Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Palestinian Civil Conflict and Peace Prospects

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Update from AIJAC


June 7, 2007

Number 06/07 #03

Today's Update features three good but very different pieces dealing with aspects of the current and ongoing Palestinian civil conflict between Fatah and Hamas, looking at both how it relates to wider trends in Palestinian society and its likely effects on future peace prospects.

First up, veteran Middle East mediator Dennis Ross says that, on recent visits, the main worry amongst both Israelis and Palestinians has been that Gaza is being lost to Hamas and turned into both an Islamist enclave and a failed state and thus a haven for Islamist terrorist groups.  He says almost everyone agrees that such a situation would be a disaster, and the best hope for preventing this remains strong international efforts to strengthen Fatah, which he says may be showing signs of getting its act together (largely out of fear). For Ambassador Ross's warning and advice about what to do, CLICK HERE.

Next, scholars Cameron Brown and Asaf Romirowksy argue that the current Fatah-Hamas civil conflict shows further examples of a long-standing Palestinian problem - an unwillingness to take responsibility for any aspect of their own situation. They point to a specific incident last month, where Hamas attacked an armed Fatah convoy, and then attempted to blame Israel - even firing rockets into Israel in "revenge" for the attack they had themselves committed. For the full argument that this tendency is responsible for much of the current unfortunate situation of Palestinians, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Niv Lillian and Nir Boms regret what is occurring to Palestinian society under cover of the current fighting - especially in terms of the bombing of internet cafes by Islamist groups and other radical efforts to deny Palestinians any possibility of freedom of expression and access to disapproved ideas. They argue that the consequences of this trend are immense, and if it succeeds, "there is certainly no hope for moderate voices of sanity" to prevail in Palestinian society. For this important wake-up call on an often unconsidered aspect of the current violence in Gaza, CLICK HERE.


The Specter of 'Hamastan'

More Must Be Done to Counter Islamist Gains in Gaza

By Dennis Ross

Washington Post, Monday, June 4, 2007

In several days of discussions in Jerusalem and Ramallah recently, I was struck by the nature of the debate I witnessed in both places. To my surprise, it wasn't about the stalemate in the peace process or the Arab peace initiative. It was about the conflict between Palestinian organizations in Gaza -- Hamas vs. Fatah -- and whether Gaza was in fact already lost to the Islamists. Both Israelis and Palestinians were wondering about the consequences of Gaza's becoming, in their word, "Hamastan."

Not all felt Gaza was lost. Some said Israel should let weapons and ammunition get to Fatah forces in Gaza to battle Hamas. I also heard from Palestinians and Israelis alike that Egypt could do much more to prevent Hamas from receiving smuggled arms and money through the Sinai tunnels running into Gaza.

But for every Palestinian and Israeli who argued for arming Fatah, I heard a contrary point of view that at this point it might not make any difference. The consensus was that Hamas had made a deliberate calculation to attack all key security positions held by Fatah in Gaza and that the Fatah forces now had few, if any, senior commanders still in that area.

All those I spoke with were worried about the consequences of Gaza's becoming an Islamist enclave. They saw it offering inspiration to other Islamists throughout the Middle East and providing a new haven for Islamists of all stripes. They feared it would spell the end of even the possibility of a two-state solution. Most were convinced Hamas would never accept peace with Israel.

Interestingly, there was consensus among Israelis and Palestinians on the dangers of Gaza's becoming a failed state. No one thought it would be easy to isolate and contain -- or had any clear ideas on how to respond to such a development. Israelis voiced no desire to go back into a densely populated place where nearly everyone has weapons and Israel would face, as one person told me, "our own Baghdad." But few Israelis felt they could tolerate continued rocket fire out of Gaza. Their conclusion: If Egypt does not act more decisively, Israel may have to occupy the area near the Egyptian border to stop the smuggling of larger and more effective weapons.

As for Palestinians, the most striking conclusion was that it was essential that Hamas not succeed in the West Bank the way it is succeeding in Gaza. Fear is a great motivator, perhaps enough to overcome the personal rivalries that have hobbled Fatah in its competition with Hamas. I certainly found a new readiness among the young guard of Fatah (and the activists who represent Fatah's third and fourth generations) to organize themselves at the grass roots and rebrand Fatah. They know they lost the elections because of their divisions, the corruption of the old guard and their inability to respond to the needs of the Palestinian public. I saw a new awareness that Fatah must offer services and programs, not just words, if it is to preserve its hold on the West Bank.

Among some I heard an interesting proposal: Let's make the West Bank work -- socially, economically and institutionally -- then hold up our model of success in contrast to the failure of Gaza, where functional unemployment is close to 70 percent. Let Hamas preside over a dysfunctional, lawless state. We will build our own. Let's create understandings with Jordan and Israel for at least economic confederation and security. And if Hamas still hangs on in Gaza, perhaps there can be a "three-state solution."

Sounds good in theory, but I doubt it would work. No matter how sensible confederation between the Palestinian state and Jordan might be, at least economically, a failed state in Gaza would be a constant source of instability. Israel wouldn't find it easy to occupy just a narrow strip of territory to stop smuggling. The Israeli presence would invite an insurgency much like the one Israel faced in southern Lebanon. No alternative international force is likely to be vigilant or serious enough to do an effective job -- just look at Lebanon.

Moreover, while West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have much that divides them, they still have a common identity as Palestinians; the creation of a Palestinian state without Gaza would be an endless source of grievance and irredentism.

So what is to be done? If a failed state in Gaza is not acceptable, more has to be done now to prevent it. Egypt, while it has made commitments to stop the smuggling, does not see the situation as a national security threat. We will need to put a spotlight on this to change the Egyptian calculus and, at a minimum, to move Egypt to stop Hamas from accumulating more weaponry and money. If Fatah does have a plan for bolstering its forces in Gaza, it is worth supporting it by coordinating with the Israelis and Egyptians -- not to produce a bloodbath in Gaza but to deter Hamas from seeking to impose itself there.

The logic of having donors (public and private) working with Fatah where it seeks to rebrand itself makes sense for the West Bank and Gaza. What Hamas has done in Gaza has provided a wake-up call for Fatah and Palestinian independents. They now know they have to compete socially, economically and politically. They need help to do so. It is time we, the other donors and the Saudis and the Gulf states woke up to the reality that if we don't help remake Fatah, we may face a future in which Islamists control the Palestinian issue and neither a two-state nor a three-state solution will be in the cards.

The writer was director for policy planning in the State Department under President George H.W. Bush and special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton. He is counselor of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His new book is "Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World."

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The Real Palestinian 'Catastrophe'

by Cameron S. Brown and Asaf Romirowsky

Philadelphia Daily News, May 29, 2007

On May 15, the Palestinians commemorated the 59th anniversary of al-Naqba ("the Catastrophe"), a day of "mourning" the establishment of the modern state of Israel on May 15, 1948.

In a sense, al-Naqba is the quintessential event that separates the Palestinians' historical experience from that of other Arab Muslim groups and forges their unique national identity.

It is worth noting that the Palestinians use the same day Israel declared its independence to mark their national day. As is the case with so much of Palestinian society and culture, it is the actions of their Jewish neighbors - not anything of their own doing - that's the constant focus of their attention.

Which brings us to the question: What exactly is the real "catastrophe"? Given that this year's al-Naqba commemoration has been overshadowed by the anarchy and infighting in Gaza, many Palestinians say that the real Naqba is the lack of unity in their society. Indeed, this internal factionalism is often cited by Palestinians as one of the key reasons they lost in the first place during the 1948 war opposing the formation of Israel.

Perhaps. But it looking at a different aspect of this year's Naqba events might give us a better hint of what the real Palestinian problem is.

In the early morning of May 15, Hamas used mortars, missiles and machine guns to attack a Presidential Guard contingent belonging to Fatah that was stationed near the Karni border crossing with Israel. Hamas then hit a jeep carrying Fatah reinforcements, and ensured their targets were dead by shooting them in the head at close range.

When the shooting was over, 10 Fatah members were dead, with a similar number wounded.

Suddenly aware that their unprovoked massacre may have gone too far, Hamas claimed it was Israel who had actually killed the Fatah people and threatened any journalist who dared report otherwise.

Then, in a truly perverse twist, Hamas launched more than 20 rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot "to take revenge" for the massacre they themselves had committed.

Given the overwhelming evidence and eyewitness accounts of those who were there, it was clear to most Palestinians that Hamas had committed the massacre. Still, when trying to explain the cause of the current infighting, several Palestinians, including Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, insisted that Israel was somehow to blame.

This is the real Palestinian Naqba, the disaster at the root of Palestinian suffering since even before 1948.

Instead of taking responsibility for their role in shaping their destiny, on virtually every occasion, the Palestinians have twisted their worldview to put the blame solely on Israel.

There is no self-awareness, not to mention self-criticism. No sense of accountability.

Since the Six-Day War of 1967, this tendency has only become worse. All too often, Palestinians claim that living under Israeli occupation has "driven" them to terrorism, as if they had no choice but to walk into a café and blow up people sitting there.

Such an approach not only ignores the pre-1967 (and indeed pre-1948) Palestinian terrorism. (It also fails to recognize that history has numerous examples of non-violent movements that were much more effective at achieving their aims.)

But the most unfortunate part of the Palestinians' fate is that they have had so many supporters around the world (including significant segments of the Israeli public) that they were by no means destined for the poverty and misery they find themselves in today. They certainly weren't destined to remain stateless almost 60 years after the United Nations passed the partition plan.

The lesson is that only when Palestinians, leadership and public alike, start to consider how their own actions have been the primary cause for the sorry state they're in will there be a chance for it to improve.

And once that true soul-searching finally takes place, and they begin to take responsibility for their collective destiny, the Palestinian people will be able to help themselves far more than all the other nations of the world have ever been able to.

Cameron S. Brown is deputy director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Israel. Asaf Romirowsky is a Campus Watch Associate Fellow for the Middle East Forum and the Manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.


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Gaza's internet war

Islamic war on freedom of thought in Gaza should concern Israelis as well

Niv Lillian, Nir Boms

Ynet.com, Published:  06.04.07

At 3 am, in the shadow of the ongoing fighting, a giant blast shook Allah al-Shawa's Internet cafe in Gaza. The owner, who rushed to his business in order to examine the damage, found one computer in working order in the rubble and decided to check his e-mail.

 A surprise awaited him: An e-mail message from a group calling itself "Islamic Swords of Justice" explained that the cafe was blown up because it and those of its type "divert the attention of an entire generation to other issues that are not Jihad or worship." In other words, the e-mail charged that his Internet cafe was used for distributing abomination and pornography

Al-Shawa is not alone. Since December, in the framework of the anarchy that has taken root in the Gaza Strip, various radical groups have blown up dozens of Internet cafes alongside attacks on Christian bookstores and other sites associated with Western culture, such as music shops and pool halls.

The groups, which intelligence investigators have loosely connected to al-Qaeda, are methodically eliminating the almost sole means of communication that Gaza's 1.4 million residents have with the outside world. Students at the al-Zahar University use the Internet cafes for their studies, along with academicians and civilians just interested in maintaining contacts with their relatives, corresponding with colleagues, and generally maintaining a life of creation and prolific thought of the type that is safely available to almost anyone in the Western hemisphere.

As opposed to regimes such as Iran and Syria, which engage in censorship through government orders and technological monitoring means reminiscent of the Orwellian throught police, marginal groups such as the "Swords of Justice" utilize much simpler censorship means: Dynamite sticks. Yet there is a common pattern to the dark regimes and no less fundamentalist explosive cells: Sowing fear, horror, and restraint among citizens. Terror is the quickest way to a monopoly in the market of ideas.

The poor pay heaviest price

The irony inherent in this absurd situation is doubly bitter: Those who consume pornography online usually do it in the privacy of their own homes and not in the public space of a cafe because of the shame and the religious code that condemns such conduct. Therefore, those who really suffer from the attacks are the people who cannot afford a computer or regular Internet connection at their home - that is, students and other poor segments of society.

During both the recent Lebanon war and within the walls of the besieged Gaza Strip, in recent years we saw bloggers and brave Internet activists with a thirst for dialogue with the other side, who did not shy away from criticizing even those who control their Internet connection. They, the supporters of globalization, indeed constitute a threat to reactionary Islamic forces, which would go to any length in order to silence these opponents.

The second irony is the paradox inherent in the approach of Islamic zealots to the Internet, a tool they widely utilize in order to issue religious edicts, produce video broadcasts from al-Qaeda headquarters, and communicate among terror activists.

For example, the "Tawhid and Jihad Brigades" sent an e-mail where it claimed to have executed BBC report Alan Johnston, abducted in Gaza about two months ago. Al-Shawa explains this theater of the absurd: "They use the Internet in order to spread their message, yet assume that everyone else uses the Internet to get porn."

This attack on the virtual space is not only limited to or undermines the livelihood of al-Shawa and his colleagues, who make a living from operating Internet cafes. The Cutting of a modern line of communication such as the Internet is no less severe than hitting other basic infrastructure such as electricity or water.

West must not remain silent

The potent outcome of such attacks is immense: The cutting off of the main pipeline that brings ideas of freedom and equality into the besieged Strip prevents the population from opening its eyes and aspiring for such values. Instead, it is fed by ongoing ideological calls for Jihad against Western infidels.

The Western world must not remain silent in the face of such basic attack on freedom of expression. We, citizens of the liberal world, tend to forget this, but freedom of expression is also freedom of thought and the freedom to listen to new ideas - a basic liberty that religious zealots have wrested away from Gaza residents.

We too, as Israelis, have a clear interest in maintaining Gaza's virtual space. The rubble of Internet cafes, just like Gaza's rubble in general, does not bring us closer to a time of calm.

 This happens while the moderates and brave figures on the other side are met with a wall of disconnection from that same space that could have allowed for dialogue. Without advancing the principles of freedom and equality, and without the free distribution of ideas and information through a robust communication infrastructure, there is certainly no hope for moderate voices of sanity.

Niv Lilian is the deputy editor of Ynet's Computers and Internet channel

Nir Boms is vice president of the Centre for Freedom in the Middle East