I was intending to write and post an analysis of my own about why, really, Hamas decided to go to war with elements of Fatah in Gaza; but there are two articles by others which I think are as close to the truth – perhaps I should say facts of the matter – as one can get so close in time to the events.
I am reproducing both of these articles below, and as a sort of introduction to them I’ll say only this. The arrogance of Western policy and power in general, and American support for the Zionist state of Israel right or wrong, are the prime causes of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism including the growth of violent Islamic fundamentalism.
A SETBACK FOR THE BUSH DOCTRINE IN GAZA
By Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 14 June 2007
The dramatic rout of the US and Israeli-backed Palestinian militias in Gaza by forces loyal to Hamas represents a major setback to the Bush doctrine in Palestine.
Ever since Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in the occupied territories in January 2006, elements of the leadership of the long-dominant Fatah movement, including Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas
and his advisors, have conspired with Israel, the United States and the intelligence services of several Arab states to overthrow and weaken Hamas. This support has included funneling weapons and tens of millions of dollars to unaccountable militias, particularly the “Preventive Security Force” headed by Gaza warlord Mohammad Dahlan, a close ally of Israel and the United States and the Abbas-affiliated “Presidential Guard.” US Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams — who helped divert money to the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s and who was convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal — has spearheaded the effort to set up these Palestinian Contras. (This background has been extensively detailed in a number of articles published by The Electronic Intifada in recent months). Abrams is also notorious for helping to cover up massacres and atrocities committed against civilians in El Salvador by US-backed militias and death squads.
Two recent revelations underscore the extent of the conspiracy.
On 7 June, Ha’aretz reported that “senior Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip have asked Israel to allow them to receive large shipments of arms and ammunition from Arab countries, including Egypt.” According to the Israeli newspaper, Fatah asked Israel for “armored cars, hundreds of armor-piercing RPG rockets, thousands of hand grenades and millions of rounds of ammunition for small caliber weapons,” all to be used against Hamas.
From the moment of its election victory, Hamas acted pragmatically and with the intent to integrate itself into the existing political structure. It had observed for over a year a unilateral cease fire with Israel and had halted the suicide attacks on Israeli civilians that had made it notorious. In a leaked confidential memo written in May and published by The Guardian this week, senior UN envoy Alvaro de Soto confirmed that it was under pressure from the United States that Abbas refused Hamas’ initial invitation to form a “national unity government.” De Soto details that Abbas advisers actively aided and abetted the Israeli-US-European Union aid cut-off and siege of the Palestinians under occupation, which led to massively increased poverty for millions of people. These advisors engaged with the United States in a “plot” to “bring about the untimely demise of the [Palestinian Authority] government led by Hamas,” de Soto wrote.
Despite a bloody attempted coup against Hamas by the Dahlan-led forces in December and January, Hamas still agreed to join a “National Unity Government” with Fatah brokered by Saudi Arabia at the Mecca summit. Dahlan and Abbas’ advisers were determined to sabotage this, continuing to amass weapons, and refusing to place their militias under the control of a neutral interior minister who eventually resigned in frustration.
A setback for United States and Israel
The core of US strategy in the Southwest and Central Asia, particularly Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon is to establish puppet regimes that will fight America’s enemies on its behalf. This strategy seems to be failing everywhere. The Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan. Despite its “surge” the US is no closer to putting down the resistance in Iraq and cannot even trust the Iraqi army it helped set up. The Lebanese army, which the US hopes to bolster as a counterweight to Hizballah, has performed poorly against a few hundred foreign fighters holed up in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp (although it has caused death and devastation to many innocent Palestinian refugees). Now in Gaza, the latest blow.
Israel’s policy is a local version of the US strategy — and it has also been tried and failed. For over two decades Israel relied on a proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army, to help it enforce the occupation of southern Lebanon. In 2000, as Israeli forces hastily withdrew, this militia collapsed just as quickly as Dahlan’s forces and many of its members fled to Israel. Hamas is now referring to the rout of Dahlan’s forces as a “second liberation of Gaza.”
A consistent element of Israeli strategy has been to attempt to circumvent Palestinian resistance by trying to create quisling leaderships. Into the 1970s, Israel still saw the PLO as representing true resistance. So it set up the collaborationist “village leagues” in the West Bank as an alternative. In 1976, it allowed municipal elections in the West Bank in an effort to give this alternative leadership some legitimacy. When PLO-affiliated candidates swept the board, Israel began to assassinate the PLO mayors with car bombs or force them into exile. Once some exiled PLO leaders, most notably Yasser Arafat, became willing subcontractors of the occupation (an arrangement formalized by the Oslo Accords), a new resistance force emerged in the form of Hamas. Israeli efforts to back Dahlan and Abbas, Arafat’s successor, as quisling alternatives have now backfired spectacularly.
In the wake of the Fatah collapse in Gaza, Ha’aretz reported that Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert will advise President Bush that Gaza must be isolated from the West Bank. This can be seen as an attempt to shore up Abbas whose survival Israel sees as essential to maintaining the fiction that it does not directly rule millions of disenfranchised Palestinians. A total collapse of the Palestinian Authority would expose Israel’s legal obligation, as the occupying power, to provide for the welfare of the Palestinians it rules.
What now for the Palestinian under occupation?
Abbas has declared a “state of emergency” and dismissed Ismail Haniyeh the Hamas prime minister as well as the “national unity government.” The “state of emergency” is merely rhetorical. Whatever control he had in Gaza is gone and Israel is in complete control of the West Bank anyway.
Haniyeh in a speech this evening carried live on Al-Jazeera rejected Abbas’ “hasty” moves and alleged that they were the result of pressure from abroad. He issued 16 points, among them that the “unity government” represented the will of 96 percent of Palestinians under occupation freely expressed at the ballot box. He reaffirmed his movement’s commitment to democracy and the existing political system and that Hamas would not impose changes on people’s way of life. Haniyeh said the government would continue to function, would restore law and order and reaffirm Hamas’ commitment to national unity and the Mecca agreement. He called on all Hamas members to observe a general amnesty assuring any captured fighters of their safety (this followed media reports of a handful of summary executions of Fatah fighters). He also emphasized that Hamas’ fight was not with Fatah as a whole, but only with those elements who had been actively collaborating — a clear allusion to Dahlan and other Abbas advisors. He portrayed Hamas’ takeover as a last resort in the wake of escalating lawlessness and coup attempts by collaborators, listing many alleged crimes that had finally caused Hamas’ patience to snap. Haniyeh emphasized the unity of Gaza and the West Bank as “inseparable parts of the Palestinian nation,” and he repeated a call for the captors of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston to free him immediately.
The contrast between Abbas’ action and the Hamas response is striking. Abbas, perhaps pushed by the same coterie of advisors, seems to be escalating the confrontation and doing so when there is no reason to believe he can prevail. Hamas, while standing firm and from a position of strength, spoke in a language of conciliation, emphasizing time and again that Hamas has a problem with only a small group within Fatah, not its rank and file. Abbas, Dahlan and their backers must be surveying a sobering scene — they may be tempted to try to take on Hamas in the West Bank, but the scale of their defeat in Gaza would have to give them pause.
Both leaderships are hemmed in. Abbas appears to be entirely dependent on foreign and Israeli support and unable to take decisions independent of a corrupt, self-serving clique. Hamas, whatever intentions it has is likely to find itself under an even tighter siege in Gaza.
Abbas, backed by Israel and the US, has called for a multinational force in Gaza. Hamas has rejected this, saying it would be viewed as an “occupying force.” Indeed, they have reason to be suspicious: for decades Israel and the US blocked calls for an international protection force for Palestinians. The multinational force, Hamas fears, would not be there to protect Palestinians from their Israeli occupiers, but to perform the proxy role of protecting Israel’s interests that Dahlan’s forces are longer able to carry out and to counter the resistance — just as the multinational force was supposed to do in Lebanon after the July 2006 war.
Wise leaders in Israel and the United States would recognize that Hamas is not a passing phenomenon, and that they can never create puppet leaders who will be able to compete against a popular resistance movement. But there are no signs of wisdom: the US has now asked Israel to “loosen its grip” in the West Bank to try to give Abbas a boost. Although the Bush doctrine has suffered a blow, the Palestinian people have not won any great victory. The sordid game at their expense continues.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.
By Uri Avnery
WHAT HAPPENS when one and a half million human beings are imprisoned in a tiny, arid territory, cut off from their compatriots and from any contact with the outside world, starved by an economic blockade and unable to feed their families?
Some months ago, I described this situation as a sociological experiment set up by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The population of the Gaza Strip as guinea pigs.
This week, the experiment showed results. They proved that human beings react exactly like other animals: when too many of them are crowded into a small area in miserable conditions, they become aggressive, and even murderous. The organizers of the experiment in Jerusalem, Washington, Berlin, Oslo, Ottawa and other capitals could rub their hands in satisfaction. The subjects of the experiment reacted as foreseen. Many of them even died in the interests of science.
But the experiment is not yet over. The scientists want to know what happens if the blockade is tightened still further.
WHAT HAS caused the present explosion in the Gaza Strip?
The timing of Hamas’s decision to take over the Strip by force was not accidental. Hamas had many good reasons to avoid it. The organization is unable to feed the population. It has no interest in provoking the Egyptian regime, which is busy fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother-organization of Hamas. Also, the organization has no interest in providing Israel with a pretext for tightening the blockade.
But the Hamas leaders decided that they had no alternative but to destroy the armed organizations that are tied to Fatah and take their orders from President Mahmoud Abbas. The US has ordered Israel to supply these organizations with large quantities of weapons, in order to enable them to fight Hamas. The Israeli army chiefs did not like the idea, fearing that the arms might end up in the hands of Hamas (as is actually happening now). But our government obeyed American orders, as usual.
The American aim is clear. President Bush has chosen a local leader for every Muslim country, who will rule it under American protection and follow American orders. In Iraq, in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, and also in Palestine.
Hamas believes that the man marked for this job in Gaza is Mohammed Dahlan. For years it has looked as if he was being groomed for this position. The American and Israeli media have been singing his praises, describing him as a strong, determined leader, “moderate” (i.e. obedient to American orders) and “pragmatic” (i.e. obedient to Israeli orders). And the more the Americans and Israelis lauded Dahlan, the more they undermined his standing among the Palestinians. Especially as Dahlan was away in Cairo, as if waiting for his men to receive the promised arms.
In the eyes of Hamas, the attack on the Fatah strongholds i
n the Gaza Strip is a preventive war. The organizations of Abbas and Dahlan melted like snow in the Palestinian sun. Hamas has easily taken over the whole Gaza Strip.
How could the American and Israeli generals miscalculate so badly? They are able to think only in strictly military terms: so-and-so many soldiers, so-and-so many machine guns. But in interior struggles in particular, quantitative calculations are secondary. The morale of the fighters and public sentiment are far more important. The members of the Fatah organizations do not know what they are fighting for. The Gaza population supports Hamas, because they believe that it is fighting the Israeli occupier. Their opponents look like collaborators of the occupation. The American statements about their intention of arming them with Israeli weapons have finally condemned them.
That is not a matter of Islamic fundamentalism. In this respect all nations are the same: they hate collaborators of a foreign occupier, whether they are Norwegian (Quisling), French (Petain) or Palestinian.
IN WASHINGTON and Jerusalem, politicians are bemoaning the “weakness of Mahmoud Abbas”.
They see now that the only person who could prevent anarchy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank was Yasser Arafat. He had a natural authority. The masses adored him. Even his adversaries, like Hamas, respected him. He created several security apparatuses that competed with each other, in order to prevent any single apparatus from carrying out a coup-d’etat. Arafat was able to negotiate, sign a peace agreement and get his people to accept it.
But Arafat was pilloried by Israel as a monster, imprisoned in the Mukata’ah and, in the end, murdered. The Palestinian public elected Mahmoud Abbas as his successor, hoping that he would get from the Americans and the Israelis what they had refused to give to Arafat.
If the leaders in Washington and Jerusalem had indeed been interested in peace, they would have hastened to sign a peace agreement with Abbas, who had declared that he was ready to accept the same far-reaching compromise as Arafat. The Americans and the Israelis heaped on him all conceivable praise and rebuffed him on every concrete issue.
They did not allow Abbas even the slightest and most miserable achievement. Ariel Sharon plucked his feathers and then sneered at him as “a featherless chicken”. After the Palestinian public had patiently waited in vain for Bush to move, it voted for Hamas, in the desperate hope of achieving by violence what Abbas has been unable to achieve by diplomacy.
The Israeli leaders, both military and political, were overjoyed. They were interested in undermining Abbas, because he enjoyed Bush’s confidence and because his stated position made it harder to justify their refusal to enter substantive negotiations. They did everything to demolish Fatah. To ensure this, they arrested Marwan Barghouti, the only person capable of keeping Fatah together.
The victory of Hamas suited their aims completely. With Hamas one does not have to talk, to offer withdrawal from the occupied territories and the dismantling of settlements. Hamas is that contemporary monster, a “terrorist” organization, and with terrorists there is nothing to discuss.
SO WHY were people in Jerusalem not satisfied this week? And why did they decide “not to interfere”?
True, the media and the politicians, who have helped for years to incite the Palestinian organizations against each other, showed their satisfaction and boasted “we told you so”. Look how the Arabs kill each other. Ehud Barak was right, when he said years ago that our country is “a villa in the jungle”.
But behind the scenes, voices of embarrassment, even anxiety, could be heard.
The turning of the Gaza Strip into Hamastan has created a situation for which our leaders were not ready. What to do now? To cut off Gazaaltogether and let the people there starve to death? To establish contacts with Hamas? To occupy Gazaagain, now that it has become one big tank trap? To ask the UN to station international troops there – and if so, how many countries would be crazy enough to risk their soldiers in this hell?
Our government has worked for years to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal from the occupied territories and the settlements there. Now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory.
They comfort themselves with the thought that it cannot happen in the West Bank. There, Fatah reigns. There Hamas has no foothold. There our army has already arrested most of Hamas’ political leaders. There Abbas is still in power.
Thus speak the generals, with the generals’ logic. But in the West Bank, too, Hamas did win a majority in the last elections. There, too, it is only a matter of time before the population loses its patience. They see the expansion of the settlements, the Wall, the incursions of our army, the targeted assassinations, the nightly arrests. They will explode.
Successive Israeli governments have destroyed Fatah systematically, cut off the feet of Abbas and prepared the way for Hamas. They can’t pretend to be surprised.
WHAT TO DO? To go on boycotting Abbas or to provide him with arms, to enable him to fight for us against Hamas? To go on depriving him of any political achievement or to throw him some crumbs at long last? And anyway, isn’t it too late?
(And on the Syrian front: to go on paying lip service to peace while sabotaging all the efforts of Bashar Assad to start negotiations? To negotiate secretly, despite American objections? Or continue doing nothing at all?)
At present, there is no policy, and no government which could determine a policy.
So who will save us? Ehud Barak?
Barak’s victory in this week’s Labor Party leadership run-off has turned him almost automatically into the next Minister of Defence. His strong personality and his experience as Chief of Staff and Prime Minister assure him of a dominant position in the restructured government. Olmert will deal with the area in which he is an unmatched master – party machinations. But Barak will have a decisive influence on policy.
In the government of the two Ehuds, Ehud Barak will decide on matters of war and peace.
Until now, practically all his actions have had negative results. He came very close to an agreement with Assad the father and escaped at the last moment. He withdrew the Israeli army from South Lebanon, but without speaking with Hizbullah, which took over. He compelled Arafat to come to Camp David, insulted him there and declared that we have no partner for peace. This dealt a death blow to the chances of peace, a blow which still paralyzes the Israeli public. He has boasted that his real intention was to “unmask” Arafat. He was more of a failed Napoleon than an Israeli de Gaulle.
Will the Ethiopian change his skin, the leopard his spots? Hard to believe.
IN THE dramas of William Shakespeare, there is frequently a comic interlude at tense moments. And not only there.
Shimon Peres, the person who in 55 years of political activity had never won an election, did the impossible this week: he got elected President of Israel.
Many years ago, I entitled an article about him “Mr. Sisyphus”, because again and again he had almost reached the threshold of success, and success had evaded him. Now he might feel like thumbing his nose at the gods after reaching the summit, but – alas – without the boulder. The office of the president is devoid of content and jurisdiction. A hollow politician in a hollow position.
Now everybody expects a flurry of activity at the president’s palace. There will certainly be peace conferences, meetings of personalities, high-sounding declarations and illustrious plans. In short – much ado about nothing.
The practical result is that Olmert’s position has been strengthened. He has succeeded in installing Peres in the President’s office and Barak in the Ministry of Defence. In the short term, Olmert’s position is assured.
And in the meantime, the experiment in Gaza continues, Hamas is taking over and the trio – Ehud 1, Ehud 2 and Shimon Peres are shedding crocodile tears.