Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Gaza Situation

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Update from AIJAC

May 22, 2007
Number 05/07 #08

As readers will probably be aware, the difficult and complex situation in Gaza has continued to develop; the Hamas-Fatah fighting has been reduced by the latest ceasefire, but few Palestinians expect it to hold; meanwhile, rockets continue to be fired against the Israeli town of Sderot in larger numbers (132 in five days), and killed a woman yesterday; and Israel has been attacking Hamas targets in response, but resisting a major ground incursion. This Update contains analyses of the various aspects of the Gaza situation.

First up is a terrific piece on the internal divisions in Gaza, and the despair of many Palestinians with both Fatah and Hamas, from Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinian affairs reporter for the Jerusalem Post. He deals with the breakdown of order, the climate of incitement, and the fact that Fatah, although larger and stronger on paper, appears to be losing the battle. For this valuable look inside Gaza society, CLICK HERE.

Next, the Washington Post editorialises about the Gaza situation, and warns that if nothing is done, a new war in Gaza looks all but inevitable. It says what is needed is to get Egypt to stop arms smuggling along the Gaza border, and the Arab states to pressure Hamas. For a timely warning of Israel's current dilemma, and what can be done to prevent conflict, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Canadian columnist and former Washington speechwriter David Frum also warns that a summer war is looking close, even though Israel is desperately trying to find a way not to re-invade Gaza. He says counting on Fatah to take on Hamas may be a lost cause. He suggests that aid to the Palestinian people, which has actually increased under Hamas rule, may be the means to restrain Hamas from its rocket attacks. For his full analysis of the realities of the Gaza situation, CLICK HERE.


Palestinian Affairs: A Mickey Mouse unity

Khaled Abu Toameh

THE JERUSALEM POST, May. 17, 2007

'I wonder what Farfur has to say about the latest fighting between Fatah and Hamas," a respected Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip said this week when asked to comment on the internecine violence.

Farfur, a squeaky-voiced Mickey Mouse look-alike, is the star of a weekly children's program called "Tomorrow's Pioneers," broadcast on the official Hamas station, Al-Aksa TV.

Farfur has thus far ignored the street fighting that has left more than 165 killed since the beginning of the year, choosing instead to attack the "oppressive invading Zionist occupation" that must be "resisted" at all costs.

"Hamas has turned Mickey Mouse into a monstrous figure," said the journalist, who describes himself as a secular and moderate Muslim. "When you spread such messages of hatred, especially among children, you then can't ask why young men grow up to become so violent and ruthless."

But, apart from the incitement, the story of Farfur is an indication of how the new Palestinian "unity" government has been functioning for the past three months.

After the story of Farfur was exposed by Palestinian Media Watch, PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti - an independent - announced that he had ordered the Hamas TV station to drop the show.

First, Hamas denied that it had received such an order.

Later, the station's staff admitted that "someone" from the Information Ministry had phoned them asking to stop showing the Farfur episode, "because it was being used to defame the Palestinians abroad."

Needless to say, the program continues to be broadcast every Friday afternoon. In fact, Farfur can now boast a larger audience, since most of the children in the Gaza Strip remain indoors due to the ongoing violent Hamas-Fatah clashes.

"The unity government is not a real government," said Muhammed Idris, member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], a Syria-based Marxist group that is strongly opposed to the Oslo Accords. "If the information minister has no control over the Palestinian media and the interior minister - who resigned earlier this week - has no authority over security, then what type of a government is this? This is a fake unity and a fake government. It's only a government on paper."

Instead of censuring Hamas for exploiting the character of Mickey Mouse to send negative messages to Palestinian children, Barghouti chose to lash out at the foreign media for paying too much attention to the story. Barghouti said he could not understand the outcry in the world over the Farfur show at a time when Israel is continuing to "commit daily atrocities" against the Palestinians.

Fortunately for Barghouti and Hamas, the renewed fighting on the streets of Gaza has diverted attention from the controversial program.

THE "UNITY" government was established with the declared goal of persuading the international community to resume financial aid to the Palestinians. Three months later, both Hamas and Fatah are very disappointed with the failure of the US and most EU countries to accept the new Hamas-led coalition. Leaders of the two parties have been openly talking about dissolving the government if the sanctions continue.

As many Palestinians had predicted, the unity government deal that was struck in Mecca in February did not ease tensions between Fatah and Hamas. On the contrary, the two sides continued to prepare for another round of violence on the ground. Moreover, their leaders and spokesmen continued the propaganda campaign against each other.

Tensions reached their peak late last week when Interior Minister Hani Kawassmeh, who was supposed to be in charge of security, announced his decision to quit the government.

Kawassmeh accused PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah warlords in Gaza of blocking his attempts to impose law and order.

"They wanted me to be a minister with no power," Kawassmeh explained. "They just wanted me to sit in my office and do nothing. They wanted to make a joke out of me."

Kawassmeh's allegations have been echoed by several Hamas leaders over the past few weeks. These leaders have been complaining that Abbas and his Fatah warlords have been behaving as if there is no Palestinian government. According to the Hamas leaders, Abbas, with the help of the US and Israel, was actually trying to remove Hamas from power.

Reports that the US has been supplying Abbas's forces with guns and millions of dollars with which to take on Hamas's supporters have only added fuel to the fire. This week's bloody clashes have shown that despite the money and weapons, Fatah is either unprepared or unwilling to engage in a major confrontation with Hamas. Fatah, it is worth noting, has more soldiers, weapons and money than Hamas.

But some Fatah leaders admitted this week that what the faction was lacking was the support of the Palestinian public. "Most Palestinians still don't trust us," said a veteran Fatah operative in the West Bank. "Most Palestinians still hold us responsible for the financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority. And what's worse is that many Palestinians don't like the fact that we are being supported by the US and Israel."

A SIGN of Fatah's dwindling popularity on the streets of Gaza was provided by the recurring Hamas attacks on the homes of senior Fatah leaders Rashid Abu Shabak, Samir Masharawi and Maher Miqdad. Some Fatah leaders and their families have since fled [with Israel's assistance] to the West Bank.

Even if the current wave of intra-fighting ends, it will only be a matter of time before the next explosion on the Palestinian street. The gap between Fatah and Hamas is so wide that the sarcastic comment sounded by many Palestinians these days is that it would be easier to make peace between Hamas and Israel than Hamas and Fatah. "Fatah and Hamas are worse than each other," said a former adviser to Yasser Arafat. "We need a new leadership that will save the people from these two monsters. While Hamas's Farfur is preaching hatred to the children, Fatah is recruiting kids aged 12-18 for military training."

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Rocket From Gaza

The Middle East is on the brink of another summer war.

The Washington Post, Friday, May 18, 2007

FROM DAMASCUS, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal yesterday hailed what he called "a historic opportunity." He was referring to the death of several members of his own Islamic movement in airstrikes by Israel. Even while engaged in bloody street fighting with the rival Palestinian Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip this week, Hamas has been firing scores of crude rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, hoping to draw the Israeli military into a fight in Gaza that would mimic its costly invasion of Lebanon last summer and unite Palestinians behind Hamas's extremist agenda. By last night, Mr. Meshal was dangerously close to getting his wish.

The growing willingness of Arab and European states to tolerate and even aid the Hamas movement has been based on the notion that Hamas could be coaxed toward more civilized behavior and tacit recognition of Israel; that is why many supported the creation of a "unity" government of Hamas with the secular and more moderate Fatah. But Mr. Meshal and his sponsors in Syria and Iran have a very different agenda: to use force to intimidate and eventually dominate Fatah, and to wage an unending war of attrition against Israel. That's the same course that Hezbollah, another proxy of Iran and Syria, has been pursuing in Lebanon.  

Israel's dilemma is that it cannot stop rocket attacks from Gaza without invading and reoccupying the territory -- and maybe not even then -- but it also cannot indefinitely tolerate daily attacks on its own citizens and their homes. The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which already is under heavy pressure to resign because of its failure to defeat Hezbollah, knows it is being invited into what Hamas regards as a trap, but the government hasn't found an alternative other than the limited airstrikes it launched yesterday. The government has resisted parts of a security plan offered by a U.S. envoy, Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, that calls for Israel to help bolster a Fatah security force to check Hamas. It has also refused to extend a now-ruptured cease-fire from Gaza to the West Bank because it calculates that its operations against Palestinian militants in the West Bank are preventing suicide bombings in Israel.

Western and Arab intervention offers the best hope of heading off a war in Gaza that could easily spread back to Lebanon, and beyond. Egypt, which has allowed Hamas to smuggle hundreds of tons of weapons and explosives, needs to act decisively to seal its border with Gaza. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states should step up pressure on Hamas and on Syria, which is helping Hezbollah rearm in Lebanon. The Bush administration, which has focused much of its energy on a far-fetched attempt to start talks about a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement, needs to urgently mobilize its allies in pursuit of a more basic goal: preventing another summer war.

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Hamas wants war

David Frum

National Post (Canada)
Saturday, May 19, 2007

Will Israel be provoked into another war this summer? Hamas in Gaza is desperately trying to start a fight. In mid- April, Hamas ended a six-month pause and resumed firing rockets into southern Israel. Three thousand rockets have landed in the past month; 80 in just the past three days.

So far, damage from the rockets has been relatively light: 18 Israelis wounded, property damaged. But twice, Hamas nearly got lucky: on Thursday, a rocket exploded in a high school classroom; another hit a day-care centre on May 7. Both facilities happened to be empty at the time. What if they had been in use?

Israel hit back with five air strikes on Thursday and Friday. But few imagine that these strikes will stop the rockets.

Israel desperately wants not to invade Gaza. Over the past year, Hamas has fortified the region: building bunkers, digging ditches, planting mines. Israelis can recognize a military trap when they see one.

Israelis can also recognize a political trap. For months, Gaza's political factions have waged war on each other. Some 45 Palestinians have died in the fighting in just the past week. Hamas hopes that an Israeli invasion would unite the Gazans against Israel--and under Hamas.

In hope of avoiding the trap, Israel has relied on indirect tactics.

This week, for example, Israel allowed 500 U.S.- trained Palestinian militiamen to enter Gaza from Egypt, to reinforce Fatah against Hamas. Israeli intelligence may also have helped foil a Hamas assassination plot against Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, although details on that story remain murky and not entirely convincing.

But will these indirect methods succeed? There seems little reason for optimism. 1 The U.S. has trained Fatah troops before, without much improving their ability to defeat Hamas's more highly motivated forces. 2 It's not clear that "Fatah" still exists as a political organization. Yasser Arafat's old terror gang has collapsed into factionalism and warlordism. The troops and arms shipped into Gaza today -- for whom are they really working? 3 Even if the new Fatah forces do take orders from Abbas, will he really command them to shed blood

to stop Hamas's rocketing of Israel? Fatah and Hamas are competing politically as well as militarily. Would Hamas not score a huge propaganda triumph if it could accuse Fatah of fighting for Israel? 4 Even if Fatah fights well and loyally, even if it sincerely seeks to shut down Hamas's rockets, will Fatah fight fast? The rocket that finally reaches an Israeli day-care centre may be fired tomorrow. Or the next day. And then it will be very difficult for any Israeli government to restrain itself.

The whole world shares an interest in avoiding a summer war in Gaza.

Which means the whole world shares an interest in suppressing Hamas rockets. But if aiding Fatah will not do the job, what will? Here's one suggestion.

It is a little-known fact that international aid to the Palestinian territories has actually risen since Palestinians elected a Hamas government in January, 2006. According to International Monetary Fund and UN figures, the Palestinian areas received a total of US$1.2-billion in official aid in 2006, up from US$1-billion in 2005.

America's contribution rose from US$400-million in 2005 to US$468-million in 2006. Aid from the European Union and other international organizations also increased handsomely, and the UN has called for still greater increases in aid in 2007.

Look at the incentives that have been created for the Palestinians: vote for terrorism, get an increase in your foreign aid. The Palestinian areas now receive more than US$300 per person, per year, making them the most aid-dependent population on Earth. (The people of sub-Saharan Africa receive only $44 per person per year.)

These incentives allow Hamas to present itself both as the unyielding enemy of the Jewish state --and also as a provider of generous social welfare benefits to the Palestinian people.

What if those incentives changed? What if Hamas's misconduct produced a loss rather than a profit?

Suppose that each Hamas rocket cost the Palestinian Authority US$1-million in reduced U.S. and EU aid? The 80 rockets fired over recent days would mean US$80-million less in salaries, food, aid, subsidies of all kinds. The next 80 rockets -- another US$80-million gone.

For the first time, Hamas's adventurism would exact a serious and predictable cost. Such a cost would do more than any number of U.S.-trained Fatah gunmen to restrain Hamas.

But if the aid continues --if the world continues a policy of sending money to the Palestinian territories, no matter what the Palestinian government does -- Israel, Gaza and the world stand just one well-aimed rocket away from war.

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