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Honesty In Internationalising Palestinian Security As In Lebanon.

International observers could be deployed at the main cargo crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip as part of proposals by Ms Rice to loosen the economic siege of the Palestinian territory (see above). This would be somewhat similar to the situation in Lebanon, where the border area in the south is being demilitarised with international (UNIFIL-II) assistance. While it is too early to tell whether or not such an internationalisation will result in demilitarisation in both Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, it is already clear that Fatah has gained the upper hand on the streets of Gaza and in the West Bank at the expense of Hamas.

Fatah's guerrilla wing al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades on Oct. 3 threatened to kill three senior Hamas leaders who are influenced by Syria, in the latest sign of the internal Palestinian power struggle. After two days of Palestinian street clashes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, only scattered incidents were reported on Oct. 3. In fighting on Oct. 1-2, at least 10 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded in some of the worst internecine fighting in recent years.

With tensions still running high, the brigades issued a statement saying it intended to kill the three Hamas figures - Khaled Mesh'al, the Damascus-based political chief who is also under Iran's influence; Sa'id Siam, the interior minister; and Yousef al-Zahar, a senior official in the Interior Ministry. It accused the Hamas leaders of "sedition" and said they would be killed so "these filthy people can be made an example". (Al-Aqsa has carried out many attacks against Israel and has been involved in the internal Palestinian fighting in recent years. It has many small, unruly factions which appear to operate independently and often seem beyond the control of Fatah, a secular, nationalist movement. While PA President Abbas, the Fatah leader, has repeatedly called for a halt to violence against Israel, the brigades have often called for more attacks).

Ahmad Yousef, a senior adviser to PA Prime Minister Isma'il Haniya of Hamas, acknowledged that the atmosphere in the Palestinian areas was still tense, but he said he did not take the threat particularly seriously. He said the leaders of Hamas and Fatah were still prepared to discuss a unity government for the Palestinians and the threats by al-Aqsa did not express the sentiments of the Fatah leadership, adding: "Such statements are very cheap and do not express the position of the Fatah movement".

Reuters on Sept. 4 quoted Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri as saying Hamas would "not show mercy" if its leaders were targeted. Mesh'al has often been critical of Fatah. The two Interior Ministry officials are responsible for the security force created by the Hamas government, the Executive Force, which was sent into the streets and battled with Fatah gunmen. In Cairo as part of a Middle East tour, Ms Rice on Oct. 3 appealed for an end to fighting among the Palestinian factions and said she was looking for ways to strengthen Abbas in his standoff with Hamas radicals who control part of the PA. Ms Rice said: "Innocent Palestinians are caught in the crossfire and we call on all parties to stop. The Palestinians deserve calm".

The Palestinians have always struggled with the problem of self-seeking leaderships, who have historically invested far greater time fending for their own status and position at the helm - however worthless - than representing the rights and aspirations of an occupied people. The current Hamas-led government was a direct manifestation of the democratic choice of the Palestinian people - a choice fought by an alliance encompassing the US and other Western allies and Israel. But Hamas cannot lead a PA government which refuses to recognise Israel, the Quartet and the Arab peace plan; nor can it allow a state to exist within a state, as Hizbullah is doing in Lebanon and as the Shi'ite theocracy in Iran. There are thousands of mini-states in Iran, with some of the big ones having their own armed forces, etc. There are said to be more than 200 illegal ports in Iran, with such mini-states in control of more than 60% of Iran's foreign trade.

The Palestinian territories live under utter economic dependency. With over 160,000 civil servants not receiving their paychecks for several months because of a Hamas government now willing to recognise Israel. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories John Dugard told the UN Human Rights Council on Sept. 26 that the Gaza Strip - ironically the "liberated" part of the territories as Israel vacated that area in 2005 - has sunk into the most severe crisis in 13 years. He said: "The Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions - the first time an occupied people has been so treated". He also warned that the West Bank was on the verge of an imminent humanitarian crisis because of the 700-km Israeli separation wall. He said what was taking place in the West Bank was ethnic cleaning, "but political correctness forbids such language where Israel is concerned".

While Western media focus on the political scuffling between the Hamas government and Fatah, a once dominant party, the humanitarian crisis is ignored. If not for perceptive reporting by a few individual journalists like Amira Hass of the Israeli daily Ha'aretz and Donald Macintyre of the British newspaper Independent, the untold suffering of the Palestinian people would have gone completely unnoticed. Raja Khalidi's Sept. 22 piece in the British Guardian - "It Can Only Get Worse" - revealed most devastating statistics regarding the direness of the Palestinian economy. Gaza however, remains the most intense example where, according to Dugard, three-quarters of its 1.4m residents are dependent on direct food aid.

Palestinian history is rife with examples, starting with failure to devise a legible strategy to face a Jewish colonial project in the early half of the last century: with a power-struggle quickly surfacing between the Husseini and Nashashibi families, both claiming to be true representatives of Palestinians, the latter labelled a "moderate" while the rest were designated extremists and terrorists. Discord has remained the Palestinians' worse enemy. Israel cleverly capitalised on these divisions. Facing an endless campaign of military violence and collective punishment, Palestinians in the occupied territories and the equally wretched dwellers of refugee camps in the diaspora, had little choice but to hold on to their leaderships, which grew incredibly wealthy, detached and hardly representative of the people and their true aspirations. In recent years, particularity under the Oslo accords, the Palestinian leadership upgraded its status to that of Israel's iron fist and most faithful prison guard, in exchange for special privileges to its members of old and emerging elites.

Both Fatah and Hamas are allowing their desire for self-preservation and advancement to supplant the self-preservation of Palestinian unity. Such a reminder is hardly emanating from among Palestinian leaders and intellectuals - many of them immersed in the illusive power struggle - but from journalists like Amira Hass, who concluded in a recent article (Missing the Government of Thieves) with a distressing reminder: "Apparently both movements are now competing for power and are forgetting that their job is to shorten the days of foreign Israeli rule over their people".
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7PALE
Date:Oct 9, 2006
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