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Palestinian Chaos: Unity Hopes Vanish

As violence between Fatah and Hamas continues and tensions steadily rise in the Palestinian territories, Palestinian Authority government offices remain shut and hopes of a unity government formation increasingly appear obscure. Since the Saturday and Sunday riots between Fatah security forces demonstrating non-payment of salaries and Hamas members seeking to protect the status of the Haniyeh-led government, little has changed in the atmosphere. In attempts to restore the Palestinian fiscal life blood of foreign aid disrupted since the election of the terrorist organization Hamas into government leadership, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently dissolved the existing cabinet in hopes of forming one more acceptable to international donors. But Hamas reiterated its refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence, the two stipulations required by the Western nations for restoration of aid.

In a stark escalation today, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed terrorist wing of Abbas’ Fatah movement, distributed fliers in its West Bank stronghold threatening to assassinate Hamas’ Syria-based political head, Khaled Meshaal, its Gaza terror commander, Youssef Zahar, and Hamas’ Interior Minister, Said Siyam.

In Qalqiliya in the northern part of the West Bank, a local Hamas leader, Muhammad Odeh, was shot dead as unknown masked gunmen riddled his car with AK-47 gunfire as he left his home. No group has yet taken responsibility for the assassination, though local speculation was that it was a ‘settling of scores’ between Fatah and Hamas.

While the violent internal conflict foments, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is touring the region speaking with Arab leaders just as Mahmoud Abbas has announced that talks with Hamas have completely broken down and that the process is back to square one. He added, “There are many bloody events now, and we need to end this crisis as soon as possible, reach a solution and form a new Cabinet.” Abbas has the constitutional authority to either form a new cabinet by appointment or to call new elections. Hamas is opposed to new elections as their public support is lower than it was when initially elected into the parliament.

As Israel renewed its pledge to dismantle some unauthorized Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Rice pledged that the United States would “redouble our efforts to improve the conditions for the Palestinian people” without elaborating on specifics. The Financial Times reported that one measure Rice plans to introduce is the deployment of international observers to the main cargo crossing point between Gaza and Israel to maintain the flow of basic supplies to the Palestinians.


Watching this issue on Al-Jazeera this week, the dominant image has been that of a complete collapse of any sense of political or legal authority in Gaza. There was one discussion panel on Tuesday I think with three analysts and the consensus was that there was "no Palestinian political program" - it is nothing but an agglomeration of armed groups.

Frankly, though, while things have gotten worse, this was true to a lesser degree last year after Abbas was elected and there was a period of optimism (among many, not myself) over the future of Palestinian politics. The assassination of a former head of Palestinian security and Arafat relative (who had dozens of bodyguards) just down the road the PA's security headquarters was a sign for me. Rogue factions within Abbas' Fatah shooting at the parliament building with impunity was another.

The only reason for some guarded optimism is that a portion of the Palestinian population may have drawn the conclusion from this that support for radicalism is not the road to freedom. I'm not sure that is the case and am not predicting it, but the complaints against Hamas have been loud, and as you note, this has not helped their popularity.