Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Hamas takes over Gaza

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Update from AIJAC

June 15, 2007
Number 06/07 #06

As readers may be aware, by taking over the presidential compound in Gaza, the last major Fatah stronghold, late yesterday, Hamas has now completed their military takeover of Gaza, routing Fatah completely. PA President Abbas has called a state of emergency and dissolved the unity government, but Hamas has rejected this. This Update is devoted to analysis of this dramatic development.

We lead off with a good report by Yaakov Katz on discussions in the Israeli establishment about Israel's options. Israel has decided not to try to intervene in the fighting, but it is soon going to have to decide what to do about the need to re-open the border crossings, closed because of the fighting, because Gaza will run out of necessities otherwise, and this would seem to require talking to Hamas. The piece also discusses Israeli hopes for international forces to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza. For the complete story, CLICK HERE.

Next up, the British Telegraph takes on the claims, already appearing, that events in Gaza are the result of US and Israeli policy and especially the aid boycott of the Hamas government, saying there were very good reasons for this policy, and no evidence it is the cause of the violence. In fact, it points out that Hamas is an Iranian client and that the current violence serves Iranian purposes very well. Its solution - tighten the blockade of Hamas even more. For the editorial in full, CLICK HERE.

Finally, renowned Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld argues that despite the obvious downsides and dangers of having a Hamas-istan in Gaza and a Fatah-land in the West Bank, there may be upsides in terms of facilitating negotiations with Israel. He argues that, for instance, with neither able to claim to represent the entire Palestinian people, pragmatic compromise on issues like the claimed right of return to Israel may become more feasible. For Van Creveld's full analysis of what is happening, and this potential silver lining in this dark situation, CLICK HERE.


Israel's options: Disconnect from Gaza or talk to Hamas

Yaakov Katz,
THE JERUSALEM POST, Jun. 15, 2007


Defense Minister Amir Peretz convened security chiefs for a situation assessment on Thursday afternoon, with the focus on the Hamas onslaught on Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip.

Two main conclusions were reached: First, Fatah has lost in Gaza, and second, Israel will not intervene, at least for now.

From a military perspective, some defense officials actually said there was reason to be thankful for Hamas's takeover of the Strip. Before the recent round of intra-Palestinian violence, Israel had to distinguish between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in Gaza and make sure that that the former, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's loyalists, were not targeted. Now, according to this view, there is no longer any need to draw such distinctions, since all gunmen are Hamas and therefore fair game.

"The bank of targets has grown tremendously with Hamas's takeover," explained one official involved in monitoring events in Gaza and planning policy. "Hamas is a clear and defined enemy, and that means that when we decide to respond it will be easier than before, since all their buildings are now targets, as is anyone walking around with a weapon."

When the fighting in Gaza erupted at the beginning of the week, Israel placed its faith in Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, hoping he would be able to rally Fatah forces against Hamas.

Dahlan instead traveled to Egypt, where he underwent knee surgery. Israeli officials said he was later advised not to return to Gaza in a wheelchair, since such a sight would destroy any chance of reviving Fatah's weakened image. On Thursday, he reportedly went to Ramallah.

With the consensus in the defense establishment now being that Hamas is the sole ruling party in Gaza, Peretz convened security chiefs to formulate paths forward.

The most pressing issue on the table is the knowledge that in the coming days, Gazans will run out of basic goods such as fresh milk and fuel. With the Karni cargo crossing closed, Israel might need to coordinate its reopening with Hamas. If that happens it would be the first time Israel talked directly to Hamas, something it has avoided since the group came to power in the January 2006 Palestinian Legislation Council elections.

While some defense officials called on Peretz to order the IDF to go into Gaza and intervene on Fatah's behalf, the defense minister and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to stay out of the fray for the meantime.

If, however, Hamas renews its attacks against Israel and Kassams pound Sderot, Israel would immediately respond, Peretz said. The relatively few rockets being fired now are attributed to Islamic Jihad.

Israel has three primary options in the face of Hamas's takeover of Gaza. The first, which has been rejected, is to invade Gaza and help Fatah; the second is to use the opportunity to shut down all the crossings into the Strip, throw away the keys and once and for all completely disconnect from Gaza; the third option is to open talks with Hamas.

Predictions in the defense establishment are that Hamas, aware of Gaza's dependence on Israel, will place a Fatah official as a puppet at the forefront of its organization in Gaza so that Jerusalem will have someone to talk to.

Hamas, officials said, made a strategic decision to conquer the entire Gaza Strip and to wipe out the entire Fatah senior brass.

Hamas operatives man roadblocks throughout Gaza with laptops that contain lists of Fatah officials, supporters and families. Anyone found on the list is either executed or severely beaten.

Hamas's brutality was demonstrated on Wednesday when it raided the Shati refugee camp in central Gaza and rounded up female members of the Baker clan, known Fatah supporters. The women surrendered, were ordered outside their homes, and Hamas gunmen executed three of them, aged 13, 19 and 75.

Due to recent events, a plan proposed by US Security Coordinator Gen. Keith Dayton to transfer weapons from Egypt to Fatah in Gaza has been rejected by Peretz's office. Any weapons that enter Gaza would immediately be captured by Hamas.

In the meantime, two plans are being considered by Israel. One is to send a multinational force into Gaza to patrol the Philadelphi Corridor and try to stop the arms smuggling from Sinai. The other is to dispatch a force composed of soldiers from Arab countries.

While Olmert has voiced support for a multinational force, the assumption in the defense establishment is that no European country would be willing to send troops to Gaza unless Hamas supported the idea.

Peretz will convene security chiefs again next week. Predictions are that Hamas will complete its takeover of Gaza by the end of the week and that once it is in full control, it will also begin to consider the consequences of its recent actions. 

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Hamas, not the West, is behind the bloodshed

London Telegraph, 14/06/2007

The appalling barbarity currently unfolding in Gaza, where gunmen from the militant Palestinian Islamic group Hamas are attempting to eliminate physically their secular Fatah rivals, has led to the inevitable accusations that Israel and its Western allies are ultimately responsible for the bloodshed.

The fact that the latest outburst of violence was started, and is being sustained, by Hamas's attempts to eradicate any hint of opposition to its radical Islamic agenda is conveniently overlooked.

Instead those who claim to have the Palestinians' best interests at heart insist the violence is the result of the refusal of Israel and its supporters - i.e. America - to negotiate with the democratically elected Hamas government on a lasting political settlement of the Palestinian issue.

One of the more forthright denunciations of Israeli-American policy is contained in a 53-page report written by Alvaro de Soto, who until last month was the United Nations special co-ordinator for the Middle East.

In the report, which was written for internal consumption by senior UN officials, Mr de Soto is particularly critical of Washington, which he accuses of fomenting the violence in Gaza by imposing an all-embracing boycott on the Palestinian government. Israel, meanwhile, is criticised for setting unachievable preconditions for Hamas to enter the negotiating process.

We have become inured to the institutional naivety that afflicts so much of the UN's endeavours, but this argument is as dangerous as it is specious. America and Israel have very sound reasons for not engaging in any form of dialogue with Hamas.

Not only does the movement remain committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, but it also steadfastly refuses to renounce violence as a means of achieving its political objectives.

Hamas has certainly demonstrated its capacity for indulging in acts of extreme violence during the latest fighting, where captured Fatah gunmen are immediately shot. Not only does Hamas reject Israel's right to exist, but also the existence of any Palestinian who dares object to its radical Islamic agenda.

Rather than engaging in dialogue, the West needs to intensify its efforts to prevent Hamas succeeding in its attempts to establish a theocracy in the Palestinian territories.

Hamas derives most of its funding from Iran, which is no doubt delighted that its recently acquired ally is causing so much turmoil in this already troubled region.

A more effective blockade of Hamas's Gazan stronghold, one that prevents Teheran from fanning the flames of religious extremism in the Palestinian territories, would be a good start.

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Let Palestine Split Into Two

Opinion
Martin van Creveld

New York Forward, Tue. Jun 12, 2007

Many divorces are bitter, and they rarely make for a pretty spectacle. Nevertheless, once the fireworks die down some of them end well. Quite often a divorce enables two people who cannot live together to go their separate ways, if not to achieve reconciliation then at any rate to find new partners and make a fresh start.

The ongoing hostilities in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas certainly do not a pretty spectacle make. On both sides, fighters are being shot, mortared and rocketed. Some have been thrown out of the windows of high-rise buildings, others executed as they lay wounded in their hospital beds.

In the war of Palestinian against Palestinian, it seems, no holds are barred and almost every means is acceptable. Even if the leaders of Fatah and Hamas, assisted by Egyptian mediators, succeed in bringing about a cease-fire, experience shows that it will not last.

Meanwhile, a growing number of civilians — women and children included — are being caught in the crossfire. Wherever one looks, all one sees are villains and victims. In this entire bloody drama, the only heroes are the hospital workers, both local ones and those working for international agencies, trying to save whomever they can.

But while the pictures coming out of Gaza are grim indeed, out of the prevailing chaos a better future may yet emerge.

Although the West Bank and Gaza are inhabited by a people known as Palestinians, the two pieces of land form distinct entities and differ sharply from one another. The West Bank is less densely populated — a lower percentage of the people it contains are refugees — and socially and economically more developed. Before the outbreak of the second intifada, its economy was based partly on tourism. And to this day, it remains more open and less committed to religious extremism.

In contrast to the West Bank with its many holy places, Gaza is a godforsaken piece of land that has almost nothing to recommend it. Not only is it the most densely populated area in the world, but it also contains a higher percentage of penniless refugees living in squalid, overcrowded camps.

Socially and economically, Gaza is less developed than the West Bank. As the political and military strength of Hamas proves, its inhabitants seek to make up for these problems by embracing a more fundamentalist version of Islam.

In part, these differences reflect the fact that it was only fairly recently that the two areas came under the same government.

From 1948 until it was occupied by Israel in 1967, the West Bank was an integral part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan granted citizenship to all West Bank residents, refugees included.

By contrast, Egypt, which ruled for the same 19 years over Gaza, never granted the strip’s inhabitants citizenship. Instead, Cairo kept Gazans under military government and did what it could to thwart their development.

Now that Fatah and Hamas are fighting one another in Gaza, most people in Israel and the West are hoping for hostilities to cease and for the two areas to be reunited under the authority of a single moderate government that can negotiate with Israel. In the long run, such an outcome is highly unlikely — but it is fair to ask whether it is even desirable.

Of all the obstacles to eventual peace in the Holy Land, perhaps the most troublesome one is the long-time Palestinian insistence upon the so-called right of return. The Israelis, who rightly see the realization of this demand as leading to the destruction of their state, cannot grant it. The Palestinian leadership, which claims authority not only over the residents of the West Bank and Gaza but also over that part of the Palestinian people which lives in refugee camps in the neighboring countries, is unable to give it up.

The result is deadlock that, apart from everything else, has bedeviled every attempt to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians — and seems destined to go on doing so for a long time to come.

Suppose, however, that the current fighting ends not with the reestablishment of a single “moderate” government, but with the West Bank and Gaza going their separate ways. In that case, Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah will rule the West Bank, and Ismail Haniya and Hamas will govern Gaza.

Neither Fatah nor Hamas would be able to speak — or even claim to speak — for the Palestinian people as a whole. Unable to speak for the Palestinian people as a whole, each of the two will find it easier, if not to stop insisting on the right of return, at least to put it aside for the time being.

The fighting in Gaza is not pretty; divorces rarely are. In the long run, however, it is at least conceivable that the war of Palestinian against Palestinian will lead to the removal of the single most important obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. If so, then perhaps the blood currently flowing is not being shed altogether in vain.

Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the author of the forthcoming “The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat, From the Marne to Iraq” (Presidio Press).