Within the context of a U.S.-Israeli determined
campaign to remove the elected Islamic Resistance Movement from power, the best
of the Palestinian mainstream anti-occupation activists of Fatah and Hamas are
being polarized into a deadlocked divide that is already threatening an
historic national unity with a looming civil war, as a result of either risky
brinkmanship tactics or what Hamas says is a coup d'�tat.
Either way the external campaign has succeeded in
mobilizing an array of a minority of local would-be losers of any change to the
pre-Hamas status quo to exacerbate inter-Palestinian disputes into a crisis by
launching their own campaign to bring about the downfall of Hamas, using
brinkmanship tactics that could hardly be distinguished from a coup d'�tat.
Aside from the external influences, but by necessity
linked to them, this factor is the most fraught with the ingredients of a civil
war among other internal ideological, historical and strategic factors that
have contributed to the evolving crisis.
So far, President Mahmoud Abbas cannot distinctly
dissociate from this minority and its risky brinkmanship tactics.
He, however, on Wednesday, during a joint press
conference in the West Bank with the visiting U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, declared a very important point of departure with the
adventurer minority that was gearing the political divide up towards a civil
war by ruling out from the start the only credible breakthrough of a national
unity government with Hamas.
A national unity government is his �preferable best
choice,� declared Abbas.
However, he again blurred the distinction between his
agenda and theirs when he announced that �all the options are open except only
the civil war,� leaving a wide space of manoeuvring for the reckless minority
to continue fishing in the Palestinian troubled water.
This minority represents marginal cross-faction, down
to earth interests that had mushroomed to the verge of corruption; it
identifies with the goals of the external anti-Hamas campaign and rules out any
dialogue with Hamas even if that leads to infighting until the ruling Islamic
group strictly, publicly and unconditionally commit to the U.S.-adopted Israeli
conditions; it postures as a self-proclaimed �peacenik� using the slogan of
peace as a per se justification for its dangerous agenda.
Its role is oversized by preying on the Hamas-Fatah
divide and the presidency-premiership conflicting agendas to conceal both its
own agenda and underlying interests. This role is public knowledge to the rank
and file of both Fatah and Hamas, as well as for the Palestinian public in
general. It is also public knowledge to foreign �donors� and backers who
nonetheless make use of this minority until they settle things with the key
players in the tragic Palestinian drama.
However, a lot of its image depends on its posturing
as the power base and the mouthpiece of President Abbas; that�s why his point
of departure with it on Wednesday was very important although it was
Those self-proclaimed �peaceniks� rule out any middle
ground agreement with Hamas, but advocate consistent contacts with the
occupying power even without agreement; they are big mouths in urging Hamas to
commit to the PLO�s signed accords with Israel, but keep mum on Israel�s
non-commitment to the same accords.
Citing an Israeli argument, they are inciting the PLO
to take on the Islamic movement, allegedly to eliminate a major obstacle to
kicking off the peace process.
All the alternative proposals for a breakthrough out
of the crisis emanated from this minority and all of them serve the same goal:
Removing Hamas from power.
First a referendum was proposed on the �prisoners�
document,� which was drafted by well-meaning leading detainees in the Israeli
jails. Then proposals for holding legislative and not presidential elections
were floated, to be followed by proposing a government of either technocrats or
Worse still, this minority has been recently calling
publicly and irresponsibly on President Abbas to declare a state of emergency,
dissolve the Hamas-led government and form an emergency cabinet; the proposal
boils down to a call for an outright presidential coup d'�tat.
While practically this is possible in the West Bank
where the Palestinian security forces could easily gain control in the
Israeli-reoccupied territory, under the watching eyes of the reoccupying army,
it is impossible without a civil war in the Gaza Strip, the major power base of
Hamas where the Hamas-led government has fielded its own security executive
All the foregoing proposed alternatives are doomed and
would only exacerbate the crisis.
All of them go against the national consensus on
national unity as well as the �prisoners� document,� which promotes national
unity, calls for a national unity government, and incorporating Hamas and
Islamic Jihad into the PLO, and reforming the security forces and banning
security officers from political activity.
While giving it lip service, the minority of the civil
war provocateurs are undermining the only credible alternative of the unity
government by their brinkmanship tactics.
The choice they are incessantly and insistently throwing
into Abbas� face is not a breakthrough but only a recipe for what he has
dreaded and did his best, especially recently, to avoid: Sack the Hamas-led
government, dismantle its infrastructure and risk civil war or do nothing and
watch the current crisis snowballing to the abyss.
In a thinly concealed threat that questioned Abbas�
qualifications, a Fatah leader said: �All the doors have been shut in his
[Abbas�] face . . . I believe he has one last chance to prove he is qualified
to lead the Palestinian people or it will be his political end.�
Skilfully and opportunistically exploiting the plight
of about 16 thousand unpaid public employees, they exploited a general strike
and escalated it into an almost armed civil disobedience, inviting the ruling
Hamas to respond in kind and ignite what could be the first salvos in the
dreaded civil war, which claimed more than 12 lives last week.
The smell of the taboo bloodletting did not deter the provocateurs to
desist from incitement against Hamas and use the let blood as a new war cry
The general strike is legitimate and has legitimate goals were it not
open-ended, exploited for political ends, forced on the populace and embroiled
the security personnel in provocative and threatening armed protests, some of
which torched the headquarters of the Palestinian Legislative
Council (PLC) and the premises of the premiership, in a symbolic gesture
indicating a determination to burn Hamas out of power by force if needed.
Abbas in a televised appeal for calm ordered the security personnel
protesters out of the streets and back to their barracks, indicating publicly
that he who had campaigned against the militarization of the uprising against
the Israeli occupation could not tolerate any militarization of protests
against en elected Palestinian government that is besieged by Israel.
However Abbas has contributed to the crisis by not
firmly distancing himself from the civil war provocateurs and by encouraging them
to float their coup d'�tat proposals,
first by adopting their referendum idea, then by not ruling out publicly their
proposed state of emergency measures. Bypassing Hamas in his international
relations also sent the wrong message that he indirectly subscribed to the
anti-Hamas campaign and allied himself with the provocateurs� agenda, which he
has yet to confirm.
True Abbas wants Hamas either out of power or incorporated in the PLO
strategy, but even Hamas has publicly acknowledged that he never resorted to
force to do so. Even before Hamas assumed power, Abbas for two years
has fended off Israeli-U.S. pressures to forcefully disarm Hamas and
successfully opted for dialogue and diplomatic pressure to obtain from Hamas a
truce and a pledge to join the Palestinian Authority political process.
With self-proclaimed friends like his, Abbas needs no enemies; and for sure
the Israeli occupying power is watching joyfully on the sidelines while
preoccupied, undisturbed, with its colonial expansionist policies, leaving to
Palestinian mouthpieces to promote its message without even paying for the
translation from Hebrew into Arabic.
The so-called friends are making Abbas� mission more
critical and uncomfortable, and weakening his chances both to defuse the
inter-Palestinian divide and to arrange his domestic cards in a way conducive
to meeting international conditions to jump-start a moribund peace process.
If Hamas opts not to be dragged into military confrontation,
removing it from power would entail two alternatives, pushing it back to
resistance and bringing back an internally corrupt and politically deadlocked
status quo, the main two factors that brought Hamas to power in the first place
in a popular yearning for changing the status quo. But nothing so far indicates
Hamas will resort to this option and everything indicates it will honor its
public pledge that it will defend the people�s democratic choice which carried
it to power, and this is exactly the prescription to civil war.
One could not but wonder whether the real
Israeli-U.S.-backed provocateurs� aim is to bring about the downfall of both
Abbas and Hamas in order to maintain and sustain a pre-Hamas comfortable status
quo, where their interests and privileges are preserved and the interests of
their backers are ideally served.
Abbas -- a founding father of the PLO alongside the
late Yasser Arafat -- has been a veteran of dialogue, peaceful negotiations
with the Israelis even during the worst days of armed struggle and historically
opposed the militarisation of the national struggle. He always believed that
diplomacy would, in the end, prevail to translate the UN legitimacy into
national dividends on the ground, and accordingly has always defended the
Palestinian international assets to offset the overpowering Israeli military
For how long can Abbas afford to coexist with the
current situation, hold on to a middle ground between Palestinians and
Israelis, war and peace, a moribund peace process and a truce-bound armed
struggle, and internally between dialogue and infighting, factional polarization
and national unity, a restive population under occupation and non-delivering
political elite, pro and anti-dialogue wings inside his own former ruling
It won�t take too long to know the answer!
Nicola Nasser is a
veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in
Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.