Hamas And Fatah Nearing Armed Showdown
As Fatah members of the Palestinian police and security forces staged more protests against Hamas in Gaza City over wage non-payment since Hamas won control of the Palestinian parliament, battle lines between Fatah and Hamas are being ever more clearly drawn.
The primary reason for the lack of funds to pay the Palestinian police and other government employees is that the international community has sharply curtailed aid monies since Hamas took office. The conditions for reinstatement remain the recognition of Israel and the renouncement of violence (principally terrorist tactics). Hamas has refused to budge from its charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel. The foreign aid money thus remains beyond reach of the Palestinian Authority and the payrolls go unpaid.
Hamas’ PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar virtually assured the continued monetary disconnect on Friday as he declared in no uncertain terms that Hamas will never recognize Israel, regardless of previous offers of a long-term hudna (ceasefire). “Israel is a growth on our land. It has no historical, religious, or cultural justification, and we will never establish relations with this ‘cancer,’” Zahar proclaimed. He sealed the door shut saying, “We will never recognize Israel - this is a final, non-negotiable decision.”
In another account of his words Friday, regarding the kidnapping of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, Zahar threatened that Hamas “will abduct more soldiers if Israel does not release [Palestinian] prisoners.”
While Gaza is considered Hamas’ stronghold and the West Bank Fatah’s, Hamas appears to be gearing up for direct conflict with Fatah inside the West Bank. In parallel with Zahar’s threats and declarations Friday, Hamas held a rally in Qalqilya in Fatah’s West Bank back yard. Hamas was reported as parading hundreds of new recruits, freshly armed, in the streets of Qalqilya, a traditionally Fatah-dominated West Bank town on the Israeli border.
It has also been reported that this development is what caused Mahmoud Abbas to rehire Ismail Jaber as the West Bank’s security commander. Abbas had fired Jaber in April 2005 over a shooting incident inside his presidential headquarters. But Jaber is highly respected by Fatah veterans, and the Palestinian president needs an effective commander as Fatah faces a growing openly armed threat from Hamas within the West Bank. Hamas has already amassed a 6,000-man ‘executive force’ in Gaza, and has stated plans to field an armed force of 1,500 men in the West Bank. The new recruits paraded in Qalqilya Friday are thought to be a manifestation of that plan.
While Israeli ministers discuss a major potential Gaza operation in the coming weeks in order to, among other things, retake control of the Philadelphi route used for arms smuggling between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the Palestinians themselves may beat the Israelis to the operational punch as a Palestinian civil war looms as ominously as ever before.