Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A re-run of the Lebanon war in Palestine?

By Hasan Abu Nimah & Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada
11 October 2006

There are ominous signs that the long-contemplated plan to
overthrow the democratically-elected Hamas-led Palestinian
Authority cabinet is about to enter its most dangerous
phase: a political coup, supported by local militias, with
foreign and regional backing. This could ignite serious
intra-Palestinian violence. With Iraq providing a dreadful
warning of how foreign occupation can foster civil
bloodshed, everything must be done to expose and thwart
this dangerous conspiracy.

The head of Palestinian Authority intelligence, and Fatah
militia leader, Tawfiq Tirawi, said in an interview with
the Sunday Times on 8 October, "We are already at the
beginning of a civil war, no doubt about it. They (Hamas)
are accumulating weapons and a full-scale civil war can
break out at any moment." The paper cited Palestinian
sources saying that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud
Abbas "has notified the US, Jordan and Egypt that he is
preparing to take action against Hamas." And, asserting
that Hamas "are preparing for a war against us," Tirawi
"forecasts that the violence would begin in Gaza and
spread to the West Bank." Hamas leaders, including prime
minister Ismail Haniyeh, have issued strenuous
reassurances that they will never allow civil war, even as
a Fatah-affiliated militia recently released a statement
explicitly threatening to assassinate them.

Let us recall that in last January's legislative council
elections the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas,
resoundingly defeated Fatah, the nominally nationalist and
secular faction founded by Yasir Arafat and which has
dominated the institutionalized Palestinian movement since
the 1960s. Fatah, led now by Palestinian Authority
chairman Mahmoud Abbas, was widely rejected for its
corruption and mismanagement of the Palestinian Authority
which was founded under the Oslo Accords in 1994.

Coming a week after more than a dozen Palestinians were
killed in fighting between Hamas and Fatah followers,
Tirawi's latest comments could be seen as laying the
groundwork for a full-scale and premeditated
confrontation. A senior Fatah "security source," probably
also Tirawi, had already told the same Sunday Times
journalist last May that "[c]ivil war is inevitable" and
that "Time is running out for Hamas." He warned that
"We'll choose the right time and place for the military
showdown. But after that there will be no more of Hamas's

Is that time approaching? Abbas is being encouraged by his
sponsors outside the country to take on Hamas. Tirawi's
warnings followed US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's
visit to the region which included a warm public embrace
of Abbas. On October 5, Reuters reported that militias
loyal to Abbas are receiving arms and training from the
United States. "Expanding the size of the presidential
guard," Abbas' personal militia, "by up to 70 percent
under a U.S. plan," the report stated, "has become a
central part of American policy since [Hamas] beat Abbas's
Fatah in elections and took over the government." This
apparent encouragement to resort to the bullet when use of
the ballot failed to produce the desired results is a
direct contradiction of the simplest principles of
democracy, apart from its sheer immorality. This sounds
bad enough, but it also looks like a repeat of the
strategy in Lebanon where western powers apparently
thought that Israel, as a local client state, could be
used to strike a lethal blow at Hizbullah. The human and
political results of that adventure, last summer's
systematic Israeli destruction of Lebanon, speak for
themselves. This time, Abbas and his forces would fill the
role of local US client, and Hamas would be cast as

The only outcome of such a confrontation will be another
orgy of bloody violence. And almost certainly, support for
Hamas would be strengthened, but among the Palestinian
people there would be only losers.

There is good reason to fear that the moment is coming
when this conspiracy will turn to the naked use of armed
force, as the campaign to overthrow Hamas has escalated in
stages. Just weeks after the January election, The New
York Times reported that US and Israeli officials met at
the "highest level" to plot the downfall of Hamas by
"starving" the Palestinian Authority. It started with the
US-EU aid cutoff, ostensibly to force Hamas to "recognize
Israel" and "abandon violence." (When it was elected Hamas
had already observed a year-long unilateral suspension of
attacks on Israel, and its leaders strongly indicated a
willingness to reach a "long-term agreement"). Israel
escalated its military attacks on Gaza, killing and
maiming thousands of civilians, and destroying civilian
infrastructure including the only power station. Most
Palestinians now face difficulties feeding their families.
Israel kidnapped eight Hamas cabinet ministers and a
quarter of the elected members of the legislative council,
while Fatah leaders have continually agitated against
Hamas, including organizing strikes and protests by Fatah
loyalists among Palestinian Authority civil servants who
have been deprived of salaries by the very international
siege that Fatah leaders have winked at and even

Efforts to bridge the political impasse by forming a
"national unity government" have also failed because the
Fatah election losers, backed by foreign powers, are
demanding that Hamas, the election winners, abandon their
policies and principles and endorse those of the defeated
party. But none of this has worked. Despite the
punishment, Palestinians under occupation are no more
willing than ever to submit to Israeli tyranny: 67 percent
"do not believe Hamas should recognize the state of Israel
in order to meet international donor demands" even though
"63 percent would support a Palestinian recognition of
Israel as a state for the Jewish people after a peace
agreement is reached and a Palestinian state is
established," a September poll by the Palestinian Center
for Survey Research found.

As violent incidents and provocations by followers of both
factions mount, Abbas is considering other coercive means
amounting to a coup: dismissing the Hamas cabinet, forming
an "emergency" administration, and dissolving the
Hamas-dominated legislative council to make way for new
general elections which can be postponed indefinitely or
at least until a Fatah victory can be engineered.

The danger facing Palestinians is acute. But let us be
clear: it is not a threat of civil war. Among millions of
ordinary Palestinians, whether under Israel's brutal
occupation, living as second class citizens within the
"Jewish state," or in forced exile, there is no
disagreement remotely great enough that could get them to
turn brother against brother and family against family in
a civil war. On the contrary, Palestinians are united in
their understanding of what afflicts them -- Israeli
colonialism armed, backed and bankrolled by western
powers. The danger is of an armed coup staged on behalf of
these powers by a small minority, but which could drag
more Palestinians into internecine fighting whose
consequences are awful to contemplate.

Perhaps the most serious miscalculation Hamas has made is
to underestimate the determination with which the results
of democratic elections will be undermined and opposed if
they do not suit the interests of Israel and other world
powers. The reality is that the Palestinian Authority is
not and has never been a government for the Palestinian
people. The Palestinian Authority receives western backing
only to the extent that it directly and exclusively serves
their own and Israeli interests. It was designed to
protect the Israeli occupation against its victims; no one
will be permitted to turn it into a representative body
that fights for the rights and interests of Palestinians.
To avoid the lethal trap that is being set for them and
the Palestinian people, Hamas will either have to sell out
or get out.

Hamas has done the right thing by abandoning its campaign
of suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, observing an
ongoing voluntary truce and embracing politics. It should
now abandon the effort to hold on to the wreckage of the
powerless and discredited Oslo institutions. Instead, it
should turn its considerable popularity, organizational
skills and increased legitimacy into a full fledged
campaign of civil resistance, mobilizing together with
other sectors of Palestinian and global civil society
against every aspect of Israeli colonialism and racism.
This is the only thing it has not yet tried, and it holds
out the best hope for a way out of the dark tunnel.

EI contributor Hasan Abu Nimah was Jordanian Ambassador in
several European Union countries and at the United Nations
in New York. Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic
Intifada and author of "One Country, A Bold-Proposal to
End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse" (Metropolitan Books,


David H said...

I just don't understand why Hamas doesn't just say they recognize Israel. Nobody is asking them to negotiate with the Zionists... just say that Israel has the right to exist.

And.. voila! The pretext upon which the economic strangehold is based is gone in a flash of common sense.

But, instead, because Hamas feels that they must uphold some sort of sick tribal "honor", the Palestinians will starve instead.

Anonymous said...

Why should hamas say that israel has the right to exist,

Anonymous said...


This attitude is the reason that the Palestinians, and Arabs in general, will continue to get their asses kicked.

You can't say "You don't have the right to exist, I will wipe you out one day"... and then say "Umm, and, uh, please let us build up an army in peace to wipe you out, thank you!"

Is one little sliver of a country the reason that the entire Arab world is so far behind the rest the planet, despite their riches?

Taysiir said...

Well, if they agree that Israel has the right to exist, will ISRAEL be held accountable for all the crimes against humanity it has been so good at committing during the past decades? Either way, its a stalemate, when dealing with a terrorist state ...