Mirror, mirror on the wall
Fatah confronts itself in Gaza, and it's not a pretty picture, observes Saleh Al-Naami
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Released Palestinians from Israeli prisons, wearing scarves bearing the colours of their national flag, arrive at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. But another 29 prisoners who were due to be released into Gaza continue to languish behind bars
Only 10 days separated the two demonstrations that Hassan Zarqi, a 29-year-old officer in the Gaza security forces and supporter of Fatah, participated in. The first was in support of the Fayad government and criticism of the Hamas movement and its "putsch" in Gaza. The second was in criticism of the Fayad government and its policy based on "discrimination". Zarqi had previously participated in all protest actions against Hamas, but last Wednesday could not avoid participating in a demonstration against the Fayad government itself after the government stopped paying his salary and that of 10,000 other members of the security forces, most of whom belong to Fatah. "In my worst nightmares, I never imagined that this would happen to me," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. "I never expected to be punished by the government I have risked my life to defend," he said.
The sudden decision of the Fayyad government to stop paying the salaries of thousands of those in the security agencies caused embarrassment for its collective leadership in the Gaza Strip. Ahmed Halas, a prominent leader, says that he and his colleagues submitted a mass resignation to Abu Mazen in his capacity as the head of Fatah. "The Salam Fayyad government does not show the sensitivity appropriate to the problems of people here, and we cannot defend the positions of this government at a time when it is taking such a step," he told the Weekly. Halas did not mention what many Fatah leaders in Gaza are saying in their private meetings. They stress that there are other reasons that led them to resign, and that it was not only a form of protest against the severance of salaries.
Fatah leaders in Gaza believe that Abu Mazen, the Fayyad government, and Fatah leaders in Ramallah treat them with disrespect, do not consult them, and overlook their views. One of the Fatah leaders expressed his disappointment in dealings with the movement's leaders in Ramallah by telling the Weekly that they "deal with us top- down and do not give our views the slightest attention. They are insistent on us being only tools for the implementation of their policies." There are those who believe that the margin for manoeuvring for Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip has shrunk, and that the movement's leadership there is no longer able to attack the Hamas government and accuse it of violating human rights and freedoms and oppressing Fatah activists when evidence is rising that the Fayyad government and its security agencies are undertaking a much more vicious campaign against Hamas activists and institutions.
What has made matters even more critical for Fatah leaders in Gaza is the fact that oppression of the Hamas movement in the West Bank by the security agencies of Abu Mazen takes place in full coordination with the Israeli security agencies. Fatah leaders in Gaza have been stunned by the response of their allies in Palestinian leftist movements that used to line up behind them to confront Hamas and who are now demanding an explanation for the organised oppression of Hamas in the West Bank and the cooperation of Prime Minister Fayyad with Israeli security forces.
Nehad Al-Sheikh Khalil, a researcher specialised in Palestinian partisan affairs, views the growing crisis within Fatah as a result of the leaders refusing to respond to the many questions raised following the movement's defeat by Hamas. "When one party is defeated by another, numerous questions are raised over the reasons for the defeat and the party responsible for it. Yet the Fatah leadership repeated its prior mistakes when it refused to respond to these questions," he told the Weekly.
Al-Sheikh Khalil added that Abu Mazen never dealt seriously with the Fatah leaders in Gaza to begin with, and that he appointed these leaders to be mere "shop fronts" to implement the policies approved by Ramallah. He suggested that this attitude was highly influential in driving Fatah leaders in Gaza to submit their resignations, and stressed that they realise the movement's leadership in Ramallah has decided to move to bloody confrontation with Hamas through a plan based on bombings and other disruptions of the Hamas regime in Gaza. As such, the movement's leadership has decided to disappear from the arena before this plan is carried out so that it is not held responsible by Hamas and subjected to legal questioning.
So why did Abu Mazen and the Fayyad government sever the pay of a large number of those in the security agencies who belong to Fatah after the salaries of all those in security and affiliated with Haniyeh's government had been frozen? Logic suggests that it would have been better for the Fayad government not to harm Fatah supporters given it wants to force Hamas to throw in the towel. It is illogical for the Fayad government to have taken this step if it was truly serious about reaching this goal. An official in Fatah who asked to remain anonymous told the Weekly that this step was the result of pressures by his advisors to disengage from the Gaza Strip. These advisors argue that paying the salaries of employees in the security agencies doesn't help, but rather cements the influence of Ismail Haniyeh's dismissed government by improving the economic situation.
Abu Mazen and the Fayad government feel that the leadership of the Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip is incompetent and has failed to wage an effective campaign against Hamas. According to this Fatah official, members of the leadership in the Gaza Strip are either "individuals lacking charisma or who exhibit an inclination toward cooperation with Hamas." Evidence of Abu Mazen's negative regard for the Fatah leadership is found in his haste to accept their resignation without waver. Some Palestinian sources have claimed that Abu Mazen plans to appoint a leadership for the administration of Fatah affairs in the Gaza Strip that will remain secret from the Haniyeh government, affirming that Abu Mazen is seeking to turn the battle with Hamas into a bloody one. This will not guarantee him success, for experience with the security agencies of the Haniyeh government indicates that they are aware of everything taking place within the corridors of the Fatah movement, a fact that has previously aided it in thwarting its plans. From another perspective, such a step would mean limiting the ability of Fatah to engage in mass political action, which naturally requires an open leadership and not a secret one.
On his part, the dismissed prime minister has announced that his government and the Hamas movement have no relation whatsoever to Fatah's internal crisis. "The resignation of Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip is an internal matter that does not concern us and we have no inclination to intervene in it," Haniyeh said. Yet there are Hamas leaders who view the resignation as an sign of "sincerity" in the movement's positions. Yehia Moussa, deputy head of the Hamas parliamentary bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council, holds that the Fatah leadership in Gaza was "forced" to present its resignation and that this "confirms the absence of a democratic process within the movement". He accuses the Fatah leadership in Ramallah of "appealing to personal considerations and abandoning Gaza in all of its political components." Moussa holds that such a development contains a "positive transformation in that it will wake up Fatah supporters and point them in the right direction," he told the Weekly.
Whatever the reasons behind the internal crisis of the Fatah movement, it has already undermined protest activities organised by Fatah in Gaza against Hamas and will further weaken Abu Mazen in his campaign against Hamas.