestinian people and its political forces between the option of political surrender or siege and starvation, will meet inevitable failure.
And anyone who believes the Palestinians in the West Bank will remain mere bystanders while the other half of the people in Gaza is subjected to siege and starvation is seriously mistaken.
If matters reach this point, everyone is going to be surprised by the intensity of the reaction on the Palestinian street, which did not give legitimacy to any party to trample on its rights and dignity and rip apart their national and social unity. At this point, the cards and equations will be reshuffled all over again and all the political forces will be faced with a difficult test: Hamas, Fateh and the national and democratic forces. Hence, any party that misreads or miscalculates this structure will be the first to pay the price with their legitimacy, respect, role and organizational unity.
In light of these equations and balances and their direct and indirect dimensions, Palestinian political parties, especially Fateh and Hamas, will find themselves before one choice only: a return to national dialogue and consensus with all the other forces on the basis of a joint social and political program that would preserve the status and role of each party in safeguarding the constants of the Palestinian cause.
The flip side of this truth is represented in the impossible success of any Palestinian political force on its own to control the destiny of the Palestinian people and its national cause.
Autocratic equations have proven their failure. Any option based on chasing after erroneous wagers on finalizing the internal conflict through infighting or intending to further split the already dismembered nation and people will only result in everyone falling into more misery and frustration.
This is regarding the Palestinian forces. As for the international community, it is time that this community, with all its parties (the EU, US, Arab regimes, Security Council institutions, the UN and democratic and social institutions and forces) muster up the courage to stop this dependency on adopting Israeli dictates. It must take all the measures and positions necessary to end the Israeli occupation and implement international resolutions in both spirit and letter.
This is the possible and realistic option to end the conflict in the Middle East. Any continuation of providing cover for Israel’s hostile policies and considering all their actions as self-defense while relying on the premise that the only possible peace is complete submission to the American-Israeli project and its conditions will only lead to one result: pushing everyone toward an unending cycle of conflict.