Sunday, June 24, 2007

10 Days: the Palestinian crisis and the Hamas-Fatah struggle

24 June, 2007

It has now been 10 days since Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency, sacking the Hamas led Palestinian National Unity government. During this period, Abbas has moved to isolate Hamas further and strengthen his positon.

While the US, Israel and the European Union has come out in support of Abbas, promising to lift the crippling economic blockade and return taxes Israel stole from the Palestinian people, an attempt by the US to get UN Security Council backing for Abbas' action has failed. Russia, South Africa , Indonesia and Qatar have al opposed the US sponsored Security Council declaration of confidence in the emergency government on June 20. According to Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, " Russia and South Africa have questioned the legitimacy of the Palestinian emergency government and argued that a Palestinian unity government is not only still possible, but would be preferable to the emergency government headed by Fayad, which has authority in the West Bank only". In addition, "the South African ambassador argued that the international community, especially the U.S., Israel and the Quartet, are to blame for the situation in the Gaza Strip". Objections were also raided to the declaration of support by the Palestinian observer who argued that such a declaration would constitute intervention in the PA's internal affairs.

Last week, I spent two days in Ramallah and it was clear that there are divisions amongst the other Palestinian factins. The Palestinian People's Party and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) has come out in support of the Abbas, the declaration of the state of emergency and the dismissal of the government. They have also called for new elections based on proportional representation.

However, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have stated that they weren't part of the new emergency government despite reports in some of the Palestinian media and they didn't see the emergency government as a solution. The PFLP has publicly stated that they reject Hamas's military take over of the Gaza , but they also support a new unity government involving Hamas.

While I was in Ramallah, I also tried to speak to as many internationals and "ordinary" Palestinians as possible. Amongst the internationals I spoke to, whether individuals or involved with different solidarity groups, their primary concern was for the plight of the Palestinian people as a whole and they were angry that both sides seem to have forgotten about the occupation.

Amongst the Palestinians, in the first 5 days after the state of emergency being declared, there seemed to be no clear consensus about whether Abbas was right or not - as one Palestinian told me, you can ask one person a question and get two different answers from that same person. Some expressed support for one side or the other depending on their party affiliations. Others while agreeing that Hamas had been undemocratically ousted, also felt well what else were we to do, the blockade was causing such hardship.

However, it was clear that while Abbas, with US and Israeli backing, is trying to move as fast as he can to legitimise his emergency governments and to isolate Hamas, as the dust is beginning to settle more and more ordinary Palestinians are coming out in support of not only new elections but also unity between the factions. This as I mentioned before will put more and more pressure on Abbas to negotiate with Hamas, despite objections from the US and Israel . As veteran Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, has correctly pointed out in his latest piece, Saving Abbas, it is "pure fantasy" to think that any Palestinian "will agree to the separation of Gaza and the West Bank" or that the Gazan people will rebel against Hamas and that the West Bank Palestinians will forsake those in Gaza. They instead will demand unity and any party that does not respect that will be lost to the Palestinian street.

In addition, a number of Palestinian media outlets have either begun to question the way in which Abbas has "bent" Palestinian basic law, while other Palestinian Human Rights organisations have accused Abbas outright of violating the letter and spirit of Palestinian Basic law.

For example, the most popular Arabic and English language Palestinian news website during the crisis, Ma'an, while not explicitly condemning Abbas, has increasingly begun to refer to him as either "bending" or "eradicating" Palestinian Basic Palestinian laws. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) while condemning both Hamas and Fatah for trying to resolve the conflict between the two factions military, has also come out and condemned Abbas for violating and violated undermining the Basic Laws saying this was "no less dangerous than what is happening in Gaza

In a statement issued on June 18, the PCHR argued that "Steps taken by President Mahmoud Abbas in response to these events violate the Basic Law and undermine the Basic Law in a manner that is no less dangerous than what is happening in Gaza". It went on to say that Abbas had no authority " to dissolve or interrupt the work of the PLC during the period of emergency (article 113). The Basic Law is superior to all laws, from which all powers, including those of the President and Prime Minister, are derived, and it must not be undermined or suspended in all circumstances". According to PCHR, the steps taken by Abbas "complicate the crisis" rather then solve it. It went onto say that the crisis is political rather then constitutional and the only solution was dialogue between Fatah and Hamas.

In recent days, PCHR, the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) and the Palestinian Non-Government Organisation Network (PNGO) have come out and criticised Abbas for issuing a presidential decree on June 21 suspending the Palestinian laws relating to the Palestinian Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and NGOs.

According to the PCHR, "this decree as a first step in a crackdown on civil society organizations with the aim of closure or restricting its work during the state of emergency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)". PCHR noted that the decree the Ministry of Interior has the right to "review all permits for associations and organizations issued by the Ministry of Interior or any governmental source" and has the right to "take any steps deemed necessary against associations and organizations with the intent of closure, amendment, or any other action". The decree also demands that "all organizations and associations must submit new registration applications within one week; and all who violate this directive are subject to the law". According to PCHR, "this decree is a serious violation of the right to establish organizations, which is a basic human right guaranteed by article 26 of the Amended Basic Law for 2003, stating Palestinians' right to Establish unions, associations, federations, clubs, and public organizations in accordance with

Similarly, the PNGO stated in a press release on June 23, that "this Presidential Decree violates the law governing societies and organizations (Law N. 1 of 2000). It will restrict the work of associations and institutions and put them under Palestinian Authority's control without legal justification or practical procedure".

The issuing of the decree by Abbas is widely seen as an attempt to under cut the work of Hamas affiliated charities and NGOs, however, as Mustafa Barghouti's Palestinian National Initiative pointed out in statement (on June 23) condemning Abbas's decree that most Hamas affiliated NGOs were not registered under the NGO laws anyway. According to the PNI "as such, the decree has serious implications only for those CSO's [Civil Society Organisations] that adhere to and respect the NGO law". The PNI statement went on to state that "Palestinian CSO's are viewing the decree as a dangerous step that could represent an attack on CSO's and on Palestinian democracy, and see it as a move that could jeopardise the legal position of the new Palestinian emergency government"

Over the past week, the PLO Central Committee has met and has declared support for Abbas and has called for new elections. At one point, some PLO members called for the PLO central committee to replace the PLC. However, as outlined previously, this would be completely illegal as there is no provisions in the Palestinian Basic laws to dismiss the PLC (although Abbas has sought to isolate them). Despite repeated calls from Hamas and Haniyeh for renewed dialogue between Hamas and Fatah, Abbas and the PLO Central Council rejected any possibility of dialogue with Hamas. Instead, they called for amendments to the election law, establishment of a proportional electoral system rather than a district-based system.

However, the head of the PLO's political department Farouq Qaddoumi has been reported by the Egyptian media as denouncing not only the Palestinian Authority is as a "an illegal and illusory authority" but also denouncing Abbas for misusing his presidential authorities. According to reports, Qaddoumi stated that Abbas and the presidential office had misused PLO departments such as the Preventative Security forces using them "to commit things which we were not satisfied with, especially after the appointment of [Muhammad] Dahlan as national security advisor". Qaddoumi, while condemning the role of Hamas in Gaza , also called for unity between Fatah and Hamas, saying that it was unacceptable to establish separate "cantons" in the OPT.

In response to the dissolution of the Unity government, Israel has segregate Palestinian political prisoners for the first time. However, leaders of the various factions have rejected the new policy and called on all factions for unity, saying that the Palestinian struggle for their own land is greater then the struggle amongst their own people. According to one leader, Tawfiq Rabay'a, the segregation was aimed at separating brothers and to prevent them meeting. He accused Israel of implementing this rule as part of its policy of deliberately severing the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

Hamas has continued to argue that its actions in Gaza were to stop collaborators undermining the Palestinian national struggle. According Ahmed Yousef, the political advisor to Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister) in an article in Ma'an, " Hamas's actions to secure Gaza from the horrific recent violence of the Palestinian contras have been out of self-defence. The assassinations of Hamas officials and supporters, attempts on the life of the elected prime minister, and kidnappings and bombings by some in President Mahmoud Abbas's paramilitary groups had to stop". He went on to argue "The PA has a clear legal right, indeed an obligation, to prevent this violence, by force if necessary, and to protect the Palestinian people. It is not Hamas that has "outlawed" the government. When has an elected party with a voting majority ever resorted to banning the government to get its way?".

Yousef went on to say "Some critics raise the red flag of 'al-Qaeda' and say that Hamas and parliament are a stalking horse for Salafi Jihadists. I defy them to demonstrate one instance in which Hamas's military structure has struck against any force outside the theatre of the occupation. The struggle has always been against the Israeli agenda of ethnic cleansing and conquest. Hamas is a movement of Palestinian liberation and nationalism - Islamist, yes, but in the sea of contending faiths that is the homeland, where is the sin in loving one's creed? Likewise, those who demean resistance to the occupation as little more than a proxy for Iran, Syria or Hezbollah are ignorant of history".

Hamas has also claimed that they have found conclusive proof amongst documents they seized from the headquarters of the Fatah aligned Preventative Services that there was extensive collaboration between Fatah, Israel and the US to undermine the democratically elected Hamas lead PA, as well as the Palestinian National Unity government. At press conference on June 23, Hamas said they could produce documents it has seized.

In response to Hamas' allegations, Abbas, has accused Khaled Mes'hal of being behind an attempt to assassinate him. However, Abbas and Fatah are yet to provide proof of the tape they say they supposedly have. In addition, the Fatah aligned head of the Palestinian intelligence agency has accused Hamas of receiving training from Iran and Syria and denied that any Preventative Security members had been involved in assassinations of Hamas members.

Over the past week, several rallies have been held in Gaza by Hamas supporters. According to Pal media, "several thousand Hamas supporters demonstrated on the streets of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening, protesting and condemning the speech of President Abbas, during which he launched a strong attack against the Hamas movement ....Protesters shouted slogans against President Abbas, and burned photographs of him, alongside American and Israeli flags, demonstrating their anger at his rejection of dialogue with the Hamas movement"

In the West Bank proper, it has been exceedingly quite on the highways and only minimal movement from the Israeli occupation forces, this is primarily because the Preventative Services are currently doing most of the arresting of Hamas militants, arresting 120 in the last week. During this same period, however, Israel has continued its occupation, killing at least 5 Palestinians in Gaza and arresting at least 13 Palestinians in the WB, including members of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the DFLP. On Friday, they killed a young Palestinian man at a checkpoint in Hebron . Israel and the IOF has also continued to restrict the movement of Palestinian human rights workers, including Shawan Jabarin, the director general of the Palestinian human rights non-governmental organization Al-Haq and one of the editors of Ma'an news agency.

1 comment:

Bhumika Ghimire said...

i see that this was posted before Blair was appointed Middle East envoy,how do u think he is going to make any different in the current situation..?

does Blair have the credibility to work on Middle East issues, specially when he comes with such a huge baggage,talking about weapons of mass destruction report and iraq war

middle east desk,the newsroom