The Israeli state, with the backing of its imperialist masters, namely US, Britain and the EU, has in recent months commenced a fresh assault on the Palestinian people, aimed at splitting their movement and degenerating the just Palestinian struggle into civil war.
At a time when the Palestinians are weakened following the five month assault on the Gaza strip in retaliation for the capture of Israeli soldier Galil Shalit, and almost 12 months of economic and financial sanctions imposed following the election of the Hamas government, Israel is seeking to exploit and deepen political differences within the Palestinian movement.
To an extent they have been successful and from November 2006 to January 2007 the Palestinian movement faced serious setbacks in the form of internal conflicts which resulted in violent clashes on the streets between different factions. However, there is good reason to remain confident that the Palestinian people will overcome this further obstacle in their path and, united, keep their eyes focussed on the goal of achieving a viable and peaceful Palestinian state.
Attempts to undermine the democratically elected government
A landslide election victory brought Hamas to government in March 2006, demonstrating the determination of the Palestinian people to continue to resist, by force where necessary, Zionist occupation and the genocide of the Palestinian people. Refusing to uphold the practice of democracy where it conflicts with their own interests, Israel and its imperialist backers have been working since that time to bring about the downfall of the government. International donors, including US, Britain and the EU have suspended or cancelled grants of aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Palestine. Israel has stopped the transfer of customs revenue collected on the Palestinians’ behalf, worth $660 million in January 2007. Palestine is under siege.
As a condition for lifting the sanctions, Israel and its backers require the Palestinian people to renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by past Israel/Palestine accords.
The consequence of the position adopted by the foreign donors and Israel has meant harsh collective punishment for the Palestinian people. Without funds, Hamas has been unable fully to implement the social justice agenda which is the basis of its popularity, or effectively administer Palestinian affairs. It has been unable to pay full wages to the 165,000 civil servants in its employ.
This situation is clearly a deliberate policy of Israel and its imperialist backers, aimed at blackmailing the Palestinian people into renouncing their leadership and giving up the armed struggle. In the words of the Hamas Prime Minister, Haniya, “The statistics reflect the destructive consequences of the economic sanctions imposed upon the Palestinian people since the elections as well as the suspension of aid that used to come from the EU and others. This is evidence that the money which used to come was politicised. When they realised that these political demands and aims were unattainable through the government, they tried to stop the flow of money and tried to bring down this government” (‘Haniya accused Abbas over deadlock’ Aljazeera 3 December 2006.)
Unfortunately, while the truth of the above statement is plain to see, certain sections of the Palestinian leadership, including in particular the President Abbas and his Fatah party, have been willing to do the bidding of Israel by heaping criticisms and pressure on the Hamas government, holding it responsible for failures in its administration. This pressure has included calls for the resignation of the government, a strike of civil servants led by their Fatah dominated union, and President Abbas’ call for early presidential and parliamentary elections, to take place in June 2007; a move which Hamas has correctly condemned as unlawful, divisive and an extremely dangerous move with the potential to spark a civil war.
Throughout November 2006 – January 2007, the tensions erupted into violent clashes on the streets between Hamas and Fatah forces. Among numerous incidents, Hamas accused Fatah of being behind an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Haniya. Fatah accused Hamas of the murder of 3 children of a high-profile Fatah-linked Palestinian intelligence offer. Hamas accused Fatah of the assassination of a high- profile Hamas Judge. On 16 December 2006 Fatah security forces opened fire on a Hamas rally. All of these acts have been condemned by the leadership of both organisations who have appealed for calm.
The crisis prompted Hamas PM, Haniya to return from a tour of Arab states where he had been collecting much needed funds. In a statement, Haniya said “we don’t have time for internal feuds, we will protect the national unity of the Palestinian people and we will thwart any attempt to instigate an inter-Palestinian struggle”. (‘Gaza crisis prompts Haniya return’ Aljazeera 13 December 2006).
Every attempt was made to quell the internal violence and terms of a ceasefire were agreed on 17 December 2006, with each side agreeing to end confrontations, withdraw guns and fighters from the streets, end incitement through the media, end demonstrations and rallies, and hold a meeting between the leadership to discuss the formation of a national unity government (‘Hamas and Fatah in ceasefire deal’ Aljazeera 17 December 2006).
During the internal fighting between December and January 2007 it was reported that 90 Palestinian lives had been lost (Aljazeera 9 February 2007).
Israel seeks to exploit and widen political differences
With the economy in disarray and internal conflicts threatening to spill over into civil war, Israel, heavily prompted by the US and other imperialist states, sought to exploit the perceived split between Hamas and Fatah, by bolstering Abbas’ position. In Abbas, the US and Israel claim to have found a leader they are prepared to negotiate with. Bypassing the Hamas government, Israel and the US have sought at least to give the impression that gains can be made for the Palestinian people if they drop Hamas and give up the armed struggle.
Following Abbas’ December announcement of early elections, Tony Blair said that it was “critical that the international community support Abbas in the coming weeks”. (‘Abbas to continue election push’ Aljazeera 18 December 2006).
During the most intense period of the internal crisis, Israel made various overtures towards negotiation. On 28 November 2006 Israeli prime minister, Olmert placed on the table a “Palestinian state”, release of funds and freedom for Palestinian prisoners if the Palestinian people “chose a path of peace”. (‘Abbas commends Olmert peace offer’ Aljazeera 28 November 2006).
On 15 January 2007 Olmert and Condolezza Rice called a peace summit offering a Palestinian state on “temporary borders” in line with the barrier wall being constructed by Israel in breach of international law. Aljazeera commented “Rice has been pushing Olmert to take steps which could help bolster the Fatah aligned Palestinian president in its power struggle with ‘conservative’ Hamas which controls government” (‘Olmert and Rice call peace summit’ Aljazeera 15. January 2007). The offer was rejected by Abbas.
Rice also indicated she would seek congress approval for $86.4 millions of dollars to be given to Abbas to strengthen Fatah security forces. According to a report from Aljazeera, this money was originally earmarked for US aid programs in Gaza and the West Bank, those projects were “cancelled or suspended” when Hamas took power (‘US funds Fatah force expansion’ Aljazeera 5 January 2007).
Also on 19 January 2007 Israel announced it would release $100 million of withheld funds due to Palestine, to Abbas, to be used for “humanitarian purposes and strengthening Abbas’ presidential guard”. The move was criticised by Hamas officials who said “the dangerous thing about what happened was first that it bypassed the Palestinian legitimate government and the ministry of finance and second it has given the occupation the right to determine where the money should go” (‘Israel released Palestinian Funds’ Aljazeera 19 January 2007). Clearly money is available where it may serve the interests of Israel by fanning tensions and putting one section of the leadership against the other.
The Hamas leader Meshaal condemned imperialist meddling in internal Palestinian affairs in this manner “this external interference in the internal Palestinian affairs is pouring fuel on the fire and pushing political differences to feed conflict and internal struggle”. (‘Talks on with Fatah says Hamas’ Aljazeera 10 January 2007).
Efforts of the occupiers to split the Palestinian struggle by manipulating certain sections of the movement are bound to fail. The Palestinians have shown their tenacity in resisting these tactics over the length of their struggle. In the same way that Israel was unable to weaken the Palestinian struggle by supporting Hamas during the 1970s and 1980s as a counterweight to the secular PLO, at a time when Hamas was not perceived as a threat, offering financial assistance and incentives to Fatah is unlikely to reap the benefits Israel hopes for. The national interests of the Palestinian people remain unchanged and will be pursued in whatever form or through whatever channel is expedient at any point in time. Through overtly favouring Fatah, the Israeli government only plays into the hands of Hamas. To the extent that Abbas or Fatah is alienated from the Palestinian people through bowing to Israeli demands, they will not be able to negotiate or reach any deal that has the support of the Palestinian people and leads to lasting peace.
Renewed efforts at unity reap historic rewards
The Palestinian leadership proved equal to the task of stemming the internal conflicts between Palestinian factions, following negotiations in February 2007 which resulted in the formation of a unity government, aimed at removing any justification for a continuation of the sanctions and presenting a united front in advancement of the Palestinian struggle.
In entering renewed negotiations Hamas leader Meshaal commented “we have no option but to agree”. The resulting agreement is a reflection of the understanding reached that the primary objective of the national unity government must be to achieve Palestinian unity and stability, rather than to bow to pressure from Israel and the imperialist backers to meet objectives defined by them.
Accordingly, Hamas agreed to “respect” past accords reached between Israel and Palestine (including implicitly the previous formal recognition of Israel), and a new cabinet was formed, of which Haniya will remain prime minister, made up of nine representatives from Hamas, six from Fatah, four seats to other Palestinian organisations, and remaining seats to independents, including the important seats of internal affairs, foreign affairs and finance – a move calculated to make it more difficult for the occupiers to continue sanctions on the basis that money was going to Hamas.
The agreement was celebrated throughout Gaza and the West Bank, demonstrating that the unity reached is in accordance with the will of the people.
In a statement published in The Guardian on 13 February 2007, Hamas leader Meshaal, said “A historic new phase in the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence has begun. Last week’s Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah will pave the way for the first ever truly Palestinian national unity government. Hamas and Fatah, joined by all the other Palestinian factions, will now seek to rebuild Palestinian society following the destruction brought upon it by Israeli occupation and resume the campaign for our national rights.
“We are determined to make sure that the recent internal fighting, which appalled our people and dismayed our supporters around the world becomes history. We firmly believe that it would never have happened had it not been for foreign intervention and the brutal sanctions imposed on our people by Israel and her allies. The crisis would not have existed had international and regional powers respected the results of last year’s democratic elections in Palestine.
The Mecca agreement has laid the foundations for a power-sharing process that will produce a functioning government capable of attending to our people’s needs. It will also pave the way for rebuilding the PLO to include all the factions and become the legitimate representative of all Palestinian people. The partnership born out of the Mecca meeting is possible because of the consensus among the Palestinians that their primary objective is to win their freedom, and that their struggle should be solely against occupation. It is now up to the international community to respect this accord and the will of the Palestinian people….
“Now that Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a national unity government, the international community has no excuse to maintain the siege against our people. We know that many governments around the world are unhappy with these sanctions and want to see an end to them. The Palestinian national accord achieved in Mecca envisages the establishment of a truly sovereign and independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in June 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the dismantling of the settlements in the West Bank, the release of all Palestinian prisoners and the acknowledgement of the right of the refugees to return to their homes.
“Once translated into reality, this vision will pave the way for real peace in the region. There must be no more blackmail of the Palestinians, for there is nothing else they can give away…”
Signs for the future are positive
All progressive people should stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people as they move forward on the basis of the new unity government. Already positive signs of progress are showing. On 13 January 2007 the civil servants went back to work. Money has been promised, to the tune of £350 million from Arab states including Qatar, Iran and Sudan.
The Israeli hopes of striking a deal on Israeli terms through Abbas are dashed, as it is clear that the unity government will have a much greater role in determining the basis upon which negotiations with Israel are conducted. Israel’s chagrin at the Mecca agreement was made clear: “Abu Mazen failed completely and he awarded a significant victory to Hamas. As a result, the chance of advancing an effective initiative and agreement between Israel an Palestine has receded”, spoke Israeli Foreign Affairs Committee member (‘Quartet: Israel is key to Mecca deal’, Aljazeera, 10 February 2007)
The “international community” of donors to Palestine and supporters of the Israeli state is divided by the unity government. Russia has indicated that it is keen to establish ties with Hamas and lift the sanctions. Britain has indicated that it will consider “doing business” with Hamas, a view shared by EU statesmen. The US has adopted a “wait and see approach”. Israel has already announced that its boycott will continue (‘Blair hints UK may deal with Hamas’ Financial Times 21 February 2007).
However the most important achievement is that the Palestinian people have again expressed their unshakable determination to achieve their goals of a Palestinian state and recognition of the right to return of refugees, and they will not be thrown off course by imperialist meddling and Israeli efforts to split their movement and dissolve it into civil war.
We continue to offer our wholehearted support and wish them every success in their continued struggle. Victory to Palestine!