Sunday, June 17, 2007

Abbas, Hamas and the Palestinian Crisis

18 June, 2007

Dear friends

As mentioned in my previous post, after 4 days of intense fighting, which left more then 110 people dead and hundreds injured, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency and dismissed the Hamas led PA government ministry.

On Sunday, (17/6), Abbas swore in (illegally) a new unelected emergency government made up primarily of technocrats. The emergency government is headed by Salam Fayyad from the Hanan Ashawri’s Third Way party. According to Palestinian News Agency, Ma’an, it contains two Fatah affiliates, a member of Barghouti’s Palestinian National Initiative, 2 independents, 1 member of the Palestinian People’s Party, I member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and 4 others, who I am not sure who they affiliated with or if “independent”

Only one minister (an independent) is carried over from the previous unity govt member of the new emergency government. In addition, while Fayyad is feted by Israel, the US and the EU and amongst some Palestinian elites, his party only won 2.4% of the vote at the 2006 elections.

A coup by whom?
Abbas and his aides have accused Hamas of staging a military coup in Gaza, however, as Guardian Foreign Affairs editor, Peter Beaumont and veteran Middle East journalist, Robert Fisk have noted, it was Hamas who was the party which was elected democratically with an overwhelming majority in 2006, not Fatah and that in effect a coup has been staged against the democratically elected government led by Hamas.

On Saturday, Abbas issued presidential decrees suspending three articles of Basic Palestinian Laws which demand that Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) must give approval to any new government.

The suspension and violation of these laws are the clearest evidence that Abbas and Fatah have staged a political coup (backed by the US and Israel) against the 2006 democratically elected PLC. In addition, on Saturday, Pal media reported - either in response to or in coordination with the Presidential decrees - that Fatah gunmen stormed the PLC attempting to arrest PLC members.

According to Palestinian Basic Law:

• In relation to dismissal/convocation of government:
Articles 67 and 79 clearly demand that any and every new government must be approved by the PLC, including an emergency one.

It should be noted while Article 44 of the BL does allow the President “the right in exceptional cases, which can not be delayed, and when the Legislative Council is not in session, to issue decisions and decrees that have the power of law”, he does have carte blanche power. He must then present those decrees to the PLC “in the first session convened after their issuance, otherwise they will cease to have the power of law. If these decisions were presented as mentioned above, but were not approved, then they shall cease to have the power of law”.

• In relation to a state of emergency:
In addition, (as mentioned in my previous post) under Section 7 of the BL which deals specifically with state of emergencies specify that the president can declare a state of emergency for 30 days, however, he must have this approved by the PLC. Section 7, Article 114, section 4 clearly states that the PLC has “the right to review all or some of the procedures which have been implemented during the emergency state at the first session to be convened after the announcement of the state of emergency, or in the extension session whichever comes earlier, and to conduct the necessary questioning in this regard”

In addition, if he wants to extend the state of emergency beyond 30 days he must gain the approval of two thirds of the PLC (Article 110, section 1 & 2). Finally, Article 113 of Section 7 states emphatically that the President can not “dissolved or suspended during the emergency situation, nor shall the provisions of this chapter be suspended”.

Hamas response:
In response, Hamas has continued to refuse to step down from their positions in government and from the PLC saying that Abbas has acted illegal and in breach of the Palestinian Basic Laws.

Haniyeh and Mes’hal have publicly stated that they do not want to seize power in the Palestinian Authority and that they recognised recognizes Abbas as the head of the PA and would cooperate with him in the national interest. Mes’hal instead has argued in the media that “"What happened in Gaza was a necessary step. The people were suffering from chaos and lack of security and this treatment was needed”. Mes’hal was quoted in the Israeli english daily, Ha’aretz as saying the dissolution of the unity government "will not remedy the situation ... and will not solve the problem. There will be no two governments and no division of the homeland” and that a national unity governemtn was the only solution.

In the wake of the fighting in Gaza, an overall tense calm has apparently been established there, although there has been occassional sparodic fighting. Deposed Palestinian PM, Ismail Haniyeh has instigated a number of new security measures, including establishing a new police operational forces in the wake of the Abbas controlled interior ministry dismissing the Fatah aligned police force in Gaza. He has called on all police force members to return to their jobs and has stated that newly trained members will soon be sworn in.

Haniyeh has also banned Hamas members from wearing face masks on the streets, saying that Hamas member are only permitted to wear face masks during battle.

According to the Guardian, there has also been a rally of several thousand supporters of Hamas in Gaza on Saturday.

The “Abbas plan”:
According to both Pal and Israeli media, the current plan backed by Abbas, the US and Israel is to refuse to negotiate with Hamas, while seeking to hermetically seal of the Gaza. The intention is to maintain the siege of Gaza for a few weeks in the hope that build pressure against Hamas into agreeing to a compromise dictated by Abbas, the US and Israel. It should be noted that while the US has said they will, in an attempt to shore up Abbas, end the economic blockade and free up funds, they mean that they will only end the blockade of the West Bank, not Gaza. Israel has said it will only “consider” releasing the Palestinian taxes it has stolen.

The Israeli government has forced the sole supplier of fuel to the Gaza Strip, Israeli company Dor Alon, to cut of fuel supplies to Gaza, supposedly at the request of Abbas, an attempt to isolate the region more. The Israeli Infrastructure minister has called for complete isolation of the Gaza. Israeli has also moved to station Israeli Occupation Forces in the north of the Gaza Strip. Despite Hamas over running the US backed and trained Fatah forces in Gaza, the US is also planning to keep funding and training Fatah forces.

While Abbas is currently being backed by the old Fatah guard, it has been reported that a number of the young guard led by jailed Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti have refused to sign on. Barghouti has refused Abbas request to publicly denounce Hamas.

A number of other Fatah leaders from the young guard, including Ahmed Hilas, have remained in the Gaza Strip and have been holding talks with the Hamas leadership. Hilas has denounced Fatah warlord, Mohammed Dahlan and several other old guard Fatah leaders as “collaborators”

In the West Bank, fighting has been sparodic, with the worst in Nablus. In Nablus, Fatah gunmen stormed the Nablus Municipality building “arresting” the elected Hamas officials. A number of charitable organisations aligned with Hamas were also set on fire. According to a Palestinian friend who lives in Nablus, people are basically staying off the streets at the moment.

There was fighting in Tul Karem on Thursday but according to a friend who is with one of the other international human rights groups based there, things have quitened down since then. According to friends in Ramallah, while there has been sporadic fighting, on the whole things have been quite.

Where to next?
Abbas is currently trying to strengthen his hand by demanding that Israel met the “benchmarks” set by the US, including massive removal of checkpoints throughout the West Bank, the resumption of negotiations and the release of Palestinian prisoners. In particular, according to reports in the Ha’aretz newspaper, Abbas is demanding the release of Barghouti, in an attempt to strengthen his standing. If he can get these conscessions then he will go a long way to isolating Hamas.

However, Israel’s usual tactic is to either delay committing to this or to say they will consider committing to them (or the other option is to say they will commit to them and then renege on their promise and get away with doing this, as they did when they last promised to remove a substantial number of checkpoints from the West Bank earlier this year). If they stay true to form, Abbas will have little joy.

While Hamas will no doubt come under intense pressure to compromise, they will probably be able to ride it out as they have done for the past year and half, although Israel’s attempt to starve out the people of Gaza will put immense pressure on them.

At the moment the only people really supporting the new emergency government is the international community lead by the US and Israel. Even the Arab League, which has said it supports many of the measures by Abbas, has refused to denounce Hamas outright (but you would not know this from the western media coverage). Instead, the Director of the League, Amr Moussa has sought to restart negotiations between Hamas and Abbas/Fatah. Also the Arab states, such as Egypt and Jordan will not want Hamas to increase their power in Gaza.

In addition, it is still yet to be seen whether the new emergency government will have the support of the Palestinian people or not. It is really only today that the Palestinan media have started reporting that Abbas has violated the Basic Laws and suspended ones which don’t sit with what he and the US and Israel want too do. This will not go down well in the eyes of many Palestinians and it will be interesting to see whether they will therefore accept the legitimacy of this new government.

Also, if the US do lift the econmic blockade, but do so only in relation to the West Bank, the majority of Palestinians will be appalled at the continued attempt to starve out their relatives in Gaza. Gaza is already the poorest area of the OPT. So even if the US actually does releases funds to the West Bank, it may do them little good as many Palestinians will resent that their families are being starved in Gaza.

And finally, as mentioned before the majority of Palestinians want national unity and there will be immense pressure on Abbas to achieve this and to eventually negotiate with Hamas (and to improve the plight of the Gazan population). Over the next few days and weeks, it will become a matter of who will blink first.

in solidarity, Kim


Bob said...

This is an internal power struggle between 2 groups of thugs, murderers, and corrupt politicians who deserve exactly what is currently happening to them. They both want the total destruction of Israel, it's just that Hamas is much more overt about the methodology. If the Palestinians won't accept responsibility for their owncollective actions, they deserve the Fate they wish upon the Israelis.

The Rantolotl said...

Thanks for the updates Kim - it's excellent to be able to read your insights from the other side of the world we're getting the usual Herald Sun style reporting.

Yaakeric said...

I suspect that most Palestinians are very weary of their appalling situation and would be willing to compromise with constitutional violations to get an advance in their living conditions.

It is not as if the rule of law has really been applied in the West Bank and Gaza.

In my view, Hamas have seriously overplayed their hand and strategically weakened the Palestinian position. It could be characterised as an adventurist episode.

Fatah are corrupt. Hamas are religious fanatics. A woeful choice between bad and awful.

Your attempts to portray Hamas as anything other than what they are - by their own statements and actions - are laughable. Given unfettered control over the Palestinian people, the suffering would be terrible to witness.

They are in danger of being sidelined.

You obviously haven't heard the rather bleak joke about when the Oslo process started. The parties sat down to negotiate, and the Israelis said "you can have Gaza". The Palestinians responded "what do we get in return?"

Rob said...

Required reading, Kim.

Yaakeric said...

I find it mind boggling that there is no coverage of the threat to women, democrats, socialists, liberals, secular humanists, christians from the impending islamization of gaza. Is this a left wing paper?

The Hamas leader of the Municipal Council in Bethlehem has previously outlined their intention to bring in a tax on non Muslims, in line with the Islamic attitude toward Dhimmi. Now Hamas has control of the Gaza, watch what will happen.

They are an Islamic fundamentalist outfit. They are not Palestinian nationalists. They only adopt this garb as an interim meaure

Yaakeric said...

Hamas regards the territory of the present-day State of Israel — as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — as an inalienable Islamic waqf or religious bequest, which can never be surrendered to non-Muslims. It asserts that struggle (jihad) to regain control of the land from Israel is the religious duty of every Muslim (fard `ain). Hamas does not recognize Israel as a sovereign state, unlike the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which has recognized it since 1988, and calls it the "Zionist entity"

With this leadership, there can never be any peaceful agreement reached.

Kim said...

Hi Rob and Yaarekic, I have just responded to your previous comments in the first blog on the pal crisis. Dont have time at the moment to respond to your stuff here, but will try later.


Kim said...

Hi Rantoltl,
thanks for you comments and support, they are muchly appreciated.

cheers, kim
ps: I love you profile description!

Kim said...

Hi Bob,
re your comments, I have basically responded to similiar comments on the first the first blog about the crisis, if you care to read them there.