Palestinian sectarian violence looks more and more like Iraq, reveals Khaled Amayreh
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas continues to take punitive and largely illegal measures against Hamas, issuing a fresh decree replacing the old electoral system, a mixture of local constituents and national representation, with a new system that considers the entire occupied territories (the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem) a single electoral entity.
The decree, say observers in the West Bank, is intended primarily to prevent Hamas from winning a large number of seats in any prospective elections. Hamas defeated Fatah very badly in the January 2006 elections mainly by adopting effective voting patterns and also by taking advantage of Fatah's disunity, resulting sometimes in competing candidates within the same electoral district.
According to the Palestinian basic law, amending the electoral law is a prerogative of the Palestinian Legislative Council. However, because of the effective paralysis of the council, due to the rift between Fatah and Hamas, Abbas has stopped short of dissolving the council, resorting to governing by decrees.
In Gaza, acting speaker of the council Ahmed Bahr -- the Speaker Abdul-Aziz Dweik is being held in an Israeli jail to force Hamas to free an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian fighters in 2006 -- dismissed Abbas's decree as "manifestly illegal" and "harmful to the cause of democracy in Palestine".
"The huge spate of decrees issued by President Abbas is a blunt violation of the amended Palestinian basic law," said Bahr, adding that, "the legislative council will block and annul the violations." Bahr lambasted Abbas for "violating all constitutional articles", accusing him of adopting the proportional representation system in order to "impede the next presidential elections so that he would remain president for life."
Abbas is unlikely to give any attention to Bahr's remarks. On the contrary, the PA president continued to issue vindictive decrees intended to punish Hamas, such as dismissing civil servants appointed by the previous Hamas-led and national unity governments. Moreover, Abbas has decided to outlaw another 20 non-governmental organisations and civic associations.
Last week, Abbas outlawed 103 charitable and civic associations, alleging that these bodies were indulging in illegal activities and that "legal and financial irregularities" marred their operations. West Bank judicial and human rights organisations have denounced the sweeping closures as "illegal" and "flying in the face of the law". The protests, however, are unlikely to seriously influence Abbas and his government which is effectively operating under martial law, which Palestinians now derisively call "a police state without a state".
The judicial recriminations between Fatah and Hamas are only a small part of the increasingly poisoned showdown between the two groups. This week, Hamas issued a report accusing the PA security agencies and Fatah militiamen in the West Bank of having carried out as many as 1,000 attacks and acts of murder, vandalism and terror against Hamas supporters and targets. The well-documented report described the onslaught against Hamas as an "organised and systematic inquisition", that is aimed at eradicating Hamas.
These charges are denied by Fatah officials who argue that the security agencies are merely trying to prevent what happened in the Gaza Strip from occurring in the West Bank. "The PA is not after Hamas per se, it is only fighting a certain group within Hamas that is trying to spread the coup to the West Bank," said Hatem Abdul-Qader, a former Fatah MP who has been appointed by Abbas as presidential adviser on Jerusalem.
This week, Preventive Security officials in the West Bank accused the Hamas Executive Force of seeking to effect a coup against the Abbas-Fayyad government in Ramallah. However, the charges can't be taken seriously for the simple reason that Israel controls every corner of the West Bank, including Ramallah where PA headquarters are located.
Abdul-Qader told Al-Ahram Weekly that the PA leadership is still looking forward to re-establishing Palestinian unity. He disclosed that "neighbouring states were making serious efforts to end the national rift."
However, Hamas believes that Abbas is only trying to appear "concerned about national unity when in fact he is carrying out Israeli orders," as Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told the Weekly. Zahar described the estimated 340 decrees issued by Abbas as " total bunk" saying that what counts is not what Abbas says but what he does. Zahar accused some key elements within the PA of encouraging the Israeli army to overrun the Gaza Strip and liquidate Hamas on Fatah's behalf.
However, Zahar said he thought the "Ethiopian-Somali scenario" was unlikely to happen in Gaza. "Gaza is not Somalia, and the Zionist entity knows what it means to reoccupy Gaza. And really I don't think Israel would sacrifice hundreds of its soldiers for Fatah's sake." However, the Hebrew press reported that Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered the defence establishment to examine "the operational and legal aspects of steps designed to undermine Hamas's rule in the Gaza Strip." The contemplated Israeli measures reportedly including cutting off water and electricity supplies to the 1.5 million Gazans.
Earlier, Haim Ramon, a close aide to Prime Minister Olmert, warned that Israel "will put a price tag on every Qassam missile in terms of cutting off infrastructure," adding that, "we will not continue to supply oxygen in the form of electricity, fuel and water while they are trying to murder our children," though in fact it is Israel that is murdering Palestinian children. Last week alone, Israel murdered five Palestinian children in Gaza, including three from the same family. Similarly, Israeli troops in Nablus shot and critically wounded a Palestinian boy during an "arrest operation" in the city on 3 September.
Zahar told the Weekly he suspected that Abbas was collaborating with the Americans and Israel on a "satanic plan" whereby he would call elections in the West Bank, falsify the results, and then ask Israel and the international community to help him retake Gaza by force. As of 4 September Abbas said he wouldn't order Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections before the restoration of Palestinian unity.
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Gaza government, welcomed these remarks, however he demanded that Abbas immediately stop "these strident measures and decisions which only widen the rift between our people". Haniyeh proposed five principles for resolving the current crisis with Fatah. These include adopting dialogue as the only means for resolving the current crisis, commitment to geographic unity, indivisibility of the Palestinian polity, no state in Gaza and no state without Gaza, and adherence to the basic law.
Haniyeh also urged Arab states to redouble their efforts to restore Palestinian national unity, saying Arabs can't be distant spectators "while the Palestinian ship is sinking."