Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Gaza Crisis Escalates

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Update from AIJAC


June 13, 2007

Number 06/07 #05

As readers may be aware, the Hamas-Fatah fighting which has simmered off and on in Gaza since the beginning of the year has exploded in recent days, and reached a new peak yesterday. It's now looking increasingly appropriate to label what is going on a civil war.

The fighting has been confusing but most of the major attacks are summarised in the article below from the New York Times. It outlines the killing of key leaders on both sides, attacks on the compound of both PA President Abbas (of Fatah) and Prime Minister Haniyah of Hamas, Hamas attacks on major Fatah headquarters, a Fatah effort to close down Hamas' TV station, the suspension of Fatah's participation in the national unity government and other major developments. For a good handle on what is actually occurring, CLICK HERE.

Next up, Jerusalem Post Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh analyses the larger import of the current battles and says it appears that Hamas is attempting to take control of the Gaza Strip completely from Fatah, and moreover, there are signs it is succeeding. He also notes predictions by Palestinians that the net result may be a "two-state solution" - a Hamas dominated "state" in Gaza, and a Fatah dominated one in the West Bank. For all of this vital analysis, CLICK HERE.

Finally, noted Israeli strategic analyst Ephraim Inbar weighs in with his views on what should be done, given the current state of Palestinian society. He argues that looking for Palestinians to build a viable and peaceful state alongside Israel appears hopeless at present, while the idea of Israel or international peacekeepers helping the Palestinians do so almost certainly will not work. He therefore advocates Egypt and Jordan stepping up to take a role in sorting out the Palestinian problem. For his full argument about why this is necessary, CLICK HERE.


Attacks Escalate as Palestinians Fight for Power

By STEVEN ERLANGER and ISABEL KERSHNER

New York Times, June 13, 2007

JERUSALEM, June 12 — Gunmen of rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah sharply escalated their fight for supremacy on Tuesday, with Hamas taking over much of the northern Gaza Strip in what is beginning to look increasingly like a civil war.

Five days of revenge attacks on individuals — including executions, kneecappings and even tossing handcuffed prisoners off tall apartment towers — on Tuesday turned into something larger and more organized: attacks on symbols of power and the deployment of military units. About 25 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded, Palestinian medics said.

In one Hamas attack on a Fatah security headquarters in northern Gaza near Jabaliya Camp, at least 21 Palestinians were reported killed and another 60 wounded, said Moaweya Hassanein of the Palestinian Health Ministry.

After a senior Fatah leader in northern Gaza, Jamal Abu al-Jediyan, was killed Monday, Fatah’s elite Presidential Guards, who are being trained by the United States and its allies, fired rocket-propelled grenades at the house of Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, of Hamas, in the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City.

An hour later, Hamas’s military wing fired four mortar shells at the presidential office compound of Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, who is in the West Bank, a Fatah spokesman, Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, said in a telephone interview.

“Hamas is seeking a military coup against the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Hamas made a similar accusation against Fatah. Hamas, which has an Islamist ideology, demanded that security forces loyal to Fatah, the more nationalist and secular movement, abandon their positions in northern and central Gaza.

Fatah’s leaders said Tuesday night that they would suspend participation in the unity government with Hamas, which began in March, until the fighting ends.

That agreement to govern jointly, negotiated under Saudi auspices, put Fatah ministers into a Hamas-led government in an effort to secure renewed international aid and recognition and to stop what was already serious fighting between the two factions.

But the new government has failed to achieve either goal, and it appeared to many in Gaza that the gunmen were not listening to their political leaders. Mr. Abbas is under increasing pressure to abandon the unity government he championed and to try once again to order new elections, which Hamas has said it will oppose by any means.

The head of the Egyptian mediation team, Lt. Col. Burhan Hamad, said neither side responded to his call on Tuesday to hold truce talks. “It seems they don’t want to come,” said Colonel Hamad, who has brokered several brief cease-fires between the two. “We must make them ashamed of themselves. They have killed all hope. They have killed the future.”

He said neither side had the weaponry required to produce “a decisive victory.”

Talal Okal, a Gazan political scientist, described what could be coming. “Tonight, we may find ourselves at the beginning of a civil war,” he said. “If Abbas decides to move his security forces onto the attack, and not to only defend, we’ll find ourselves in a much wider cycle.”

Fatah forces were ordered Tuesday evening to defend their positions and counter “a coup against the president and against the Palestinian Authority and national unity government.”

The streets of Gazan cities were once again empty of pedestrians and cars. People ventured out to buy food, but only to the next building, and parents kept children out of school.

At Shifa Hospital in Gaza, which Hamas gunmen patrolled, bodies of four Hamas fighters lay on the floor of the emergency room, including Muhammad al-Mqeir, 25. His closest friend called him a martyr, even though he was killed by another Palestinian, from Fatah. “They are not Palestinians, they are lost people,” the friend said of Fatah. Doctors said that the emergency room was overloaded and that the hospital was running short of blood.

After warning Fatah, Hamas attacked a Fatah-affiliated security headquarters in Gaza City, and declared northern Gaza “a closed military zone.”

An estimated 200 Hamas fighters surrounded Fatah security headquarters there, firing mortar shells and grenades at the compound, where some 500 security officers were positioned. The headquarters fell to Hamas. Hamas gunmen also exchanged fire with Fatah forces at the southern security headquarters in the town of Khan Yunis. There, the two sides fought a gun battle near a hospital. Fifteen children attending a kindergarten in the line of fire were rushed into the hospital, which is financed largely by European donations.

Angering Hamas, Fatah militants abducted and killed the nephew of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas leader assassinated by Israel in April 2004.

Hamas gunmen attacked the home of a Fatah security official with mortars and grenades, killing his 14-year-old son and three women inside, security officials said. Other Fatah gunmen stormed the house of a Hamas lawmaker and burned it down.

Fatah forces also attacked the headquarters, in Gaza, of Hamas’s television station, Al Aksa TV, and began to broadcast Fatah songs, but Hamas said later that it had repelled the attack.

In the West Bank, where Fatah is stronger and the Israeli occupation forces keep Hamas fighters underground, the Fatah Presidential Guards took over the Ramallah offices of Al Aksa TV and confiscated equipment.

Also in the West Bank, Fatah men kidnapped a deputy minister from Hamas, one of the few Hamas cabinet members and legislators not already in Israeli military jails, part of Israel’s effort to keep pressure on Hamas.

Since Monday morning, at least 43 Palestinians have died in the renewed fighting. More than 50 had died in the previous outburst last month that ended in a brief cease-fire mediated by the Egyptians.

A Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, accused Fatah, in alliance with Israel and the United States, of trying to destroy Hamas and overturn the results of elections held in January 2006, in which Hamas won a legislative majority.

“They crossed all the red lines,” he said of Fatah after the second straight day that Prime Minister Haniya’s house was fired upon.

Sami Abu Zuhri, another Hamas spokesman, said: “Those we sit with from Fatah have no control on the ground. These groups have relations with the U.S. administration and Israel.” Hamas says it believes that Mr. Abbas’s aide, Muhammad Dahlan, is controlling the Fatah forces, and Mr. Zuhri said, “It’s an international and regional plan aiming to eliminate Hamas.”

Israeli officials are debating whether Fatah can stand up to Hamas in Gaza. They say they have been asked by Washington recently to approve another shipment of armored vehicles, weapons and ammunition to the Presidential Guards. But a senior Israeli official said Israel was worried that the weaponry would just be seized by Hamas, as much of the last shipment was.

“Hamas now has two million bullets intended for Fatah,” he said.

Israeli officials are explicit privately about their intention to damage Hamas and its military infrastructure in Gaza and try to give Fatah a boost at the same time. Israel, in retaliation for rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, has been bombing the buildings and facilities of Hamas’s Executive Force, a parallel police force in Gaza, that has not been firing rockets. Israeli officials argue, however, that the Executive Force and the Hamas military wing “share a command headquarters.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which deals with the 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million people who are refugees or their descendants, said its ability to provide needed aid had been severely hampered by the fighting. Three of its 5 food distribution centers and 7 of its 18 health clinics were forced to close Tuesday, said its Gaza director, John Ging.

“The violence is compounding an already dreadful humanitarian situation,” he said, with 80 percent of the refugee population already dependent on aid.

Mr. Okal, who is now on the board of trustees of the Fatah-affiliated Azhar University in Gaza, said he would oppose Fatah’s pulling out of elected institutions, but added that he was not optimistic about Gaza. “We are heading toward a collapse — of both the political system and society,” he said.

Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting from Gaza City.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company


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Analysis: Hamas's Gaza and Fatah's West Bank

Khaled Abu Toameh

THE JERUSALEM POST, Jun. 12, 2007

Jamal Abu Jadian, a top Fatah commander, fled his home in the northern Gaza Strip Tuesday evening dressed as a woman to avoid dozens of Hamas militiamen who had attacked it. He and several members of his family and bodyguards were lightly wounded.

But when Abu Jadian arrived at a hospital a few hundred meters away from his house, he was discovered by a group of Hamas gunmen, who took turns shooting him in the head with automatic rifles.

"They literally blew his head off with more than 40 bullets," said a doctor at Kamal Udwan Hospital.

Abu Jadian, a close ally of Fatah warlord Muhammad Dahlan and a sworn enemy of Hamas, was the third top Fatah commander to be killed by Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip in the past few weeks. The other two were Muhammad Ghraib, a senior commander of the Fatah-dominated Preventative Security Service, and Baha Abu Jarad, a leading member of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's military wing.

All three were killed after dozens of Hamas militiamen surrounded their homes for hours, firing rocket-propelled grenades and detonating explosive charges.

Hamas targeted them because it believed they were heads of a Fatah group that has been targeting Hamas officials and activists over the past year. This group, Hamas officials claim, is headed by Dahlan and other senior Fatah leaders who, with the help of the US and Israel, are part of a "plot" to remove Hamas from power.

Three other senior Fatah leaders from the northern Gaza Strip who are allegedly involved in the "plot" have also been targeted by Hamas. But the three - Sameeh Madhoun, Maher Miqdad and Mansour Shalayel - have managed to escape unharmed with their families.

In yet another blow to Fatah, about 200 Hamas gunmen on Tuesday stormed the home of Nabil Sha'ath, a senior Fatah official who was closely associated with Yasser Arafat.

Sha'ath was not at home, but one of his bodyguards was shot and wounded before the Hamas attackers went on a rampage inside the villa.

In addition to attacking Fatah officials, Hamas has also driven many members of the Palestinian Authority security forces out of the northern Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the year, Hamas militiamen there have taken over the headquarters of the PA's General Intelligence, Force 17, Preventative Security, National Security and Military Police.

Earlier this week, Hamas also "liberated" a large mosque in the northern town of Beit Lahiya that was a known Fatah stronghold. Hamas has also taken control of a hospital and several medical centers in the area.

On Tuesday it became clear that Hamas was now trying to extend its "victories" to the rest of the Gaza Strip, particularly Gaza City and the southern towns of Khan Yunis and Rafah.

"Hamas is effectively in control of the northern part of the Gaza Strip," said a senior Fatah official. "Now they are trying to take control of the entire Gaza Strip, and I'm afraid they are close to achieving their goal."

Many Fatah officials in those areas have fled their homes over the past few weeks for fear of being targeted by Hamas. One of them, Rashid Abu Shabak, is Fatah's highest ranking security official in the Gaza Strip. He and his family left the Gaza Strip after Hamas militiamen raided their villa in Gaza City and killed six of his bodyguards.

Dahlan left the Gaza Strip two months ago and has been living in Cairo. At least seven other top Fatah officials have sought refuge in the West Bank after receiving permission from Israel to leave the Gaza Strip.

Reports from the Gaza Strip Tuesday evening indicated that Hamas was close to taking control of Khan Yunis, a traditional Fatah stronghold, which is also Dahlan's hometown. Hamas militiamen occupied the most important symbols in the area - the headquarters of the Fatah-affiliated governor and buildings belonging to different branches of the PA security forces.

A sign of Fatah's predicament in the Gaza Strip was illustrated late Monday night when its leaders announced a unilateral cease-fire, only to be snubbed by Hamas. Fatah leaders also made urgent appeals to a number of Arab governments to interfere to stop the fighting, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears. The Egyptians, Saudis and Jordanians - who have, until now, been making huge efforts to end the anarchy in the Palestinian areas - are all fed up with the Palestinians.

Unless the fighting stops in the next day or two, the entire Gaza Strip is likely to fall into the hands of Hamas. All Fatah can do now is vent its anger at the remaining handful of Hamas representatives in the West Bank. The majority of the Hamas leaders in the West Bank are in Israeli jails and the Islamic movement does not have a strong military presence there.

Tuesday night, PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas convened his top aides in the West Bank to assess the situation in the wake of what he has called the "military coup" staged by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

One of the options facing Abbas is to break up the coalition partnership with Hamas and to officially declare war on the Islamic movement.

Whatever decision Abbas and his Fatah lieutenants take, it will be hard to change the new reality that has been created on the ground, especially in the Gaza Strip. As of today, the Palestinians can boast that they have two entities - one in the Gaza Strip run by Muslim fundamentalists and another one in the West Bank under the control of secular Fatah leaders.

"The two-state solution has finally worked," a Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip commented sarcastically. "Today, all our enemies have good reason to celebrate."


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Egypt and Jordan hold the solution

by Efraim Inbar

bitterlemons.org
Published 11/6/2007 ©

Conventional wisdom partitions the Land of Israel into two states, Israel and Palestine, as the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The rationale of partition was generally accepted by the majority of the Zionists after 1937, but was rejected by the Palestinians. For many years, the Arab world concurred in opposing partition and the existence of a Jewish state. Egypt and Jordan, which occupied Gaza and the West Bank respectively in the 1948-67 period, bringing about a de facto partition, did not establish an independent Palestinian entity.

Israel's problem of finding a partner for partition became relevant after the 1967 war, when it conquered Gaza and the West Bank from Egypt and Jordan. Gradually, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) acquired the status of representing the Palestinians. The PLO did not accept the two-state formula, even within the 1947 partition borders, until the 1988 Algiers conference.

For years, Israel was reluctant to deal with the PLO until the Yitzhak Rabin government signed the Oslo accords in September 1993. The agreement led to a repartition of Palestine and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority over parts of Gaza and the West Bank, leaving its borders to be negotiated at a later stage.

At that time, the two-state solution was heralded as a recipe for peace and stability in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Many suggested that the Palestinian national movement would be able to reach a historic compromise with the Zionist movement and subsequently establish a viable state that could exist peacefully next to Israel. Unfortunately, both assumptions have proven to be false.

The establishment of the embryonic Palestinian state led to increased bloodshed and instability. Terrorist organizations are more lethal when they have a territorial base. The discredited Oslo process allowed the PLO to gain such a foothold in the Holy Land.

In the post-1993 period, the number of Israeli (and Palestinian) casualties has increased tenfold. Similarly, the emergence of the PA led to the militarization of a fragmented Palestinian society, beleaguered by internecine struggles among a myriad of militias. Next to Israel lies a sick society, led by a pathological national movement, mesmerized by the use of force. It is a society that produces suicide bombers who have become role models in kindergartens and schools.

Yasser Arafat's unwillingness and/or inability to acquire a monopoly over the use of force further eroded the governing capacity of the PA. The escalation of the violent conflict with Israel since 2000 led to a collapse of law and order and pervasive corruption. The ascendance to power of the radical group Hamas in 2006 did not improve the PA's governance, despite hopes that the Islamists would be honest and effective administrators. Moreover, the Hamas government's refusal to recognize Israel further eroded the belief that the Palestinians are able to reach a historic compromise with the Jewish national movement. Such a notion was undermined by Arafat's refusal to sign a deal with Israel at Camp David in July 2000.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians usually shy away from introspection and blame outsiders, particularly Israelis, for all their misfortunes. Furthermore, they hope that the world will continue to subsidize their failed enterprise. Yet, the skepticism about the ability of the Palestinians to maintain a functioning state has become widespread in the world. Israel should capitalize on that awareness to help the international community reach the conclusion that the Palestinian experiment started at Oslo has basically failed and there is no effective Palestinian option.

Little can be done by outsiders to fix the Palestinian mess. Generally, foreigners are limited in their abilities to influence the domestic socio-political dynamics of Middle Eastern societies. Western political pressure and/or financial aid can hardly change entrenched ways of conducting political affairs. Foreign support to the Palestinians and the preservation of the UNWRA relief system only sustain the unsuccessful status quo, allowing for increased militarization of Palestinian society and prolonging its inclination to refrain from facing the grim reality navigated by its leaders. Nurturing the national hopes of the dysfunctional Palestinian national movement will only bring further suffering to the Palestinians and their neighbors.

The only chance to alleviate the Palestinian situation is foreign rule. Indeed their best friends, realizing that the Palestinians are not politically mature for self-rule, advocate an international mandate. Yet it is not at all clear why an international mandate enforced by an international force should be any more successful than the US in Iraq. Recalling the colonial record of the UK and France in the Middle East, the conclusion is inescapable that only Arabs can rule over Arabs by Arab methods.

The potential candidates for ruling over the Palestinians are Jordan and Egypt, as was done with relative success before 1967. The international community should encourage Egypt and Jordan's increased involvement in Palestinian affairs. These states have signed peace treaties with Jerusalem and behave more responsibly than the PA leadership. The peace initiative of the Arab League might become the mechanism for a transition from a two-state formula to a more realistic regional approach.- Published 11/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Efraim Inbar is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.