Referendum Is On, Fatah-Hamas Unity Is Off
Following the Gaza beach incident where several civilians were reportedly killed by Israeli fire, the 48 hours that ensued contained significant twists in the backdrop of the conflict.
The amount of delay, if any, in Mahmoud Abbas’ scheduling of the referendum vote on negotiating a two-state solution with Israel would be telling. Abbas did not delay the vote significantly, opting for a July 26 date, a delay of less than 4 weeks. Following his harsh words regarding the Gaza beach incident – branding it as a ‘bloody massacre’ by Israel in a ‘war of extermination’ – and their parallel with Hamas’ condemnation, Abbas might have significantly delayed the vote. He clearly did not. On the same day Abbas declared the July 26 referendum, 25 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.
His decision, along with the street fighting that continued between Hamas and Fatah the day after the incident, clearly indicate that the unifying power of the Gaza beach incident was not as strong as may have been initially perceived. Gun battles between Hamas and Fatah persisted, with an apparent botched Hamas kidnapping attempt resulted in a killed Fatah PA police officer. Another shootout erupted during his funeral procession as, clearly, any unity the Friday incident offered the two factions was both fleeting and superficial.
The July 26 referendum has found difficulty over the weekend, a vote which centers on the ‘Barghouti Peace Plan,’ a document signed by terrorist leaders from the major Palestinian terror groups currently in Israeli prisons.
Previous signatories from both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad imprisoned leaders have withdrawn their support for the “Prisoners’ Document” and nullified their signatures. Immediately, Hamas leaders in Gaza were touting this as the end of the referendum and breathing a sigh of relief, as polls indicated 77% of Palestinians would have voted ‘Yes’ to Abbas’ initiative and effectively ‘No’ to Hamas.
Two things should be considered immediately. First, it is highly unlikely that the imprisoned Hamas leader who initially signed the agreement, Abdel Khaleq al-Natsheh, withdrew his support without significant pressure from governing Hamas leaders. The Gaza beach incident may have played a role more than minor, but the incident likely also came with a significant amount of pressure from outside the prison as a means to kill the referendum.
Second, for Abbas’ part, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad withdrawal of their support for the prison document does not suddenly mean now that the 77% of the Palestinian people who supported negotiations with and recognition of Israel now suddenly no longer subscribe to the concept. The Abbas referendum, with or without the support of Hamas and PIJ, would likely still pass. Hamas has publicly derided the idea from a position of political leadership and yet the public supported Abbas’ stance toward Israeli negotiations. Two prisoners does not a mandate make. Abbas should proceed.
Additionally, even amid the public condemnation from around the world against Israel for the Gaza beach incident, the past 48 hours has also seen analysis and criticism of the video in question, and its authenticity brought into question. Bloggers have been combing through the video and raising questions, such as the lack of blood on the ‘victims’ filmed, among other things. While the bloggers raise questions that demand answers, at the end of the day, their conclusions mostly indicate a re-enactment rather than dispelling that the attack occurred.
Regarding the attack itself, Arutz Sheva quotes an analyst who notes inconsistencies in the time of the blast reported as well as the absence of a large crater that would certainly be present after a 155mm artillery shell explosion. On the notable absence, he says, “The IDF fires 155mm artillery shells towards open areas in order to thwart the Kassam launchers, and often warns the locals not to be there. In the present case, it is very doubtful as to whether the family was hit by a 155mm shell. I carefully reviewed the video clips disseminated by the PA television, and the documentation of [Channel Two], and I did not find the large hole that a 155mm shell [would have made].”
The absence of a crater is at least puzzling as well as the absence of blood on the victims shown in the footage so harshly reacted to around the world. Regardless of whether the story is itself a hoax, Hamas’ termination of the cease-fire is real. The situation remains ever more volatile, both for Palestinians and for Israelis, and the idea of the Gaza beach incident serving as a unifying factor for Fatah and Hamas has proven to be unfounded.