Besieged and divided

October 12, 2006

In a September 25 appeal to the international community to act to end the humanitarian disaster in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UN envoy on Palestinians' human rights, John Dugard, pointed out: "In effect, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions — the first time an occupied people has been so treated."

These sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA), by the US, the European Union and Canada, have not only caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank — they have also directly led to the recent violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah, the two major Palestinian political parties.

These confrontations left at least 12 dead and more than 100 wounded on October 1-2. The clashes, between armed members of the Fatah-dominated security forces protesting the government's inability to pay public servants' wages, and Hamas's Executive Force, occurred against the background of a rapid breakdown in the tentative "national unity" government formed by Hamas and Fatah on September 11. Violence spread from Gaza to the West Bank, and various buildings associated with Hamas and Fatah, from mosques to government offices, were targeted.

@subh = Fatah puts power first

As a result of the suspension of most international aid since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January and came to power in March, the PA has been unable to pay the full salaries of its approximately 165,000 public-sector workers (about one-third of the Palestinian work force) for more than six months.

Fatah has exploited the poverty and discontent that this situation has created to wage a campaign to undermine the Hamas government and regain its traditional dominance in Palestinian politics. This campaign has intensified in recent months, with Fatah urging teachers and other public servants to go on strike against the government for salaries that are currently impossible to pay.

When earlier this year, in the wake of its electoral victory, Hamas called on Fatah to join it in a government of national unity, Fatah rejected the offer outright.

Between Israel's brutal continuing military offensive against Gaza, launched on June 28, the kidnapping and detention by Israel of 33 Palestinian legislators (including four cabinet members) for being members of a "terrorist organisation", and the international sanctions, the Hamas government has barely been able to function.

The Fatah leadership is now calling for a government of "national unity" that would achieve the lifting of the international embargo — but on terms it shares with Israel, the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. These conditions are the formal recognition of Israel, the renunciation of violence, and the acceptance of all previous "peace" agreements.

At the latest round of Hamas-Fatah talks on October 9, brokered by Qatar, a six-point plan was presented that in essence corresponded to all three of these US-Israeli demands. Fatah emerged blaming Hamas for its refusal to forswear armed struggle and agree to formally recognise the Israeli state.

Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad explained at a press conference that the group distinguished between acts of terrorism and the "right to resist occupation", and that Hamas is currently rejecting the two-state solution because "Israel refuses to have a Palestinian independent state beside Israel".

Syrian-based Hamas leader Mohammed Nazal told Associated Press on October 10 that Hamas did not reject the proposal outright, but asked for amendments, and said that Fatah "are not after moderating us — it is about wiping us out. It is a war of elimination."

According to the October 10 Jerusalem Post, Nabil Amr, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (a Fatah member), "hinted that Abbas might now be forced to fire the Hamas-led government and establish a new government".

Fatah has repeatedly threatened that Abbas may use his constitutional power to disband the current Legislative Council (the PA's parliament) and call new legislative elections if Hamas refuses to surrender its political principles in a "national unity" government formed on Fatah's terms.

Such a move would likely cause a dramatic increase in violence between the two groups. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice weighed into the internal Palestinian political struggle when she visited the Middle East in early October, meeting Abbas and offering him a grant of US$9 million as part of a $26 million plan to strengthen his presidential guard and expand it from 3500 to 6000 members.

This reckless drive for power by Fatah's leadership threatens the relative historical unity of Palestinian society and the national movement. The limitations of Fatah's approach to the struggle for Palestinian national self-determination — and in particular the extreme corruption that developed as a result of the PA's financial dependency on Israel and the West — were resoundingly rejected by Palestinians in the January elections through a massive vote for Hamas, which had emerged as the political and military leadership of the Al Aqsa intifada.

Fatah's manoeuvres to regain power at the expense of the national liberation movement as a whole have managed to win the support of a section of Palestinian society. This is partly as a result of Fatah's institutional and historical weight but mainly as a result of the relentless violence of the Israeli occupation, which is now matched in its disregard for Palestinian lives by the actions of the international community in trying to starve a people into submission for electing the "wrong" party.

Referring to the crisis in Gaza, Jonathon Cook pointed out in an October 7 Electronic Intifada article: "Inevitably, social bonds grow weak and fragile, even tear, when nearly half the population is unemployed and more than three-quarters are living in poverty."

@subh = Gaza's despair

Two-hundred-and-ninety-one Palestinians were killed by Israel during July and August in Operation "Summer Rain", which began in Gaza on June 28.

On June 24, Palestinians Osama and Mustafa Muamar were arrested in Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The two are sons of Hamas activist Ali Muamar (and possibly Hamas members themselves). On June 25, two Israeli soldiers were killed and one was captured during a raid by Palestinian militants on an Israeli military outpost in an effort to pressure Israel to break its siege on Gaza and cease its brutal artillery bombardment. The next day Israel bombed and destroyed Gaza's only electricity generator, which supplied more than half the territory's electricity.

Reports by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights claim that more than 200,000 Palestinian households in Gaza are experiencing blackouts for 16 hours a day, and close to 90,000 high-rise residents are deprived of potable water, which is power-pumped.

According to the PCHR, 81% of Gaza's 1.4 million residents are now living below the poverty line. More than 800,000 people in Gaza are directly dependent on food from UN relief programs to survive. In an August 31 report, Oxfam said that no humanitarian aid had been allowed into the Gaza Strip since August 15.

Oxfam stated that, based on UN and World Bank estimates, the PA is set to lose more than $1 billion as a result of Israel's withholding the $55 million it collects in Palestinian tax revenue each month, and the suspension of international aid.

The report paints the grim picture of a developing human catastrophe: "Hundreds of thousands of people have been left without an income. Rubbish is piling in the streets, sewage is overflowing from household cesspits, schools are running without budgets and government employees are striking for lack of pay."

@subh = Unity and national liberation

Palestinians have learned a deadly lesson about the price to be paid for dependence on Israel and the good graces of the governments of the imperialist nations. Time and again Israel has demonstrated its determination to thwart all efforts to establish a peace agreement involving even a limited form of independent Palestinian statehood, and it is intensifying its drive to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population from the West Bank, as well as its brutal push to crush resistance in Gaza.

Hamas was elected on the basis of a rejection of the past framework of the national liberation struggle, as led by Fatah in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords. The "international community" has responded by coldly besieging and starving Palestinians for having the will to resist, insisting that the new PA government accept the framework they were elected to change.

Yet Israel has never been held to account, despite killing more than 2700 Palestinians since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa intifada in September 2000, violating countless UN resolutions and international laws, and doing its best to undermine the emergence of any independent Palestinian state.

Cook pointed out that "Fatah, first under Arafat and then Abbas, agreed to all three conditions years ago and that Fatah's compliance to Israeli demands never helped advance the struggle for statehood by one inch".

Since March, Hamas has been experiencing the strangling restrictions of trying to operate in the reality created by Fatah's previous agreements with Israel — trying to function when the PA is bound by chains of dependency to the will of the Israeli ruling class.

In the wake the emergence of Hamas as the leadership of Palestinian's national resistance because of Fatah's historical failures, Fatah is cynically taking advantage of the brutal international siege of the government the Palestinian people elected to represent them.

Azmi Bishara commented in the October 5-11 Al-Ahram Weekly, "The Palestinians have yet to win liberation and a nation state. But they have established an identity, a national movement and a will to fight for liberation. To side with a colonialist blockade is to lend oneself to jettisoning even this small accomplishment, which was achieved through such enormous sacrifices."

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