Hamas Consolidates; Fatah Disoriented

Hamas is beginning to translate its military victory into political achievements. Fatah meanwhile has been unable to unify its ranks, amass political support or consolidate a political agenda.

Despite Hamas' unequivocal victory in Gaza, the movement feared its victory might become its undoing. First, Hamas now had responsibility for taking care of the welfare of Gaza's residents. Second, the sharp criticism from the international community and Arab States following its takeover, coupled with the return of Egypt's security delegation to Cairo, threatened to isolate Hamas. Finally, the movement's actions seemingly allowed Abu Mazen to dissociate from Hamas and move forward with Israel on the political path.

It seemed that the physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank had allowed Israel and the US to overcome the 'Hamas stumbling block' by passing full responsibility for Gaza's residents to Hamas and reviving political cooperation with Fatah.

However, a month later, it seems that Hamas has succeeded in establishing control in Gaza and is beginning to translate its military achievements into political gains.

At the same time, Fatah has been unsuccessful in unifying its ranks, amassing popular support and consolidating a political agenda vis-à-vis
Israel.

This issue of 'Reviews' provides several events and quotes demonstrating the development of these trends in internal Palestinian politics.


Hamas is Consolidating Control in Gaza

Despite the initial harsh reactions by the international community and Arab states to Hamas' takeover, Hamas has succeeded in repairing its relations with Arab and international actors, regaining popular support and returning order to the Strip.

Despite the collapse of the Rafah Agreement, Israel and the international community have been unable to hermetically close the Gaza crossings.

Hamas Succeeding in Imposing Quiet

One month after it took control over Gaza, Hamas has imposed quiet and even established relative normalcy in light of the continuing humanitarian aid to its residents. Hamas has succeeded in overpowering the many different PA security organizations and has created one official authority. Even Gaza's armed militias accept Hamas position and are not challenging its control.

  • Hamas re-deployed the regular Palestinian police force - the "blue" police - on the streets of Gaza in order to fight against the anarchy that previously prevailed there (Ha'aretz, 7/2/07) and have arrested Fatah members (Reuters, 7/7/07).

  • In opposition to the orders of Abu Mazen, some 150 members of the National Security organization, originally a Fatah-affiliated group, together with some volunteers, were deployed along the Philadelphi Route, along the Gaza-Egypt frontier "to keep order" (Ha'aretz, 7/2/07).

  • The release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston from the 'Army of Islam' (Dogmush Clan) and the return of the lioness stolen from Gaza's zoo two years ago by one of the clans demonstrate Hamas' willingness to confront the clans in order to impose quiet in Gaza.

    In this context, Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook explained in a letter published in an American newspaper that Hamas "did not deliver up Alan Johnston as some obsequious boon to Western powers…It was done as part of our effort to secure Gaza from the lawlessness of militias and violence, no matter what the source." (LA Times, 7/10/07).

  • Despite the effective cancellation of the Rafah agreement and the closure of the Rafah crossing in light of Hamas' take over in Gaza, Israel and the UN are continuing to deliver humanitarian aid to the Strip. (Jerusalem Post, 7/10/07).

The Arab World 'Returning' Back to Hamas

The Arab League severely censured Hamas after its Gaza take over while its Secretary General Amr Moussa announced the organization's support for Abu Mazen. Moussa also called on Hamas to return the situation to the status quo ante.

Hamas' most significant political blow came with the Egyptian decision to move its representative from Gaza to Ramallah. The Egyptian delegation had played an important role in internal Palestinian politics by acting as a mediator in contacts between Fatah, Hamas and Israel on the Shalit prisoner issue.

Egypt also called on the Palestinians to coalesce behind the legitimate leadership of the PLO and Abu Mazen (
United Press International, 6/19/07).

A month after these events, the Arab states are now looking for the way back to conducting direct dialogue with the 'landlord' of Gaza.

  • Egypt announced its intention to return its security delegation to Gaza with the aim of continuing its mediating efforts between Fatah and Hamas (NRG 7/5/07).

  • An Arab League delegation is trying to mediate between Hamas and Fatah. The delegation met in Damascus with the Head of Hamas' Political wing, Khaled Mashal and with Abu Mazen in Amman. (Al-Ayyam 7/8/07).

Fatah is Wallowing in the Mud

Despite the establishment of Salam Fayyad's emergency government and Abu Mazen's efforts, Fatah has shown no genuine signs of potential partnership with Israel on the political process.

The factors preventing Abu Mazen from establishing his control in the West Bank are: 1) Internal divisions within Fatah's ranks; 2) Involvement of some Fatah factions in terrorism, such as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades; 3) Absence of any clear and agreed social, economic or political agenda able to unify the party; 4) Hamas' popularity in the West Bank, as demonstrated by the results of the most recent PLC elections and 5) Increase in the number of security organizations that are unable to cooperate with one another (See Is Fatah the 'Address' in the West Bank?).

Unimplemented Presidential Decrees

In light of Hamas' take over in Gaza (6/07), President Abu Mazen used his authority to decree a State of Emergency and issued a Presidential Decree (in the PA) to establish an emergency government. Through a number of further Presidential Decrees, Abu Mazen attempted to establish Fatah's dominance in the West Bank and restrict Hamas' actions. However, only some of these decrees were implemented.

  • Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Brigades announced that they reject the Presidential Decree calling on them to dissolve and disarm (Maan, 6/28/07).

  • In light of internal Palestinian criticism, Abu Mazen was forced to cancel the Presidential Decree that expanded the authorities of the military courts in a State of Emergency. (Maan 7/11/07)

Internal Criticism over Abu Mazen's Legislative Actions

Criticism over dissolving the Hamas government, establishing the emergency government and issuing Presidential decrees to consolidate Fatah's control in the West Bank have not just been heard from within the ranks of Hamas. Recently, intellectuals, jurists and Palestinians NGOs have also joined the array of criticism over Abu Mazen's actions:

  • The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) expressed its utmost concern over the latest Presidential Decree concerning the military judiciary under the state of emergency saying "This latest decree, which has been the most breakneck in a series of Presidential Decrees issued in the context of the State of Emergency, is a prescription for the destruction of the judicial authority and the civil life towards (…) the enforcement of a military dictatorship. (PCHR, 7/10/07).

  • Anis al-Qasem and Eugene Cotran, two of the senior lawyers who drafted the Basic Law more than a decade ago, said that the law did not allow Abu Mazen to appoint a new government without parliamentary approval (Al-Jazeera, 7/8/07).

Fatah Remains Divided

Since Hamas' take over of Gaza, calls in Fatah to unify its ranks grew and it seemed that the movement's determination to confront Hamas would override its internal divisions. However, Fatah has apparently been unsuccessful:

  • Abu Mazen was forced to sack his senior political advisor and member of Fatah's Central Committee, Hani al-Hassan, after he claimed that events in Gaza signaled a defeat of plans by American Major General Keith Dayton and his collaborator Fatah followers who were serving American and Israeli interests (YNET, 6/28/07).

  • The Al Aqsa Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah movement, demanded that Abu Mazen remove Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad from his post following Fayyad's statements that he would not allow the existence of “armed militias” in the Palestinian territories (IMEMC, 7/6/07).

  • The leader of the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Brigades in Nablus, along with several other Brigades members, submitted their resignation from the security forces as a result of what they called "internal differences" (Maan, 7/6/07).