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Chaos in Gaza: Saving Fatah from the Palestinians


Israeli and other analysts and statesmen are finally coming to understand that the position of Mahmoud Abbas's moderate Fatah movement in Gaza is imperiled by the Islamist Hamas. The "democratically elected" Hamas faction has been democratically shooting at Fatah forces and has gradually pushed the Fatah out of most of Gaza.

In the latest round of fighting, Hamas won every round. Fatah is not losing for lack of arms or men, at least on paper. Hamas forces total about 5,000, while Fatah and the PNA supposedly have 70,000 men under arms. Fatah are well supplied with weapons by Egypt and the United States, while Hamas have to smuggle in their weapons through tunnels, supposedly. In fact however, Hamas simply hijacks arms shipments intended for Fatah. The hijackings just might be an inside job, since it turns out that the Fatah forces are riddled with Hamas and Islamic Jihad members. The rise of Hamas has finally gotten Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak worried. Mubarak has suddenly realized that the Hamas are not peace partners for Israel and more important for him, the rising radicalism in Gaza is allied to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and presents a threat to his regime.

An analysis in dovish Ha'aretz newspaper concludes that an Israeli invasion and reoccupation of Gaza is the only way to save the Fatah in Gaza, and Shimon Peres likewise offered Israeli help.

At the same time, Hamas has unleashed a wave of Qassam rocket attacks on Israel's Western Negev, hitting a high school and a house near the home of Defense Minister Peretz, and causing Israel to begin a "temporary" partial evacuation of Sderot, a town inside green line Israel. The new wave of attacks, writes Ynet commentator Ron Ben Yishai are due to the anarchy, and are an attempt by Hamas to mask its attacks on Fatah. The only solution, he believes, is Israeli reoccupation of Gaza, but the diplomatic front must be prepared first in international public opinion.

Thus, there is pressure for an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza from the right, to stop the Qassam rockets, and from the left, to save the Fatah. When left and right agree on policy in Israel, they are either very right or very wrong. In this case, they may be making several historic mistakes.

The first mistake is the idea that Israel can save Fatah. If Fatah, with all the aid that it gets, cannot defend its positions, then it is no longer a viable political force and it is not worth saving. It has apparently become a hopeless case like the Nationalist Chinese army of Chiang Kai Chek, the infamous ARVN - Army of the Republic of Vietnam, and the current Iraqi Army. It may be impossible to explain why and how armies and political movements disintegrate in this way, but the phenomenon should be well known and recognizable by now. If Fatah cannot save itself, nobody else can do it, and least of all Israel. Fatah "saved" by Israel would probably become a discredited Quisling movement. It could not make peace with Israel and could not keep order without Israeli occupation troops. The alternative outcome was illustrated in 1970, when Israel gave a haven to PLO terrorists escaping from Jordan. They went to Lebanon and formed the Black September movement. That is the logic of "resistance" movements. Israel should not have illusions that it can help Fatah. The fact that Shimon Peres supports this idea is hardly a recommendation.

The second mistake is to fail to consider the causes of the current chaos, and the necessary consequences they entail for any invasion and occupation of Gaza. It seems that nobody learned the lessons of Lebanon and of Iraq. On the one hand, many people pointed out that the Fatah and the PLO were creations of Yasser Arafat. They depended on his personality and dynamism to unite the Palestinian people. They are survivals of an earlier period of Arab nationalism and Soviet-sponsored national liberation movements. Originally created by Egypt, PLO was coopted by Arafat and his circle to become an FLN-style "liberation front." The Algerian FLN succeeded in overthrowing the French, but now it too is threatened by Islamist unrest. The Fatah and PLO are being vanquished before they ever achieved independence. Fatah and PLO are no longer politically viable.

On the other hand, constant internecine battles such as those raging now in Gaza with no real logic do not happen for no reason. Palestinians cannot be interested in tearing each other apart. The situation is reminiscent of the civil war in Lebanon and the Iraq nightmare. In each case there is a guiding hand or hands that encourage the violence for their own reasons. It is probably the same guiding hand. Gaza is ideally situated for anyone who wants to make trouble for Israel, Egypt and United States policy in the Middle East. Israeli soldiers in Gaza would be exactly where Syria and Iran want them.

At the same time, it is clear that the situation in Gaza cannot continue. Gazans cannot live in the chaos that is evolving there. People are caught in crossfire and afraid to leave their houses. Nor will a cease fire, if a real one is ever signed, bring much relief. Hamas and other extremist groups are imposing a wave of Islamist intolerance and terror on Gaza institutions and citizens, attacking Internet cafes, shooting up a UNRWA school because it supposedly was converting children to Christianity, and intimidating Christians and liberals. Left alone, that will be the future of Gaza.

Israelis cannot live with the terror of rockets in Sderot, which is quite real for Sderot residents. It is an issue that will certainly topple the Israeli government if it is not handled, but no good solutions are on offer for handling it. The logic of the political situation, rather than strategic considerations, are pushing Israel to what may be a very irresponsible, yet tragically unavoidable military adventure in Gaza, that may be worse than the one in Lebanon.

The Palestinian Authority and the Oslo process were based on the PLO, Fatah and Arafat, and born in the optimism of the early post-Soviet period, when anything seemed possible. Arafat is dead, and the PLO and Fatah are dying. It is totally vain to talk of any real peace process or negotiations at this point, because the "Palestinian peace partner" has no government and no leadership capable of keeping order and making agreements. Hamas has empowered Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate and get concessions from Israel, but will torpedo any agreement that is not to its liking. Abbas would be powerless to stop them. Israeli concessions must be offered, a framework for a peace agreement must be presented. However, it could only be implemented if and when there is a Palestinian government to implement it.

We must hope that in the fullness of time, a real Palestinian movement will arise, that is not a tool of foreign governments and foreign ideologies, that can stand up for legitimate Palestinian rights without the violence, demagoguery and rhetoric of the Arafat faction or the Islamists, and that can make peace with Israel on the basis of a realistic and humanitarian view of the conflict. Such a movement began to arise out of the first Intifada, until it was co-opted and diverted by the PLO and geopolitical concerns that are mostly irrelevant to the Palestinian cause and inimical to peace.

Meanwhile, to save Gaza and Palestinian society, someone will have to act against the forces that are tearing it apart, but no likely savior is in sight. It very probably too late to save the Palestinian authority and the peace process. It may be too late to save the Palestinian people.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000588.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 10 comments

So what can be done?

We can criticize Israel for contributing to the vacuum that enables the Hamas to rise and act, but this doesn't change the fact that Israelis are being attacked, and Israel must do something to defend them.

Should it agree to a ceasefire in the West Bank, or is the danger that he Hamas will rise there too great.

If there is no alternative, a military solution must be employed even if it is not perfect. The status quo is not acceptable.

If so, it seems doubtful that attacks from the air and artillery will be sufficient.We have seen that in Lebanon. So a ground assault is necessary. Hopefully the army is ready this time.

The goals must be realistic: to destroy as much as possible of the weapons in the hands of the Hamas, arrest as many of their operatives, gain better intelligence, hopefully discredit them in Gaza, try to get other forces to help rebuild afterwards, and do all that very quickly so as to avoid prolonged suffering and reduce the chance of a mistake resulting in civilian casualties.

At present I see no other choice, unless the threat of such an attack will be enough to reduce the flames before things worsen.

Any other solution? Even one that isn't perfect?

Posted by Micha @ 05/17/2007 06:59 PM CST

Surely the answer for the moment is for Israel to remain as calm as possible, where defensive counter strikes are deemed necessary make sure they are clearly targetted at the Palestinian armed forces.

It is not Israels business if the Palestinians choose to kill each other. Israel I believe has done what it could to limit the flow of weapons into Gaza.
All nations in their formative years resort to violence and when they get sick of the violence and suffering then they develop the means to live at peace with themselves and their neighbours. For most of us in the "West", our ancestors did all this killing stuff for us and we just inherited their values.

As some people like to draw comparisons with Ireland I shall do the same. It has taken the Irish about 3000 years to learn that violence only produces dead people. Peace is a wonderful thing but you can't rush into it without a full understanding of its value. The Palestinians have yet to work out its value for themselves yet. The Jews on the other hand have had a considerable headstart on most other nations in this learning process.
It's time to be calm, quiet and patient.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/17/2007 09:26 PM CST

"Surely the answer for the moment is for Israel to remain as calm as possible, where defensive counter strikes are deemed necessary make sure they are clearly targetted at the Palestinian armed forces."

The problem is that defensive counter measures don't seem to work, and the people living near Gaza cannot live with the daily attacks, even if there are no deaths so far.

If it weren't for that Israel could allow the Palestinians to continue fighting each other.

Posted by Micha @ 05/17/2007 09:37 PM CST

Does your comment mean that what the Israeli government is doing at present in response to the rocket attacks is merely intended to give the impression of activity rather than the pursuit of a meaningful objective?
Perhaps the only way to choke off the rocket attacks is to deny the Palestinians the means of manufacture. To do this of course would mean disabling electricity supply & generation facilities, preventing the import of metals and tooling, etc. This would impact on all Palestinians in Gaza and take some time to achieve as there must be stores of materials.
Of course the international community would howl if Israel attempted to destroy the Palestinians means to manufacture weapons.
Whatever route Israel takes, it will be damned for it.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/18/2007 11:11 AM CST

"Does your comment mean that what the Israeli government is doing at present in response to the rocket attacks is merely intended to give the impression of activity rather than the pursuit of a meaningful objective?"

I'm not sure. And even if they have a meaningful objective, I'm not sure they have the right strategy to achieve it. I'm just hoping the Israeli Army and government today are smarter than they were a year ago. But I'm not certain.

In any case, the job of the army and government at this stage is to find the best way to allow the people of Shderot to live their lives. At present it is hard to believe that there is a non military way that is a good way, although I'm not sure they looked.

Ami has listed in detail the flaws of any course of action. But we have no choice but to take an action. We cannot simply let things remain as they are. It is necessary to find the best but imperfect course of action in a very imperfect situation.

"Whatever route Israel takes, it will be damned for it."

True. And that is only one of the difficulties in dealing with the situation, but we must.

"Perhaps the only way to choke off the rocket attacks is to deny the Palestinians the means of manufacture. To do this of course would mean disabling electricity supply & generation facilities, preventing the import of metals and tooling, etc. This would impact on all Palestinians in Gaza and take some time to achieve as there must be stores of materials."

I don't think this method wil work while causing harm to civilians, and to Israel.

At present I have difficulty of finding any other method other than a ful scale invasion. Perhaps Israel should start mobilizing its reserves (also in case of escalation in the west bank), and hope that either the Palestinians or somebody else will act to prevent a full ground assault. But if they do not, we must be ready to do it, and this time do it right. Be prepared for their tactics. Harm them in a way that is clear and visible. We should do this even if afterwards they'll rebuild. The alternative -- letting them continue -- seems worse.

Posted by Micha @ 05/18/2007 05:47 PM CST

It seems to me that the Palestinians need to go trough the growing process described in the article.. learn to appreciate peace, learn to choose responsible leaders, and learn that alowing paramilitary forces ( i.e. what Hammas was before it became government.. or what seems today to be its military wing) can not lead them to a functioning society. They must have thought that it was very smart to keep such forces active to be able to play the double game.. have Abbas to negotiate concesions.. and Hammas and Islamic Jihad to continue to attack Israelis.. it seems now they must have learned that such tactics have a price....
Anyway as I said Israel should try to let them sort things out among themselves.... getting involved will only prevent the palestinians from lerning what they must.. it would be great to find some technical solution to the Kazzams... it would seem that even a temporary evacuation of Sderot does seem worth contemplating in this particular instance.. either that or some action that destroys their ability to make and fire rockets.. without sending troops into Gaza. Electricity cut-offs perhaps?

Posted by Daniel @ 05/19/2007 02:05 AM CST

what has happened to lebanon war man

Posted by eman.tellaoui @ 05/21/2007 07:10 AM CST

An alternative to the tit for tat fire that is currently happening might be a different approach.
1. Mass leaflet drops on Gaza explaining to the Palestinians what the short, medium and long term consequences of both Fatah's and Hamas' inept actions are.
2. Develop interactive game for PC in CD / DVD in which the player can explore the range of political options showing how violence will utlimately lead just to more violence and the destruction of Palestinian national ambitions. These games are very popular and very persuasive in other environments. These could be dropped on Gaza
3. An absolutely neutral radio / TV broadcast which features pro-peace Palestinians discussing the issues and the way forward to counteract the constant flow of pro-violence pro-hate propoganda.
4. Lots of information to the Palestinians linking the costs of the conflict to their falling standard of living. "1 bullet = so many loaves of bread" "The fighters eat while you starve".
5. Perhaps even use religion. If Muslims are Gods elect and the Jews Gods discarded, then why are is Allah letting the Jews beat the Muslims as if they were dogs? Can it be that Allah has chosen the Jews as a tool to punish Muslims for their trangressions, for the Wahabi perversion of Islam?
Perhaps this is being done already. Perhaps my ideas are naive. But it seems a better way than blowing up more people and creating more hatred on both sides.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/21/2007 10:44 PM CST

It was clear since many, many years ago that this was going to happen. Sharon should have delivered Gaza to PNA precisely to avoid this. He did not because he wants this to happen. Now is happening. Nothing can be done. The dice were cast long ago. The plan of Sharon was good and is working fine. Destruction and civil people dying was an accepted toll. Next part of the plan is an islamist Palestinian state is destroyed by Israel. Only people who want peace can see this as a problem. Wherever Sharon's soul is now, is probably congratulating himself. Mission accomplished.

Posted by Aleph @ 05/28/2007 03:41 PM CST

No matter what Sharon may have wished or not wished he could not create for the Palestinians an effective civilain government. IMO one of the biggest problems for the Palestinians has been that the "Friends of Palestine" have failed to provide constructive criticism about the way that they have been ordering their society. My recollection is that the first thing that the PNA did following its arrival in Jericho was to start building various security forces each effectively independent of each other. As time progressed and Arafat became frustrated with Israels attitudes in negotiations he authorised the deployment of the quasi-independent forces. But once of the bottle they were impossible to contain and they became the force which directed political developments. Instead of berating Arafat and this development, the Friends of Palestine sought to justify and legitimise the activities of these armed forces.
Ultimately if the Palestinians want peace they will have to disarm all these factions and bring all security forces under a single command subject to the control of the elected government. Personally I don't think they have the will to do it, so chaos will continue. Perhaps when they have spent all their moeny on bullets and are starving they will be driven to take action.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/29/2007 10:31 AM CST

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