Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Hamas' Gaza

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Update from AIJAC


July 6, 2007

Number 07/07 #03

Today's Update features three pieces related to Hamas' behaviour so far as ruler of Gaza.

First up is some good reporting on the circumstances behind Hamas' arranging the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston earlier this week, from Haaretz's Avi Issacharoff. Issacharoff points out that the group that held Johnston previously collaborated with Hamas, including on the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit last year, but that Hamas needed something to prove its "seriousness" internationally about providing law and order. But he points out that the calm in Gaza for many resembles the calm of the cemetery. For the full story, CLICK HERE.

Next up, the Christian Science Monitor had another good piece about Hamas' efforts to create Gaza calm and the uncertainty and anxiety of Gazans. The piece also highlights the routes being taken by former Fatah supporters both to get out and to lay low. For more good information on what Gaza is like today, CLICK HERE.

Finally, former Mossad intelligence agency head Efraim Halevy argues that recent Hamas statements show they are in dire straits, but unfortunately so are President Abbas and his new Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, in the West Bank. Halevy says it is unclear if the current Israeli/American/Egyptian policy of trying to build up an effective alternative to Hamas in the West Bank can succeed. He therefore urges a "plan B" in case it does not work, and outlines what this would look like. For his discussion, CLICK HERE.


Analysis: Lucky for Johnston, Hamas kept its promise

By Avi Issacharoff

Haaretz, 05/07/2007

The morning after its victory in the Gaza Strip, Hamas was surprised to find fleas in its bed. Only six months ago it was still collaborating with the Army of Islam, the "institutional" name taken on by the bandit Doghmush clan.

Hamas used the Doghmush gunmen as contract killers against Fatah (in the murder of Mousa Arafat), for the launching of Qassam rockets against Israel while declaring it was adhering to a cease-fire and, of course, for the abduction of Gilad Shalit.

The leader of the Army of Islam, Mumtaz Doghmush, used to spend time with the heads of the Hamas military wing, Ahmed al-Ja'abari, Ahmed al A'ndur and others.

One of their bonding experiences occured when the vehicle the three were riding in was attacked by members of the Doghmush clan who were affiliated with Fatah, and did not know that Mumtaz was a passenger.

And that was the point at which the blood feud between the Army of Islam and Hamas began.

Suddenly, the Doghmush clan in Hamas descriptions became an obstacle to public order, "collaborators with Fatah." However, the well-armed clan knew full well that so long as Hamas and Fatah were at each other's throats for control of the Strip, they could benefit from the chaos in the streets.

No one tried to confront them, or seek the release of kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston. On the contrary: Each one of the groups needed the clan's services and hoped to get its support in the war against the rival organization.

The newly released Johnston told a press conference at the British consulate in Jerusalem that his guards became very nervous after Hamas took over the Strip. They had a good reason for this. The fighting between the organizations had come to an end, and the Army of Islam could not continue operating under the cover of the chaotic conditions.

Hamas needed proof for the international community that its intentions are serious about restoring calm to the Strip. Yesterday, Hamas delivered the proof.

Johnston himself said that Hamas intends to restore law and order, but he too knows that it is a place with rules of its own.

Referring to his stay there, he said he'd had "enough already."

Hamas managed to gain the release of the BBC reporter though negotiations Gaza-style. A correct combination of stick, carrot and ladder. The stick: the gunmen of the Executive Force, which Hamas deployed around the Doghmush clan's compound and used to threaten an assault.

The carrot: guarantees that the clan will not be harmed after Johnston's release, and that it will be allowed to keep some weapons. And the ladder that enabled Mumtaz Doghmush, a devout Muslim, to climb down from the tree on which he found himself: the religious figure who acted as the mediator between Hamas and the Army of Islam allegedly issued a fatwa (a religious decree) demanding that Doghmush release the foreign journalist.

Yesterday's release grants Hamas a small push forward in the international arena. The group proved to the world that it can be relied upon. It promised to gain Johnston's release and did so.

Hamas said it would take action against the chaos, the gunmen, the drugs, and it has had impressive success. The Palestinian public sees Hamas' action against the clan, which has come to reflect every negative and harmful trend in the Gaza Strip, as a positive development.

Meanwhile, Fatah found itself in a real crisis on the day that Palestinian media was supposed to deal mostly with the payment of salaries to all civil servants following the flow of funds from abroad to Mahmoud Abbas' coffers. Instead, the media focused on Johnston's release.

The Gaza Strip is becoming increasingly calm. Still, the calm stems from the scare tactics and the force utilized by Hamas, and for some Gaza residents, the quiet reminds them of the calm of a cemetery.


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After two weeks of Hamas, a tense quiet in Gaza

By Ilene R. Prusher | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor and Safwat al-Kahlout | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
 
Christian Science Monitor, June 28, 2007

Jerusalem and GAZA CITY, GAZA

Over and over again, one song is heard: 

Hamsawi ma yihab il-mot. 

It trails from radios everywhere, on the only station in Gaza.

Hamsawi kermal id-din. 

"A Hamas fighter is not afraid of death. A Hamas fighter is for the sake of religion!"

Catchy, high-stepping, and jingoistic, it is the tune that plays all day long on Hamas's Al Aqsa Radio, the only one that remains standing after the turbulent ousting of its Palestinian rival Fatah earlier this month. From the airwaves to the imams' sermons, the message here is one of self-congratulation: for routing corrupt officials, for bringing a feeling of calm after months of internecine gun battles.

But closer to the ground, unofficial channels convey a deep sense of uncertainty. Some say they're relieved that the internal fighting over, while many others express a fear for the future – especially when the local storekeeper suddenly stops selling them food on credit, and when Israeli jets thunder overhead.

Gazans saw more bloodshed Wednesday, following Israeli army incursions near the Gaza-Israel border. Palestinian officials say that the clashes left 13 dead. According to hospital officials another 40 people were wounded by Israeli shells in Gaza City.

'So where do you want me to go?'

For many here, like Ahmad Shalayal, the future feels amorphous. Mr. Shalayal used to have a job with the Palestinian police. Now, he sits at home most days, waiting to see what will happen, and trying to figure out how to support his wife and five children.

"I work for the Palestinian police, but the orders from President [Mahmoud] Abbas were to stay home," he explains. "I still take orders from him, because he will pay me my salary. I am stuck between the salary of Abbas and the orders of Hamas. If they don't sit together and solve the problems, we will die from the suffering."

On a trip to his local supermarket, Shalayal finds the owner and his friends discussing the latest news.

"Come on," argues Ibrahim, who gives only his first name, "don't you see how we feel safe and secure after we got rid of those corrupt guys?"

"And what about the food?" responds Samir, who also gives only one name. "Is this what Hamas wants? To starve people?"

"It's true," nods Imad Al-Tanna, the owner. "This supermarket is going to empty out soon. Tell Hamas to manage to open the Karni crossing [with Israel] and bring me goods to sell."

Shalayal stands at the counter, and, when there's a lull in the political debate, asks for a bag of rice and some cooking oil. Mr. Tanna frowns and shakes his head.

"No more buying on credit," he says to Shalayal. Then Tanna opens up his notebook where he keeps a register of credit purchases. "I'm sorry. Give me something of what you owe me, and then we can open a new page."

Embarrassed, Shayalal snaps back. "So where do you want me to go? Should I ask Abbas to send me some money? Maybe Haniyeh?"

Despite Wednesday's violence, Gaza these days can sometimes feel calmer than normal. The shooting between Fatah and Hamas militants has ended. Residents are enjoying visiting large swaths of beachfront that had once been closed off taken over and "privatized" by Fatah kingpins. Some people are returning to work, while students take their makeup exams.

And yet, there has been a sea change here, and many people are still trying to decide which is more troubling: a Gaza Strip wracked not just by Israeli versus Palestinian violence but also Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence, as it was before, or a Gaza under the thumb of Hamas.

Abu Suhayid, a policeman who alternates between untangling traffic jams outside police headquarters and sitting at his guard post reading the Koran, brags that Hamas's ascendency is already bringing stability. There's no imposition of strict sharia law, but subtle changes are evident.

A man his in mid-20s who sports a full beard – unseen on Palestinian policemen in the past but rapidly becoming part of the uniform – says he's also traded in his all-black militants' attire for the blue uniform that Hamas superiors issued him.

"We are here to protect our people. Abbas used to say that we're the 'black militias,' but we are much purer than them," he says. "We haven't killed any of our people. We killed only the corrupt people who hole the peoples' resources and put them in their own bank accounts."

Seeing a reporter, a small group of civilians gather to eavesdrop. One of them shakes his head and interrupts.

"Yeah, but you killed innocent people," charges the young man, yelling at Mr. Suhayid. "People who had nothing to do with Fatah or Hamas." The rest of the crowd looks at him with surprise, but Suhayid brushes it off with a smile and a religious benediction.

"God bless them," he says. "They were not targets, but they were stuck in the crossfire. God keep them," he repeats, in an oft-said praise for the departed, referring to the afterlife.

For Fatah, different routes out of Gaza

In this life, however, some Palestinians don't find this attitude acceptable. That's why Raed Shami, who lives on the seventh floor of one of the higher-quality high-rise buildings in the newer Tel il-Hawa neighborhood, is busy moving out. He and his brothers are helping him salvage what furniture and appliances they can from their apartment, where bullets ricocheted around the room for days as he cowered on the floor with his wife and children.

"We spent 48 hours lying on the ground, hoping we'd be safe, and I almost got shot. Now we're moving somewhere safer," he says, watching his refrigerator and washing machine being lifted into a small truck.

"I am pessimistic now. I think that these clashes might take place again at anytime." Mr. Shami says. "One day soon someone will restart this, and they don't care about us, they care about their own agendas."

In this sea of uncertainty, people who were affiliated with Fatah are taking several different approaches. Some are trying to get to the West Bank, to join others who escaped to there, though Israel has kept the borders closed. Some are declaring themselves breakaway factions of Fatah, such as Abu Hillal, who invited all of the media last week to a press conference to say that he was establishing the Al Yasser wing of Fatah. Many from both Fatah and Hamas insist that the fight was not about factional fighting, but a revolt against Fatah security czar Mohammed Dahlan.

Others are simply staying home, for fear that there will be more "purges" of Fatah people. Abu Mahmoud, who worked for the preventive security force that was headed by Mr. Dahlan, says that he doesn't believe Hamas's promises that it won't persecute anyone else from Fatah.

"I wish I had gotten out to the West Bank," Mr. Mahmoud says. He spends most of his time on the phone with his friends there, getting updates from them.

"Despite this Hamas pardon, I don't trust them. They might come anytime for their revenge. I thought of escaping even now to Ramallah, but how can I do that and leave my family here?" he says, pointing to his children playing in the street.

At prayer services, however, a different message is heard. Whether or not one attends the central Abu Hadra mosque, the speech permeates the air over Gaza City, blasting over loudspeakers. Here, Ahmed Bahar, who is known as the speaker of the Palestinian parliament – the same one that was dissolved by Abbas after the coup and replaced by an emergency government – occasionally serves at imam. He uses the pulpit to lob criticism at the summit this week in Sharm el-Sheikh,  Egypt in which Abbas and Israeli leader Ehud Olmert vowed to move the peace process forward.

"Abbas is ready to meet with the enemy who is killing our people," intones Mr. Bahar, "but he doesn't have time to meet his brothers"


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Dire Straits

by Efraim Halevy

The New Republic Online, Post date: 03.07.07

 Last Monday, Hamas broadcast a video in which kidnapped corporal Gilead Shalit appealed to Israel to redouble its efforts to secure his release. The reaction was instant. Media-wise it eclipsed within hours the four-way summit convening in Egypt and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan, and the host, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, tried in vain to proceed with their agenda as if the Hamas stunt hardly concerned them. They decided to line up behind the Palestinian Authority and to launch a new phase in peace-making based on two parallel and complementary efforts--to solidify the authority of Abbas and provide his government with copious financial support and instant American-devised training for newly organized security forces, and to exhort all and sundry to confront and defeat Hamas. Should Abbas act decisively against terrorism in the West Bank, Israel would quickly remove many of its road blocks and negotiate in earnest with Abbas on "substance"(without it being clear what indeed Olmert and Abbas can really negotiate in present circumstances). Of course neither Israel nor the Ramallah-based half of the Palestinian Authority would give any quarter to Hamas, either inside the West Bank or in Gaza.

The video was quickly perceived in Israel as indicating that Hamas was in "dire straits," as it surely is. A year had gone by, and Hamas, like Hezbollah in the north, had refused to give any indication to the Israeli public at large concerning the fate of their kidnapped prisoner. Now, all of a sudden, an entire nation was stunned, then elated, listening to the identified voice of the missing soldier. Condemned for the savage and beastly behavior of their men during the Gaza takeover, isolated regionally and internationally, saddled with the entire responsibility for the daily lives of close to a million and a half of mostly destitute Palestinians, they had their backs to the wall. It was a perfect public relations' stunt instantly successful. However, it was short lived. In the words of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni a couple of days ago, now was the time to surge forward "hard and fast" against Hamas. Indeed the last ten days have been a dismal period in the history of the de-legitimized Hamas government of deposed Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas appealed to Israel to open the frontier crossings between Israel and the Strip. They even offered to submit a list of men who would handle the Palestinian side and allow Israel to veto anyone not acceptable. They were answered with a blunt refusal. Since the summit, Israel has been demonstrating that it knows how to turn recent events to its advantage and simultaneously has registered direct and significant success in eliminating key figures involved in primitive missile construction.

 
So Hamas is indeed in dire straits. But, unfortunately, it is not the only party to be experiencing a tough predicament. Whereas Mubarak initially condemned the Hamas takeover, naming it a military coup directed against Abbas, he clearly changed his tune a day after the summit and said he would be sending back his military mission to Gaza the moment things cooled down. He even hinted that there might still be room for reconciliation between the rival Palestinian factions. Similar sentiments were echoed by Qatar (the Arab states' representative on the U.N. Security Council), Russia, and others.

The Ramallah government of Salam Fayyad is apparently also in dire straits. In recent days one commander after another has been dismissed for incompetence in the recent Gaza debacle. There have been arrests in the West Bank of Hamas operatives by government forces, but all know that, were it not for Israel's almost daily incursions, security cannot be maintained. Israel wishes to move "hard and fast," as Livni said, in tandem with Abbas; but what timetable can Abbas offer for establishing complete and effective control of the West Bank? When and how can he restore authority in Gaza? Can he negotiate a political settlement with Israel ignoring Gaza? How many real divisions does he have here and now? How many will he have in six months' time? And if, as he said this weekend, he will hold new general elections isolating and banning Hamas from participation, what credibility will the results have in the eyes of the public? Can he hold credible elections in the West Bank alone if, as is clear, he cannot restore any vestige of his authority in the Gaza Strip. His call this weekend, in Paris, for the dispatch of an international force to take over control of Gaza and to facilitate the participation of the Gazans in the planned elections is testimony to the world of fantasy in which he is now functioning. Nobody will send troops into Gaza to uproot Hamas, and Abbas must surely know this because his French hosts made this clear to him.

Further afield, the United States is similarly in dire straits. Eighteen months ago the democratic path enforced by the United States and implemented by the Palestinian Authority produced a Hamas majority which was contrary to American principles and interests. Subsequently, an American plan to create a viable Fatah force in the Gaza Strip to crush Hamas backfired, and now the United States has decided to repeat the exercise in the West Bank, where the chances for success seemingly appear brighter. Does the United States believe that it can overturn both the election results that gave Hamas a parliamentary majority and the Hamas military takeover of the Strip?

The Bush administration has only less than 18 months left to accomplish this mission, and nobody really can assess if this is doable. Needless to say, the United States has no plan for Gaza; neither does Israel. In any event the United States must move hard and fast under acute timetable constraints. Israel does not have all the time in the world either. Whereas, at the moment, it has the upper hand in the struggle against Hamas, the challenge to bring Shalit home is a real one. If the release is secured, everybody knows that there will be a price tag of prisoners released to the Hamas; it will be very far from Hamas's original demands, which listed all the major terrorist Hamas leaders currently in Israeli jails. But the 400-odd released Hamas operatives will nevertheless serve as concrete evidence that Hamas is a player on the scene.

In the best of scenarios as envisaged in Jerusalem, Washington, and Ramallah, further deterioration of political conditions in the Strip may lead to the disappearance of the last vestiges of any Hamas central authority. But this would not bring Fatah back to Gaza; rather lawlessness could deteriorate into chaos and this would be worse than a centralized Hamas administration. In either circumstance it is doubtful that Abbas will be in any position to negotiate anything at all with Israel. Will the West Bankers go ahead and make a separate deal? What real value will it have? Can Abbas sell a solution to the Palestinian issue crafted on the support of American and Israeli bayonets? I doubt it. This is hardly a viable strategy to promote.

 
Therefore, in the likely event that the joint Israeli-American plan worked out in Egypt to support Abbas and isolate Hamas fails, it will be necessary to move to Plan B. This plan is predicated first and foremost on accepting realities on the ground and turning them to the best possible advantage. Hamas has demonstrated that when in distress, it is pliable to practical arrangements on the ground. Therefore, parallel to maintaining pressure on Hamas on a daily basis, isolating it regionally and internationally, contacts should be established with Hamas to see if a long-term armistice with it can be obtained. It must be a tough eyeball-to-eyeball exercise in which Hamas is brought to a point where its self-interest dictates such an understanding. An armistice will entail provisions for maintaining security, ending arms smuggling into the Strip, et cetera. Until this is achieved, constant military pressure must be maintained. In scope, this could resemble the original armistice agreements negotiated and agreed to by Israel and the Arab states after the War of Independence in 1948-1949. At that time, too, the Arab states refused to recognize Israel--just as does Hamas today--but they nevertheless signed binding agreements with it. Armistice would not be a political determination of the conflict but a down-to-earth method of reducing tensions--a goal most essential, inter alia to American interests in the Middle East at large.

Parallel to this, identical agreements should be negotiated with Fatah in the West Bank. Fatah cannot pretend to represent Gaza, and it would be hard put to acquiesce in accepting Hamas, again as a limited player. Yet, should it refuse to do so, Fatah might face a West Bank implosion. This it cannot afford. Inter-Arab support for this construction must be sought. Both Fatah and Hamas must commit themselves to this arrangement at the highest Arab state level. It must ultimately be consecrated at the U.N. Security Council with strong U.S. support. An important byproduct of such a step would be the precedent of getting a non-state entity to assume international obligations in the context of new requirements that are emerging in the key area of combating international Islamic terrorism. The more we can wean away territorial-based entities like Hamas from their ties and commitments to terrorism, the more we shall improve our chances of winning the war against this strategic threat to the western way of life. It is a long and tortuous haul requiring infinite patience, determination, and creativity. In order to triumph , we will all need a few devils on board. The United States has excelled in such exercises in the last quarter of a century. Supporting Saddam Hussein against Iran just 20 years ago and aiding and arming the Islamic fighters who chased the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan are just two recent cases in point.

We need a vision both in the region and without. In order to encourage the Arab world to accept and promote these ideas, it would be wise to initiate a non-binding dialogue between Israel and the Arab states on fundamental permanent-status issues. These could serve as a beacon for hope for the Palestinians and as an incentive to try and put their house in order. U.S. support for this approach is essential and would serve its interest in the broader context of its current Middle East necessities. Should current policy in Washington and Jerusalem and Ramallah flounder, Plan B should be on the table for consideration six months from now.

 Efraim Halevy is head of the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the author of Man in the Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis with a Man Who Led the Mossad.