Palestinian reconciliation is dead; Gaza rehabilitation might be too

By Agvi Issacharoff, TOI

Thursday underscored the scope of the hatred, not only between Dahlan and Abbas, but also between Hamas and the PA.

That the Strip’s Islamist rulers allowed Fatah members in Gaza to wave pictures of an ex-official, who in the past pursued hundreds of Hamas members, is no small matter. It is a sign of how deep the rift is between the Abbas and Hamas – and it looks like it cannot be mended.

If it seemed for a moment in May that Gaza and the West Bank were headed toward a truce, then Israeli ministers can relax: internal Palestinian reconciliation is dead. The split is back in place. The PA’s supposed Fatah-Hamas “unity” government cannot operate in any meaningful way in Gaza, and Hamas, of course, is prevented from operating in the West Bank.

Palestinian supporters of dismissed senior Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan shout slogans during a protest in Gaza City on December 18, 2014 (Photo credit: AFP/Mohammed Abed)

One of the figures who acknowledged this reality this week was a Hamas leader, Mahmoud a-Zahar, who claimed after Hamas’s 27th anniversary celebrations on Sunday that “Abu Mazen [Abbas] has lost his legitimacy.” Other senior Hamas officials weren’t especially careful with their language either.

Meanwhile, the PA continued arresting Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the West Bank this week, while maintaining security coordination with Israel, although more covertly than before. The PA also prevented Hamas from holding anniversary celebrations in the West Bank. Some Fatah leaders, including Jibril Rajoub and Saeb Erekat, may have promised after the death of Fatah official Ziad Abu Ein last week that the security cooperation would end, but it persists.

What’s more, Abbas wasn’t thrilled (to say the least) by Rajoub and Erekat’s recklessness in making remarks to that effect, and gave orders to maintain the security ties with Israel, at least for now. In his eyes too, the most tangible immediate threat to his rule is not Israel and the settlements, but Hamas’s attempts to topple him.

Abbas’s position is actually fairly strong. He has no potential rivals in the West Bank and is no real danger. Still, in recent weeks, criticism against him from within his Fatah party and the PLO – or as Israelis call it, from ”inside the APC” – has reached unprecedented intensity. First was open conflict with the chairman of the Palestinian “Histadrut,” Bassem Zakarne of Fatah. Then there was a crisis with the CEO of the PLO workers’ committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was stripped of some of his authority. It continued with the declarations by Rajoub and Erekat, and then that pro-Dahlan demonstration in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, signs a request to join 15 United Nations-linked and other international treaties at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

This also connects to Wednesday’s submission of a draft resolution of Palestinian statehood to the UN Security Council. Within Fatah, more voices are being heard in recent weeks against what is perceived to be Abbas’s unduly accommodating line.

The movement’s hawkish camp does not accept the PA’s containment policy against Israel, especially after Abu Ein’s death and the confused moves surrounding the submission to the Security Council. Yes, on Wednesday the Jordanian-drafted resolution requesting recognition of a Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines within three years was finally submitted. But the fact that there was no date set for a vote caused a lot of discomfort among the Palestinian public and Fatah supporters. The vote on the resolution could be put off for many long weeks.

Longing for cement

“Oh cement, we miss you, dear. Without you we are broke, oh cement, you are always in our thoughts, we are the worker and the industrialist, no one asks us (without you).”

This song was written before this summer’s war in Gaza by the popular singer Islam Ayoub. Even after the conflict, the song remains relevant despite the start of the rehabilitation efforts, which remain extremely limited.

Ayoud released a song a few weeks ago about the lack of reconstruction in Gaza after the war. He sang it next to one of the UNWRA schools still packed with tens of thousands of internally displaced Gazans who lost their homes in the fighting.

Palestinian workers check bags of cement at a warehouse fitted with security cameras where UN monitors carry out periodic inspections to make sure the materials are not diverted by Hamas for military use, Shijaiyah neighborhood in Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Adel Hana)

According to the UN, over 108,000 homes were partially or completely damaged during the war. Some 20,000 were completely destroyed. In recent weeks, 9,200 of these homeowners received building materials to fix their homes, almost all of them partially damaged.

The big problem for Gaza residents, Hamas and the PA is that only a fraction of the donations secured to rebuild Gaza have been transferred to the PA so far. Even residents who could receive building materials that Israel transferred to the Strip, are prevented from doing so due to a severe money shortage. There is no one to pay the price of cement and iron needed to build a house.

This situation raises serious concerns among the Hamas leadership that hostility toward the organization in Gaza could grow. It also raises fears among Israeli decision-makers, who understand that if the rehabilitation of Gaza falters, it could result in a violent Hamas reaction.

Or, as Mahmoud a-Zahar said this week, “i’amer aw infajer” – that  is, “rehabilitation or explosion.”

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December 20, 2014 | Comments »

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