Moment of truce
In a reversal of roles with Fatah, Hamas is now policing armed resistance in Gaza, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Mohamed Abu Ermana, spokesman for the military wing of Fatah in Gaza, was shocked when members of the internal security service of Ismail Haniyeh's dismissed government asked him to report to the police. The day before he told reporters that Fatah didn't recognise the Egyptian-brokered truce between Hamas and Israel and would continue to fire rockets at Israel. Now he was under arrest.
It sounds odd that Hamas would detain anyone for involvement in attacks on Israel. But given the outrage expressed by the Palestinian public at rocket attacks carried out by some Palestinian factions directly after the truce went into effect, the Haniyeh government apparently felt justified to do so. According to a public poll conducted by the Gaza-based Mustaqbal Research Centre, 86 per cent of Palestinians support the truce agreement and more than 70 per cent are angry with the factions that violated the agreement.
The overwhelming majority of Palestinians dismiss the reasons given by some factions for violating the truce, especially the argument that the truce is worthless because it doesn't cover the West Bank. One week ago, I was travelling in a service taxi heading to Gaza when news came that Palestinian activists fired rockets at an Israeli settlement. Ten other passengers were travelling with me and all were upset by that development, fearing that it would give Israel excuse to continue the blockade on Gaza and keep its crossing points closed. One passenger in particular was incensed. He had an embolism in his leg and needed to travel abroad for urgent surgery. Doctors told him that unless he received treatment abroad the leg might have to be amputated.
Ghassan Abu Samhah, a teacher in a school in northern Gaza, says that he cannot understand the cavalier ways of some Palestinian factions. "Can a resistance succeed without a nation to embrace it? Can our people go on living without having the means of steadfastness? The people need a break," he said. Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, a prominent Hamas leader, says that the failure of some groups to abide by the truce shows that "invisible hands are playing havoc with Palestinian national unity" and that certain people do not want the Palestinians to move forward in unity and resistance. He adds that Hamas agreed with Islamic Jihad to "disarm and arrest anyone breaking the truce; for anyone who fires a shot now is simply trying to sabotage the resistance."
Al-Zahhar denies charges that Hamas is acting like a policeman for Israel. The truce was reached with full national Palestinian agreement, he says, and Hamas "has carried the project of resistance and defended it and won't take lessons from others in this regard".
Hamas has already arrested several individuals firing at crossing points in an act that Al-Zahhar says was designed to give Israel a reason to close the crossing points. He warns that Palestinian factions that violate the truce risk losing public support. The exclusion of the West Bank from the truce agreement, he argues, allows resistance factions the chance to carry out operations in the West Bank. The military wing of Hamas carried out an attack against a group of settlers in the West Bank on the first day of the truce, Al-Zahhar adds.
Others disagree. "a truce that comes through a deal with the enemy is by definition flawed, because it only gives the occupation breathing space and makes people think that a truce is fine so long as it is mutual. But no resistance groups should agree to being treated equally as the occupation," says Jamil Al-Majdalawi, member of the political bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. According to Al-Majdalawi, a truce is only acceptable as part of a final agreement that puts an end to the occupation. It would have been better for a truce to be declared unilaterally, he argues. In that case, the resistance would have retained the right to respond to all acts of aggression by the Israeli army. Also, Palestinians should have resolved their domestic divisions first and then considered a deal with the Israelis, Al-Majdalawi asserts.
Al-Majdalawi is also critical of the exclusion of the West Bank from the deal. "The exclusion gives Israel a freehand in the West Bank. It also makes it possible for people to think of the West Bank and Gaza as being two separate areas. Given the facts on the ground, it is utterly unacceptable to say that West Bank Palestinians should go on resisting alone." Gaza, he adds, is now at the mercy of occupation authorities always threatening to re-impose the blockade.
Ayman Youssef, professor of political science at the American University in Jenin, says that the truce is worth a try. "The suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza had reached unimaginable proportions and the people needed a rest," he said. Although several high-ranking officials in Olmert's government have argued against the truce, Youssef believes that Israel has an interest in making the truce hold, if only to secure the release of soldier Gilad Shalit. He adds that the success of the truce depends on US-Israeli policy towards Iran. "If Israel and the US are planning joint or separate military action against Iran, they would want the truce to hold until then. It would be embarrassing for Arab regimes allied with the US to watch Iran being attacked while clashes take place between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza."
Youssef believes that irrespective of Israel's motives for concluding the truce agreement, the truce is in the Palestinian national interest. He hopes that Hamas is able to maintain order and persuade other factions to observe the ceasefire.