West responsible for recent chaos in Gaza

This article is a chronology of conflicts between Fatah and Hamas during the period of Hamas’ democratic rule, from January 2006 until June 2007, when it seized power in the Gaza Strip. Throughout this time period, the international community put unreasonable strain on the Occupied Territories which exacerbated existing tension between Fatah and Hamas to the point of violence.

This article relies heavily on news reports as sources and organizes information from this time period into categorizes the author felt created better concision

Hamas’ overthrow of Fatah and its resumption of violence this June in the Gaza Strip is the direct result of irresponsible reactions from the US, Israel and the so-called International Quartet to this reformed militia’s attempt at political legitimacy over the period of its elected rule, from January 2006 until June 2007. International opposition to Hamas eventually led to a disastrous boycott of the Palestinian Authority that unnecessarily put an already penurious population into even greater destitution. Unlike the failed democratic process in Iraq, Hamas enjoyed legitimacy from its base population. Yet in a region flush with despotic and monarchial rule, the international community didn’t support the election of Hamas to a position of democratic political governance. Conversely, the Quartet and Israel thwarted every attempt for Hamas to govern in the Occupied Territories. The Quartet and Israel’s overt and heavy support for Fatah (and alleged attempts to violently remove Hamas from power) led to the clashes between Fatah and Hamas’ militias in Gaza and eventually to Hamas’ power seizure of this territory last month. This violence has spun the Palestinian Authority and, more broadly, Palestinian democratic institutions out-of-control. At present, Fatah has dissolved parliament and declared martial law. Hamas claims control over the Gaza Strip and Israel has made continued, violent and bloody incursions into the area further exasperating despair there.

Leading-up to elections

Investigating the chronology of Hamas’ political rule and the opposition it received, it’s not hard to see how these events came to pass. First, in March 2005, Fatah brokered a ceasefire with Israel and 12 other militia groups including Hamas in exchange for the release of political prisoners illegally detained by Israel in its abusive prison facilities. This was after a five-year Intifada that killed hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israelis.[1] Israel welcomed the ceasefire, but not Hamas’ overtures for reform. Eventually Israel “resumed targeted assassinations,” continued to construct a “separation barrier” through the West Bank and conduct “arrest operations” in the Occupied Territories. Although Islamic Jihad resumed violence against Israel, Hamas concentrated on “staying its hand” so as to “maximize its electoral base.”[2] In fact the greatest threat to this ceasefire were the Israeli military’s regular violent operations in these territories, which included arbitrary arrests and killings. One of the more dramatic episodes during this “period of calm” was the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killing in Raffah of three Palestinian youth. Witnesses said these boys were shot while playing soccer in a refugee camp, but the IDF claimed these youth had smuggled weapons from Egypt. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO’s) president Mahmoud Abbas characterized these attacks as a deliberate violation of the truce he and then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon signed that February. The killings resulted in Hamas and Islamic Jihad renewing their shelling of Israeli settlements in Gaza.[3] Aside from these outside threats posed by the Israeli military, Abbas also undermined Hamas’ nascent attempts at democratic participation when he suddenly postponed parliamentary elections scheduled for July 2005. This delay was officially justified due to recent reforms in election laws (moving from straight regional to regional/proportional representation) passed by a Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), but Hamas accused Fatah’s unilateral delay as a crude political maneuver motivated to buy the unpopular organization more time and to improve their image. In fact, according to Chris McGreal in a May 24, 2005 report in the London-based Gaurdian newspaper, “senior officials in the ruling Fatah movement have already urged Mr. Abbas to delay the vote for several months in the hope that Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip [would] reverse the party's decline in support.” [4]

Hamas is elected

After a shaky “truce” that lasted for nearly a year, parliamentary elections were finally held in January of 2006 and Hamas unexpectedly won a majority of seats in parliament, outing Fatah from control of the Palestinian Authority after nearly a decade of rule. Much of Hamas’ victory was attributed to discontent with the Fatah movement and internal infighting between younger and older Fatah candidates.[5] Nevertheless, Hamas’ electoral victory didn’t bode well with the West, as it immediately and unequivocally refused to work with a Hamas-led PA. US President Bush, with no sense of irony, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal the day after the election, “A political party, in order to be viable, is one that professes peace, in my judgment, in order that it will keep the peace.”[6]

A precondition for legitimacy unfound in any other democratic system was placed on the Palestinian Authority. Any elected party would have to suddenly fulfill three criteria to establish dealings with the Quartet, the US and Israel: 1) renounce violence, 2) recognize Israel and 3) respect previous agreements “including the Roadmap.” This absolute criteria was echoed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who said, “you cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror” leaving no room for compromise or future negotiations with a Hamas-led PA. Despite this, Hamas spokesperson and eventual PA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said, “Don’t be afraid, Hamas is a Palestinian movement, it is an aware and mature movement, one which is politically open in the Palestinian arena, and to its Arab and Islamic hinterland, and similarly open to the international arena.” Before it had even assumed the helm of the Palestinian Authority’s governing apparatus however, Hamas’ political aspirations were set for failure.[7]

Shortly after Hamas refused to “renounce violence” and “recognize Israel” as a precondition to govern, the Quartet, the US and Israel implemented an economic boycott designed to undermine popular support for Hamas. Even before forming a government, the Palestinian Authority faced a mounting deficit of $69 million accrued by Fatah’s mismanagement of international aid and supposed corruption, which ironically spurred much of the popular support for Hamas in the first place. With Hamas’ election, the West threatened to suspend funds to the Palestinian Authority. This ultimately affected the salaries of 135,000 paid civil servants, 30 percent of whom were heads-of-households, and 58,000 paid security forces.[8] What’s more, Israel immediately suspended payment of $45 million it owed the Palestinian Authority in tax rebates, disingenuously citing fears that the “moneys transferred will come back to haunt us in the form of suicide bombings,” even though Hamas offered to allow international monitoring on its spending, a large compromise in sovereignty already, and although it had effectively upheld a moratorium on suicide-bombings since it declared a ceasefire with Israel in March of 2005. Even in exchange for tangible security, an offered continuation of the ceasefire Hamas had respected for nearly a year, the Quartet, the US and Israel remained uncompromising on their rhetorical criteria—thus endangering Israeli citizens.[9]

David Mepham from the Institute of Public Policy Research wrote, “on the question of violence Hamas has largely maintained a unilateral truce (tahdi’a) for the past year. Extending this truce, and working for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, should [have] be[en] the immediate focus of international diplomacy towards Hamas...” Mepham went on to warn that a boycott on the Palestinian Authority would “lunge tens of thousands of Palestinians into acute poverty, triggering social implosion and anarchy.”[10] But these warnings fell on deaf ears and in March the Quartet moved to boycott the Palestinian Authority. In addition to external bullying, the US attempted to undermine Hamas’ government by encouraging “moderates” to refuse to join a Hamas-led government. At the same time Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decried that he would unilaterally determine final boundaries since “no partner for peace” existed in the Occupied Territories. The US and Israel were making every attempt to undermine Palestinian democracy by refusing to recognize the political faction of Hamas as the elected representation of the Palestinian people while at the same time punishing the Palestinian people with an economic embargo. How did the “terrorist” Hamas respond to outright irreverence and threats from the US and Israel? Hamas reciprocally threatened a Palestinian boycott against Israeli goods, a rather tame response for an organization allegedly committed to the violent destruction of Israel.[11]

International Boycott

By spring of 2006 Hamas had significantly changed since its’ founding in 1988 during the First Intifada as a military, Islamic alternative to the Fatah movement.[12] Since March 2005 Hamas had more-or-less maintained a ceasefire with Israel, participated in local and parliamentary elections and responded to US and Israeli economic threats with reciprocal economic threats. In fact Hamas had offered to extend a ceasefire with Israel for another year in exchange that Israel, the Quartet and the US not boycott the Palestinian Authority and not withhold tax revenues owed to the Palestinian people. Instead the Quartet and Israel decided to maintain a hard ideological line, requiring mere proclamations from Hamas rather than establish tangible security. As Khaled Hroub, author of Hamas: A Begginer’s Guide, wrote in an opinion editorial for openDemocracy.net, “Hamas’ Path to Reinvention:”

“For the policies of external players - Israel, the United States, other western states and Arab governments - are not helping to consolidate Hamas’s turn. Rather, their short-sighted policies - especially the imposition of a crippling embargo on its government - threaten to crush the chance for a more politicised and pragmatic organisation to emerge” [13]

But for the Palestinian people, a pragmatic partner didn’t exist in the international community. Instead crippling actions rooted in ideological jargon and found in the lexicon of “the War on Terror” was the basis on which the Quartet, the US and Israel constructed their policies toward the Occupied Territories. Even when Hamas made gestures of “de facto” recognition of Israel though its willingness to participate in a Palestinian “task force,” and faced with mounting evidence that a boycott on the Palestinian Authority was leading to an acute “humanitarian crisis,” the Quartet and Israel still refused to negotiate with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

By May both Sweden and Norway increased their funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in response to the increasing humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Territories.[14] By April 2007, humanitarian relief organization Oxfam International called on the EU, the US and Canada to lift their boycott on the Palestinian Authority and resume aid payments. Oxfam reported a 30 percent increase in poverty in the Occupied Territories from April 2006 (roughly at the point when the boycott began) to April 2007. In this press release, Oxfam International claimed to have “witnessed a rapid rise in suffering and insecurity as a result of the boycott of the PA. Many programs operated by Oxfam and its partners in the water, health and agriculture sectors have been placed in jeopardy.” In fact Oxfam reported trash piling in the streets, thousands without pay, teachers on strike, and an otherwise agitated Palestinian population. Additionally, crossing points between the West Bank and Jordan, or the Gaza Strip and Egypt were closed by Israel, causing a shortage on basic essentials such as bread and milk.[15]

Conflicts with Fatah

An obvious consequence of the economic embargo against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority was increased tension between Hamas and Fatah. Much of the violence that resulted in the collapse of the Gaza Strip last month can be attributed directly to these two organizations’ jockey for power over the PA’s police forces, long seen as a tool of US and Israeli policies that are designed to crack-down on militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Indirectly, the increased strain between the militias associated with Fatah or Hamas, and their inabilities to come to a power-sharing compromise can be attributed to the economic embargo placed on the PA after Hamas’ electoral victory that denied them fiscal oversight over their government. Additionally, the Quartet, Israel and the US’ overt support for Fatah in its struggle against Hamas led Hamas to take more drastic action (hence the seizure of Gaza) rather than reach-out for compromise.

A continued overview of the violent conflicts between militias affiliated with either Fatah or Hamas over the course of Hamas’ parliamentary rule demonstrates this claim.

Hamas won much of its popularity in the Occupied Territories from general discontent with Fatah and not necessarily due to its Islamo-militancy. In the Occupied Territories, Hamas served as a legitimate opposition party thought by Palestinians to be uncorrupt like Fatah. The parliamentary elections of 2006 were extremely popular, with a near 80 percent turnout, and were deemed fair and democratic by international observers.[16] However, when Hamas surprisingly won not just a large proportion but the majority of seats in the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet, the US and Israel buckled. Official justification for undermining and shunning Hamas was their terrorist legacy and their refusal to “renounce violence” and “recognize Israel.”

But living for years in squalor, and perceiving a hostile and violent neighbor, much of the Palestinian population had grown weary of Fatah’s compromising approach toward Israel.[17] When Hamas won a majority of parliamentary seats Israel called on an international boycott of the Palestinian Authority—so long as it was a Hamas-run parliament. On January 30, US President Bush said,

“The Hamas party has made it clear that they do not support the right of Israel to exist. And I have made it clear so long as that’s their policy, that we will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas. We want to work with a government that is a partner in peace, not a government that is—whose declared intentions might be the destruction of Israel.”[18]

Even before elections had been held, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held “urgent talks” with his cabinet to discuss possible reactions to a Hamas victory.[19] And the Washington Post reported that the US sent $2 million in aid to the then Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in hopes of bolstering last minute support for Fatah. This foreign intrusion into the Occupied Territories’ elections was noted by then senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah. He said, “What has been reported [in the Washington Post] constitutes flagrant interference in Palestinian internal affairs and reflects the type of democracy advocated by countries that boast of democracy and freedom like the United States.” During the campaigning, Israel requested that the Palestinian Authority, under Fatah’s management, dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s militias and decried against any future negotiations with a Hamas-led PA.[20]

Despite this, Hamas made early overtures to form parliamentary coalition with Fatah and even went as far as to declare Fatah its first choice in a governing partnership. But only a day after the election, fighting between gunmen loyal to Fatah and gunmen loyal to Hamas broke-out, killing nine.[21] On February 12, 2006, about three weeks after the election, Fatah declined offers to join a Hamas-led government, deciding to work as an opposition party instead. And before Hamas officially took control of parliament, the Fatah-led Palestinian Legislative Council established a “constitutional court” composed of nine judges whom were directly appointed by Abbas. This new act of legislation also gave Abbas the power to dissolve parliament as he pleased, thus giving him more leverage over a Hamas-led PA. Hamas decried these laws as a “coup d’etat.”

The first act of legislation from the Hamas-led PA was to rescind these new powers given to Abbas. The laws allowed Abbas to cancel any legislative act passed by the Hamas-led PA and keep Fatah officials in “key positions” within Hamas’ government. In a flippant display of arrogance, Fatah legislatures walked out of the PA after Hamas revoked this act, and gunman loyal to Fatah threatened Fatah lawmakers if they continued to participate in the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.[22] Additionally, the New York Times reported that top Israeli and US officials were considering overthrowing Hamas internally by starving its population into submission—to the point at which they would rally around Mahmoud Abbas to end their suffering.[23]

Particularly in Gaza, Fatah and Hamas were increasingly at odds. Part of Hamas’ motivation to seek legislative authority was Fatah’s disunity in the Gaza Strip, the poorer of the two territories and with no direct route to the West Bank. Sporadic reports of violence between the two factions emerged. On April 7 2006, Tim Butcher of the London-based Daily Telegraph reported “The situation in Gaza has been highly volatile since Hamas unexpectedly won parliamentary elections in January.”[24] Tensions about the governing authority, tensions that would eventually lead to the out-and-out violence in Gaza last month, began only a week after the Hamas legislature was sworn into office.

On April 7, 2006, Mahmoud Abbas made preparations to take control over the Raffah crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Hamas sternly objected to this move, deeming the action an overreach of authority on part of the president. The checkpoints are normally under the auspices of the PA Minster of Interior, who in this circumstance, was appointed by Hamas. Israel didn’t trust the PA and had closed all crossings. Abbas’ assumption of authority over the crossing point was done in order to reopen this vital commercial route and relieve Gazans who were suffering from the international economic boycott. Also, Abbas named Fatah strongmen to head the Palestinian security forces, despite vehement opposition from Hamas.[25]

In Gaza, Fatah or Hamas’ militias vied for power and land in abandoned Israeli outposts. Gunmen from al-Aqsa Martys Brigade, a militia associated with Fatah, stormed government offices in Ramallah in the West Bank in a gesture of protest against Hamas. Despite this ongoing violence, Hamas continued to offer collaboration with Fatah and continued its calls for a unity government between the two factions.[26]

Abbas then vetoed Hamas’ attempt to create an additional security force of 4,000 militants led by Jamal Abu Samhadana (eventually assassinated by Israel.) After Abbas’ veto, 500 “anti-Hamas” demonstrators protested in Ramallah. Hamas’ senior and exiled, Jordan-based commander, Khaled Meshaal claimed that Abbas and Fatah were in a conspiracy to oust Hamas from power. Violence erupted between pro-Fatah and pro-Hamas factions in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip in which 30 people were injured.[27]

Throughout the following month 11 Palestinians were killed in clashes between militias in the Gaza Strip. In an attempt to appease Israel and the West, Abbas called for a referendum that would endorse a two-state solution and recognize Israel as a sovereign. Hamas’ Interior Minster Said Siyam rejected Abbas’ referendum on the status of Israel, claiming that Palestinians had exercised their democratic will in the January elections.[28] As a result of external pressure, and Mahmoud Abbas’ placation toward US and Israeli interests, ideological polarization between these two factions intensified. Despite Abbas’ objection Hamas created its own security force that patrolled the streets of Gaza alongside Palestinian police and National Security Forces who were under the control of Abbas. Hamas’ security patrol, though, were subject to attacks from Fatah gunmen and Preventive Security Forces—the same armed outfits Hamas would overthrow a year later.[29]

But as one can see the conflict between Hamas and Fatah was more than ideological—it was about power. Hamas, having won the majority of seats in parliament felt entitled to control parts of the Palestinian governing apparatus long dominated by Fatah, specifically Hamas wanted control over the Palestinian police forces. Hamas felt under constant threat from Fatah, who long controlled these well-stocked military units and who had overt support from the West. One can reasonably assume that Hamas’ ambition to control its own security unit was a defensive measure, designed to prevent a Fatah-led coup d’etat as they saw it. This inflamed violence between the two groups. In mid-June of 2006 Fatah security forces stormed the parliament building in Ramallah eventually setting it to fire. 1,000 Hamas supporters gathered the next day and demonstrated in front of the parliament building in Gaza calling an end to the abuse levied against Hamas. This occurred at about the same time Hamas “absolutely reject[ed]” the referendum pushed by Abbas to recognize Israel and work toward a two-state settlement. The outside pressure from the Quartet, the US and Israel on “recognition” and their implementation of the boycott designed to “starve” Palestinians into submission directly led to this clash. [30]

On June 25, 2006 Hamas militants took part in a joint attack against an Israeli Army outpost at the edge of Gaza, killing two Israeli soldiers and taking one, Gilad Shalit, captive. Shalit was abducted in response to a recent spate of Israeli killings against Gazans. In June alone, 42 Palestinians and 3 Israelis were killed in violence between militias and Israeli Defense Forces.[31] But Shalit’s abduction resulted in a massive and indiscriminate military response from Israel against Gazans. Suddenly Israel’s entire focus was drawn-on this captured soldier, although at the time Hamas endorsed what would come to be known as the “prisoner document,” or “National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners”—a dramatic shift in Hamas’ ideology that implicitly recognized Israel. Israel dismissed Hamas’ moves as merely “an internal affair.”[32]

Israel by mid-July was engaged in a bitter war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Though Israel’s war against Lebanon gained worldwide attention, its actions against Gaza weren’t any less destructive. Between July 5 (the start of Israel’s offensive against the Gaza Strip) and July 26, 2006,130 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were killed in the violence. Abbas, unable to influence either Hamas or Israel’s retaliations against each other, in vain, called for ceasefires between the two warring parties.[33] As the conflict increased, Abbas visited Arab neighbors in order to bolster support for a ceasefire. Abbas and Hamas took opposite approaches in how to defuse the situation. Hamas and Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shitte militia that captured two more Israeli soldiers shortly after Hamas did, called on Israel to release nearly 10,000 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the soldiers.[34] Eventually a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was reached, but only after five-months of fighting and after hundreds of Palestinian civilians had been killed.[35]

From July 2006, when Hamas adopted the “prisoner document,” Abbas and Fatah dramatically shifted their approach toward Hamas, from an “opposition party” toward working as a potential partner in a “unity government” that would see both parties controlling various sections of the Palestinian Authority. In August, Fatah’s Revolutionary Council officially sanctioned negotiations between Hamas and other political factions. But much of Fatah’s youth were disappointed with this decision, as they have been long pushing for internal reforms. This more radical element of Fatah, having long struggled against Arafat and Abbas, now threatened an internal “intifada” if the Fatah leadership failed to address the severe parliamentary loss and the slow eroding of support for Fatah in the Occupied Territories. This internal conflict between “old” and “new” guard increased frustration within the more radical element of Fatah that would continue to be directed against Hamas. Nevertheless, Fatah’s old-guard leadership and Hamas entered into negotiations that eventually came into fruition in February of 2007.[36]

Unity Government and Shift in Fatah’s opposition

As the effects of the international community’s boycott on the Occupied Territories became more disastrous, Fatah moved to negotiate with Hamas to form a “unity government.” Abbas traveled to Gaza and met with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to persuade him to end Hamas’ barrage of rocket-fire on Israel.[37] Hamas wasn’t the only organization with a militia regularly attacking Israel from the Gaza Strip. Rather a broad coalition of militant groups including Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Jihad frequently fired Kassam rockets into Israel proper. In fact, when Abbas called for a ceasefire only Hamas’ militia halted their attacks. And when Abbas attempted to deploy his Preventive Security Forces to forcibly halt more assaults, all groups including those linked to Fatah’s cried-out against this. A statement from the Fatah aligned al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade read:

“How can we stop the rocket attacks while Israel is continuing to attack our people from the air land and sea? Why should we give Israel free gifts at a time when its army is perpetrating ugly crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip?”[38]

Such a statement demonstrates that there was disunity in Fatah and that Abbas had little control over Fatah’s affiliated militias in Gaza. When the Fatah movement convened in Amman, Jordan at the end of August, several of its younger members threatened an internal “intifada” if Fatah’s “old-guard” didn’t relinquish some control over the organization. Abbas ignored this uprising within his party’s rank and used the summit instead to initiate negotiations with Hamas and other political factions about forming a coalition government and ending the governmental “deadlock.” Abbas called for a Palestinian Authority made-up of “technocrats,” that was to be headed by “Third-Way” or independent members-of-parliament, such as Salaam Fayad who once worked for the World Bank and who Abbas would eventually name as Prime Minister after Hamas violently took control over Gaza in June, 2007.[39]

It’s evident now that at the time the Occupied Territories were collapsing into chaos. Israel continued its two-month military offensive against Gaza, increasing the number of Palestinians killed to 250 since its initial invasion in July. Teachers in the West Bank who hadn’t received full pay since before Hamas assumed control of the PA were threatening to strike. Hamas condemned their activities while Abbas supported them, accusing Hamas and other militants of “bringing death and destruction” on the Palestinian people. “Our people don’t deserve these tragedies,” he said.[40] After talks in early September, Fatah and Hamas again came to a breaking point after several Fatah-led teachers unions went on strike and Fatah officials publicly accused Hamas for the financial disorder. In the midst of the conflict, Hamas’ Minister of Communications and Technology resigned at disgust over the polarization and political impasse caused by fighting between Fatah and Hamas. Even the UK Prime Minster Tony Blair endorsed the idea of a unity government between the two parties, stating that the world should resume dialog with the PA if such a government were to form.[41] In mid-September prospects for forming a unity government looked good. Tony Blair met with both Abbas and Olmert, spoke with members of the EU and ensured Abbas that the international community would look favorably on a joint coalition, but only if that coalition would meet the same preconditions Hamas had refused earlier and would evidently refused again. Gaza meanwhile had grown more and more desperate. Since implementation of the international embargo government employees had only been paid a month and a half worth of labor, causing extreme duress in the general population and leading to cases of malnutrition and lawlessness.[42] International pressure on Abbas, especially from the US, resulted in increased strain between Fatah and Hamas during government negotiations. Even when Hamas suggested a ten-year ceasefire in exchange for dialog with the international community, Israel, and the Quartet continued to insist that Hamas: recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect previous PLO/Israeli agreements. Israeli government spokesperson Avi Pazner said about the proposed ten-year ceasefire, “This does not interest us. What we demand from any Palestinian government to be able to resume dialogue is that it submit to the conditions set by the international community.”[43]

The next few months saw this oscillation back-and-forth between Hamas and Fatah until the Saudi government convinced these two factions to come to an agreement, or “declaration,” in Mecca, thus creating the foundation for what would later become the fleeting unity government that lasted until Hamas’ violent surge in Gaza last month. Prior to this deal, Hamas and Fatah experienced a spate of fighting that killed roughly 100 people between December and February 8, the day the accord was signed. Once the unity government was agreed on, Abbas met with Russia’s President Vladmir Puttin and other world leaders in attempt to gain recognition from the international community of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas said Israel must now recognize this government. He said that the new PA would reciprocally recognize all previous agreements between the PLO and Israel and that he would be the sole negotiator between the PA and Israel in future peace talks.[44]

Despite this unprecedented coalition designed specifically to assuage the severe suffering of the Palestinian people, the US explicitly moved to “shun” the new Palestinian Authority if it didn’t still fulfill its previously stated criteria,” especially to recognize” Israel in a broad and vociferous proclamation—something that would have derailed the entire compromise.

The agreement was meant to end violence between the two factions and the suffering endured from the Palestinian people from the continued economic boycott.[45] Over the following series of weeks, both Hamas and Fatah built their coalition government, designating cabinet positions for Hamas, Fatah, and independent candidates. Still this didn’t satisfy the international community. Rather, Israel, the Quartet and the US continued to insist on mere proclamations, leaving Hamas and the unity coalition at a stoppage. As destitution increased, a correlation of infighting, particularly in Gaza, also increased. Minor clashes between militias affiliated with either Fatah of Hamas became a regular occurrence.

Muhammad Dahlan

The Hamas/Fatah unity government soon came crashing down over the issue of Muhammad Dahlan, a senior member within the Fatah Revolutionary Council with close ties to its younger, more radical offshoots. Dahlan was a well-known figure from the First Intifada and had been head of the PA’s Preventive Security Forces in Gaza until 2003. He had overseen much of the PA’s crackdown on Hamas before its recent surge in popularity in the Occupied Territories and Hamas considered him a traitor. Hamas accused Dahlan of collaborating with Israel and the US in a subversive attempt to overthrow in Gaza. These allegations aren’t too absurd, Dahlan was a leading figure in Israeli/PLO negotiations post-Oslo and had accepted assistance from the CIA to train the Preventive Security Forces in the past. He was responsible for the PA’s crackdown on militant factions such as Hamas who were also opposed to the Oslo accords. Hamas specifically held Dahlan responsible for the continued fighting between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza during the tenuous unity government negotiations. [46]

Abbas, in an obviously provocative move, appointed Dahlan National Security Affairs advisor, giving a “sworn enemy” of Hamas more influence in the very particular part of the PA Hamas had been trying to gain leverage over, the security forces of the Palestinian Authority. Within weeks of his appointment, Hamas’ militia were fighting again with Fatah. In one instance, Hamas attacked the headquarters of Gen. Rashid Abu Shabak, and associate of Dahlan, killing six of his bodyguards and forcing him out of the territories. Hamas then attacked Abbas’ Gaza-based Presidential guards after it was learned that they had received training from the US, and in mid-June, with Dahlan out of the country for surgery, Hamas systematically attacked Fatah’s positions within Gaza removing them from any sort of power in the territory. Abbas immediately declared martial law, sacked (in theory) the government of Hamas and took unitary control over the PA.

Palestine’s attempt at democracy thus came to a violent conclusion. Soon after Israel resumed regular attacks on Gaza, killing dozens of civilians. Abbas and Fatah consolidated control in the West Bank and Hamas remains in authority in Gaza. Almost immediately after Abbas unilaterally dismissed the Hamas-led parliament and no longer felt obliged to play democrat anymore, the West’s aid to the West Bank resumed, clearly demonstrating where its priorities had been al l along. [47]

Today Gazans and Palestinians are faced with a mounting crisis. No longer will elections carry the same credibility they once showed in 2006. It’s argued that effective governments first require legitimacy, and so long as Palestinians rightfully believe that their future governments are farcical regimes propped-up by the US and Israel who have long ago stopped pretending to have the best-interest of the Palestinians at heart, then each successive government following the collapse of Hamas will likely fail as Iraq is failing today. A valuable opportunity to come to a long-term solution to the perennial Palestinian/Israeli conflict has passed. Israel, the US and the International Quartet have discouraged Islamic-militias from moderating their actions, if not their ideologies, and participate in the democratic process. Rather, the international community—with sadistic alacrity, continues to punish one of the world’s most impoverished and suffering people; people who, willingly or not, serve as a sea through which desperate, violent and uncontrollable oppositional militant groups will now continue to swim.

End Notes:

[1]Saud Abu Ramadan, “Analysis: “Hamas challenges Fatah’s might,” UPI, March 30, 2005; Saud Abu Ramadan, “Analysis: Palestinians enter new stage,” UPI. March 21, 2005; “Israel welcomes ceasefire offer by Palestinians,” Daily Post, March 19, 2005. For Hamas’ transition from militancy to democratic aspirations see Greg Myre, “Ceasefire extended in Mid-East; Palestinian factions bolster informal truce,” International Herald Tribune, March 18, 2005 and Khaled Hroub, “Hamas’ path to reinvention,” openDemocracy.net, October 10, 2006,  http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-middle_east_politics/hamas_3982.jsp, Last accessed July 12, 2007.

[2] Donald MacIntyre, “The Year in Review 2005: World: The Middle East: The breakthrough that never arrived,” The Independent, December 30, 2005.

[3] Nidal Al-Mughrabi, “Deaths of Gaza teens strain mideast truce,” The Toronto Star, April 10, 2005; Nidal Al-Mughrabi, “New violence shakes Mideast truce,” The Toronto Star, May 19, 2005; “Hamas, Israeli Army renew Clash,” Xinhua General News Service, May 18, 2005. For documentation of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade’s participation in violent opposition to Israeli encroachment see Amy Teibel. “Israeli troops kill Palestinian after militants attack Gaza settlement with missiles,” Associated Press, May 20, 2005; Ibrahim Barzak, “Hamas militant group agrees to end mortar, rocket attacks on Jewish settlements in attempt to save shaky truce,” Associated Press, May 21, 2005.

[4] Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Palestinian leader delays parliamentary elections, raising tensions with Hamas,” Associated Press, June 4, 2005; Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Palestinian leader seeks to delay parliamentary elections until November,” Associated Press, May 26, 2005; Chris McGreal, “Pressure grows on Palestinian leader to delay parliamentary elections,” Gaurdian, May 24, 2005.

[5] Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Disgruntled Fatah politicians running as independents pose electoral threat to party,” Associated Press, January 20, 2006.

[6] Anne Gearan, “Bush says US is not ready to deal with radical Palestinian group Hamas,” Associated Press, January 25, 2006; Anne Gearan, “Rice rules out U.S. aid to Hamas government, says humanitarian aid to Palestinians likely,” Associated Press, January 29, 2006; Anne Gearan, “U.S. gains support from Europeans to cut off aid to Hamas unless it renounces violence,” Associated Press, January 31, 2006; Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Hamas leader says group searching for new donors in face of Western threats,” Associated Press, January 31, 2006; “Quartet Statement on the Situation in the Middle East,” US Dept. of State, January 30, 2006.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/60068.htm

Last accessed June 28, 2007.

[7] Sarah El Deeb, “Hamas wins landslide victory with 76 seats in Palestinian parliament,” Associated Press, January 26, 2006; Steven Erlanger, Greg Myre and Steven R. Weisman, “Hamas is facing a money crisis: aid may be cut;” New York Times, January 28, 2006; Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Hamas leader says group searching for new donors in face of Western threats,” Associated Press, January 31, 2006.

[8] Steven Erlanger, “Hamas is facing a money crisis; aid may be cut,” New York Times, January, 28, 2006; Jean-Luc Renaudie, “Economic crisis awaits Hamas government,” Agence France Presse, January 29, 2006..

[9] Steven Gutkin, “Israel freezes tax, customs payments to Palestinians; Gulf states reportedly pledge aid,” Associated Press, February1, 2006; Ibrahim Barzak, “Palestinians appeal for continued aid as key donors say Hamas must recognize Israel,” January 31, 2006;

[10] David Mepham, “Hamas and political reform in the Middle East,” openDemocracy.net, February 01, 2006.  http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-debate_97/hamas_reform_3229.jsp. Last accessed 18 June. 2007.

[11] Ramit Plushnick-Masti, “Olmert planning further unilateral West Bank pullout, political ally says,” Associated Press, Agence France Presse, “US pressures Palestinian Moderates to boycott cabinet: report,” Agence France Presse, March 11, 2006; Duetsche Presse-Agentur, “Hamas floats boycott as possible response to Israeli sanctions,” 29 March, 2006. For an account of the initial effects of the international embargo on Palestinians see Ibrahm Barzak, “Closing of Karni crossing is cutting into food supplies for Gaza,” Associated Press, March 7, 2006; Rami Almeghari, “Empty pockets, growling stomachs in Gaza,” the Electronic Intifada, April 21, 2006.  http://electronicintifada.net/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/12/4657 Last accessed June 28, 2007.

[12] Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence (New York: Colombia University Press), 34-35.

[13] Khaled Hroub, “Hamas’ path to reinvention,” openDemocracy.net, October 10, 2006,  http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-middle_east_politics/hamas_3982.jsp, Last accessed July 12, 2007.

[14] Irish Independent, “Funding a hairy problem for Hamas,” May 30, 2006; John Daniszewski, “Hamas open to idea of joining task force supporting talks with Israel,” Associated Press, May 24, 2006; “Sweden increases Aid to UN Palestinian Refugee Agency,” Agence France PresseMay 15, 2006.

[15] Oxfam International, “Middle East Quartet should end Palestinian Authority aid boycott and press Israel to release confiscated taxes,” February 21, 2007.  http://www.oxfam.org/en/news/2007/pr070221_palestine Last accessed July 02, 2007; Oxfam International, “Oxfam calls on world leaders to lift Palestinian aid freeze at Stockholm Conference,” September 1, 2006.  http://www.oxfam.org/en/news/pressreleases2006/pr060831_stockholm_conference Last accessed June 18, 2007.

[16] Jihad Saqalaoui, “Palestinian refugees hope Hamas will lead them home,” Agence France Presse, January 27, 2006; Beit Hanun, “No need to fear Hamas, say Gazans fed up with graft,” Agence France Presse, January 27, 2006; Ibrahim Barzak, “Fatah activists protest in Gaza, Abbas says he will ask Hamas to form government,” Associated Press, January 28, 2006; Jumana Al Tamimi, “Rise of Hamas and fall of Fatah,” Gulf News, January 27, 2006. On election monitoring see “International observers say Palestinian vote fair,” Agence France Presse, January 26, 2006; Steve Weizman, “Carter says he hopes Hamas will act responsibly,” Associated Press, January 22, 2006.

[17] Hassan A. Fatah, “Joyful Arabs voice concern at how Hamas will swim in the mainstream,” The New York Times, January 27, 2006; Hisham Abdullah, “Voters punish Fatah for corruption, stalled peace process,” Agence France Presse, January 27, 2006; Khaled Hroub, “Hamas’ path to reinvention,” openDemocracy.org. October 10, 2006. Last accessed July 4, 2007.

[18] President Bush Meets with the Cabinet,  http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/01/20060130.html# Last accessed July 4, 2007.

[20] Peter Beaumont, “Isreal on alert as Hamas leads polls,” The Observer, January 22, 2006; Agence France Presse, “Fatah says it cannot dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad militia,” Agence France Presse, January23, 2006; Agence France Presse, “Talks with Israel ‘not illicit’: Hamas chief,” Agence France Press, January 23, 2006; BBC World Wide Monitoring, “Top Hamas candidate responds to reports of US campaign funding,” January 23, 2006; Agence France Presse, “No talks with Hamas unless changes charter: Peretz,” Agence France Presse, Janurary 23, 2006.

[21] Ibrahim Barzak, “On last day of campaigning, Hamas and Fatah signal readiness for alliance,” Associated Press, January 24, 2006; Agence France Presse, “Clashes involving Fatah and Hamas leave nine hurt in Gaza,” Agence France Presse, January 28, 2006.

[22] Ibrahim Barzak, “Hamas, Fatah face off in Palestinian parliament; Abbas stripped of new powers,” March 6, 2006; Sarah El Deeb, “Hamas, Fatah face off in stormy parliament session stripping Abbas of new powers,” March 7, 2006; Greg Myre, “Palestinian Parliament opens in discord; Hamas-led legislature curbs Abbas's powers,” March 8, 2006.

[23] BBC Monitoring International Reports, “Fatah will not participate in next Palestinian government,” BBC, February 12, 2006; Orly Halpern, “Hamas outraged by Abbas ‘coup’ in the PLC,” Jerusalem Post, February 14, 2006; Amy Tiebel, “Hamas assails US for reportedly considering Palestinian regime change,” Associated Press, February 14, 2006.

[24]Tim Butcher, “Israelis arrest Hamas minister,” Daily Telegraph, April 7, 2006.

[25] Donald MacIntyre, “Abbas takes control of crossing in Gaza as tensions with Hamas rise,” the Independent, April 7, 2006; Agence France Presse, “Abbas appoints Fatah veteran as security supreme,” Agence France Presse, April 6, 2007; “A look at Palestinian security agencies,” Associated Press, April 6, 2006; Khaled Abu Toameh, “Abbas undercuts Hamas with Fatah security appointment. 'Presidential decree' issued a day after first Hamas cabinet meeting,” April 7, 2006.

[26] Joshua Mitnick, “Rival armed factions seizing pieces of Gaza,” Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 2006; Ibrahim Barzak, “Hamas calls for unity government in face of financial crisis, internal unrest,” April 16, 2006.

[27] Ibrahim Barzak, “Abbas bars Hamas plan for militants’ security force,” Associated Press, April 21, 2006; “Anti-Hamas demonstration in Ramallah,” Agence France Presse, April 21, 2006; “Hamas, Fatah leaders seek to quell tensions,” Agence France Presse, April 22, 2006; “Al Azhar and Islamic universities in Gaza,” Bahrain News Agency, April 22, 2006.

[28] Agence France Presse, “One Palestinian killed in Hamas-Fatah clashes, ” June 1, 2006; BBC World Wide Monitoring, “Palestinian Interior Minister condemns Abbas's referendum call,” May 29, 2006.

[29] Deutsche Presse-Agentur, “ROUNDUP: Deal reached on withdrawing Hamas force from Gaza streets,” June 14, 2006; Ibrahim Barzak, “Hamas lawmakers delay efforts to block referendum implicitly recognizing Israel,” June 12, 2006.

[30] Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Palestinian security men go on anti-Hamas rampage in West Bank,” Associated Press, June 13, 2006; Agence France Presse, “Hamas to tell Abbas it 'abolutely rejects' referendum,” June 12, 2006.

[31] B’Tselem, “2 July 2006: 42 Palestinians and 3 Israelis killed in June,” July 2, 2006.

[32] Ian Fisher, “In Gaza, Defiantly Awaiting Israeli Retaliation,” New York Times, 27 June, 2006; Ilene R. Prushe, “Israeli hostage dilemma: negotiate with Hamas?” Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 2006; Khaled Hbroub, “Hamas’ path to reinvention,” openDemocracy.net, 10 October, 2006; “Hamas-Fatah in deal implicitly recognising Israel,” Agence France Presse, June 27, 2007.

[33] Sakher Abu El Oun, “12 Palestinians killed as Israel pounds Gaza,” Agence France Presse, July 26, 2006;Abdel Zaanoun, “Israeli strikes on Gaza kill 24,” Agence France Presse, July 26, 2006.

[34] “Abbas to discuss crisis with Saudi king Saturday,” Agence France Presse, July 27, 2006; “Abbas, Mubarak discuss crisis with Israel,” Dutsche Presse Agentur, July 29, 2006.

[35] Nadia Abou-El Magd. “Hamas political chief gives peace negotiations 6 months, but warns of new uprising” Associated Press, November 25, 2006; “Gaza cease-fire announced,” UPI, November 26, 2006; Ibrahim Barzak, “New Israeli-Palestinian truce raises cautious hope for peace opening,” November 26, 2006; Steven Erlanger, “Peace of the Weak? Olmert and Abbas Balk,” November 30, 2006.

[36] Ibrahim Barzak, “Hamas says it won't abandon rejection of Israel, but future coalition can,” Associated Press, November 14, 2006; Khaled Hroub, “Hamas’ path to reinvention,” openDemocracy.net, October 10, 2006,  http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-middle_east_politics/hamas_3982.jsp, Last accessed July 12, 2007. For “internal intifada” see Khaled Abu Toameh, “Fatah activists threaten Abbas with 'intifada',” The Jerusalem Post, August 29, 2006.

[37]“Palestinian President to discuss Coalition Government with Premier,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, August 13, 2006; Mohhamed Daraghmeh, “Abbas heads to Gaza to try to end infighting between Palestinian factions,” Associated Press, August 15, 2006; Khaled Abu Toameh, “Shalit’s freedom in return for release of thousands Hamas official says. Abbas Haniyeh discuss possibility of unity government,” August 16, 2006; Diaa Hadid, “Abbas says Palestinian militants agree to halt violence in hopes of ending crackdown on Gaza,” Associated Press, August 18, 2006.

[38] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Abbas forced to drop plan to stop Kassam fire: Armed groups threaten to attack PA security forces,” The Jerusalem Post, August 22, 2006.

[39] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Abbas seeks new government of independents academics. Salam Fayad touted as candidate for prime minister,” The Jerusalem Post, August 23, 2006; Abdul Jalil Mustafa, “ANALYSIS: Experts see slim chance of Palestinian unity cabinet,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, August 26, 2006; Khaled Abu Toameh, “Fatah central committee authorizes unity gov't,” The Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2006; Khaled Abu Toameh, “Fatah activists threaten Abbas with 'intifada',” The Jerusalem Post, August 29, 2006.

[40] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Abbas accuses militias of ‘causing death and destruction’,” The Jerusalem Post, August 31, 2006; Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Abbas sides with angry civil servants threatening strike; 8 killed in Gaza,” Associated Press, August 31, 2006.

[41] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Hamas cabinet member resigns cites need for unity government. 12 boy shot by gunmen enforcing school strike,” the Jerusalem Post, September 4, 2006; Phil Hazlewood, “World should back Palestinian unity government: Blair,” Agence France Presse, September 10, 2006.

[42] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Abbas makes ‘final attempt’ to reach accord with Hamas. Blair visits Ramallah encourages PA national unity government,” the Jerusalem Post, September 11, 2006; Ibrahim Barzak, “Hamas says it's serious about sharing power with Fatah,” Associated Press, September 24, 2006; Steven Erlanger, “Cut off Gaza sinks into despair; Months of sanctions cripple the economy,” September 15, 2006.

[43] Sarah El Deeb, “Palestinian president halts coalition talks with Hamas in snarl over concessions,” Associated Press, September 19, 2006; “Abbas freezes unity government talks,” Indian Express, September 18, 2006; “US places conditions to recognize Palestinian unity government,” BBC Monitoring Middle East, September 19, 2006; “Israel rejects Hamas ‘10-year truce’, demands recognition, ” Agence France Presse, September 22, 2006.

[44] Suleiman Nimr and Nasser Abu Bakr, “Palestinians sign unity government deal,” Agence France Presse, February 9, 2007; Sakher Abu El Oun, “Gazans hope unity deal brings peace,” Agence France Presse, February 10, 2007; “Israel must accept new government: Abbas,” Agence France Presse, February 12, 2007.

[45] Mohammed Daraghmeh, “U.S. officials tell Abbas they'll shun future Hamas-Fatah coalition, aides say,” Associated Press, February 15, 2007; Ran Dagoni, “White House backs Congress hold on PA aid—source; US aid has been frozen to express US displeasure that the Palestinian unity government has not recognized Israel,” Glones, February 15, 2007; “US will not deal with Palestinian unity govt: Palestinian,” Agence France Presse, February 15, 2007.

[46] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Hamas accuses Dahlan of being behind latest violence,” The Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2007; BBC Monitoring, “Pro-Hamas website reports calls within Fatah for dismissal of Muhammad Dahlan,” January 3, 2007; Ali Abunimah, “The American proxy war in Gaza,” the Electronic Intifada, February 3, 2007,  http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article6494.shtml Last accessed July 11, 2007; Ali Abunimah, “In search of justice in the Middle East,” The Chicago Tribune, June 21, 2007. On Dahlan biography see Raffi Berg “Profile: Mohammed Dahlan,” BBC News Online, April 23, 2003,  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2068270.stm Last accessed July 11, 2007; Arjan El Fassed, “Who is Mohammad Dahlan?,” The Electronic Intifada, December 20, 2006,  http://electronicintifada.net/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/19/6275 Last accessed July 11, 2007.

[47] Steven Erlanger, “Unity rule in doubt as Hamas and Fatah clash; Government never quite started to work,” International Herald Tribune, May 16, 2007; Khaled Abu Toameh, “What has happened to Fatah's strongman?,” The Jerusalem Post, June 14, 2007; “Palestinian Fatah figure says movement’s leaders ‘traitors,” BBC Monitoring International, June 14, 2007; Ibrahim Barzak, “Israeli troops arrest senior Hamas activist in West Bank, leaders prepare for summit,” Associated Press, June 23, 2007; Karin Luab and Ibrahim Barzak, “AP Interview: Former Gaza Fatah strongman refuses to accept sole blame for fall of Gaza,” Associated Press, June 24, 2007; Sabel Kershner and Steven Erlanger, “Western powers seeking ways to support Palestinian president,” The International Herald Tribune, June 16, 2007.

e-mail:: pangerian@riseup.net

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