Saturday, June 16, 2007

Gaza and the West Bank

Well, all the regional actors are behaving exceptionally well. Mahmoud Abbas, called upon to take charge by his fwend, Ehud Olmert, appoints a man much admired by the Bush administration as Prime Minister. Why is he much admired by the Bush administration? Could have something to do with him being a former World Bank executive. Fatah are making a big show of force in the West Bank, hunting down Hamas supporters and destroying a Hamas radio station. They also claim, without a trace of irony, that Hamas is being funded and armed by Israel. The latest news is that Fatah is planning an 'Iraq-style insurgency' against Hamas, and it is possible that a full-scale civil war will break out in the West Bank itself.

The EC are backing Abbas as "the legitimate president of all the Palestinians". The Arab League has condemned the 'crime' of stopping a coup. The old reliable Hashemite monarchy has thrown its weight behind Abbas before anyone even asked it to. And our despicable, utterly feckless foreign minister, has told the world that it is Hamas who led a coup d'etat, as if the whole world was somehow unaware that the putsch was coming down the US-Israeli pipeline. (Check out Tatchell's pathetic assessment too).

And yet. Fatah members are apparently really pissed off with Mahmoud Dahlan, as well they might be. One might expect that Dahlan's Washington handlers are also rather pissed off. Ian Black remarks, in an otherwise whinging report:

Hamas has crushed the hopes of the Bush administration that Fatah would be able to re-establish security control over Gaza, a long-standing Israeli condition for resuming negotiations. Washington had just launched a controversial $60m programme to bolster Mr Abbas's presidential guard and Israel had quietly allowed Arab states to send in arms and ammunition.

Israel's behaviour has been intriguing. On the one hand, they have helped Fatah move arms and troops through the West Bank when it wanted to. On the other, they have continued anti-Fatah raids, killing their activists in the West Bank and so on. In other words, they want the Fatah leadership to do their dirty work for now, but they do not want to see a confident, militant Hamas movement replaced by a confident, militant Fatah one.

Washington's strategy appears to be to drive as big a wedge between Gaza and the West Bank as possible. It is promising to bolster Fatah, partly by easing the cruel blockade that they have imposed on Palestine ever since the election of Hamas. There is nothing exactly new in relying on starvation and terror to overthrow elected governments you don't like. However, it is now apparent that part of the aim is itself to keep Gaza and the West Bank separate. A recent report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs argues strongly against linking the West Bank and Gaza, saying it would be 'dangerous' for Israel and that Gaza could yet be a good little earner: with rich gas reserves, the author remarks, it could be 'another Qatar'. Of course, since Israel is busily colonising the West Bank so that most of it will effectively be under the control of the IDF, and not Fatah, this is a strategy for fragmentation and confinement until the very idea of Palestinian statehood is destroyed.

Hamas, for their part, have given an amnesty in Gaza. They have also said they're willing to work with the Fatah leadership, despite their elected PM having been overthrown in an Abbas-led coup in the West Bank. A new unity government is an urgent task of the Palestinian resistance, because as militarily weak and economically marginalised as the Palestinians are, they don't stand a chance divided. It goes without saying that Abbas hasn't had any credibility for a long time, and having allowed Dahlan to organise months of thuggery under his watch, he hasn't really a shred of an excuse left. Both Galloway and Rifkind agree that Marwan Barghouti is the likely peacemaker in all of this, but there is little chance that Israel is going to release him. Yet, if there is growing discontent amid Fatah ranks, there is certainly the possibility of isolating the hopeless leadership and its security apparatus, and making a peace that way.