By Kim Bullimore
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
The situation in Palestine continues to deteriorate, both on a political scale and humanitarian scale. The international blockade of Gaza and the continued illegal collective punishment of its residents by Israel has resulted in soaring food prices (eg. a bag of flour has risen from 80 shekels to over 200 shekels ie. A $23 to A $57). In addition, many foodstuffs, medicines and other goods, such as building material are no longer available. According to the United Nations Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories there are zero stocks available for 91 drugs. Hospitals are reporting zero stock availability of pediatric drugs and anti-biotics, as well as a shortage in chronic disease drugs, cancer treatment drugs, a range of kidney dialysis drugs and IV glucose solution. In addition, there are also shortages of kidney dialysis machine equipment.
Fuel which is needed for just about everything, including cooking, running hospitals, schools, purifying, sterilising and pumping water, running garbage collection trucks, ambulances and much more is increasing scarce and expensive.
At the end of July, the General Director of the Democracy and Workers’ Right Centre in Palestine gave testimony to the UN on the state of workers in Gaza. He outlined the mass closure of factories in the wood, clothing, food, construction and agricultural sectors, resulting in more than 80,000 workers losing their jobs. Since July, the situation has deteriorated, more factories have closed and more workers are now left without an income to feed their families. There is no social security system in Palestine, so workers are forced to rely on what little savings they may have and their families. Many turn to crime, while others engage in dangerous acts such as trying to collect scrap metal near no-go zones or try to enter Israel illegally, both of which often results in them being killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).
Those workers still with jobs often continued to work for months without pay. Currently, municipal workers (mostly garbage collectors and street cleaners) in Gaza are striking for the fourth time, demanding back pay from February. Thousands of tonnes of refuse is now piling up on the street causing a major health hazard (combined with the lack of clean running water). UN agencies are reporting an increase in rates amongst children of diarrhea which can be fatal and the possibility of outbreaks of typhoid and hepatitis if the blockade is not lifted.
The closure of the border crossing has resulted in dozens of Palestinians in urgent need of medical treatment dying, including at least two terminally ill cancer patients were refused entry to Israel or Egypt by the Shin Bet (Israel’s secret police). Dozens of other sick patients have also been denied access to hospitals in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the West Bank.
The IOF continues to bomb and attack Gaza, killing Palestinians indiscriminately (in October alone more than 30 people were killed). However, Hamas is putting up a strong counter-attack. While the Israeli war machine is making almost daily invasions into the strip, their area of operation has been limited to around 3 kilometres on the ground. Hamas has been able to stage ambushes and counter-attacks, inflicting damage to the IOF, resulting destruction of military hardware and the loss of several IOF soldiers. According to Israeli journalist, Amos Harel, the IOF is reporting that they’re no longer facing an untrained guerilla force but that Hamas is now better equipped and trained and "fighting like an Army".
However, the blockade and political isolation is continuing to exert pressure on Hamas, resulting in Hamas aligned police shooting on a rally crowd during the anniversary of Arafat’s death. Both Fatah and Hamas are blaming the other side for provoking the attack, with each claiming the other side shot first. The shooting resulted in at least 6 people being killed (early media reports stated that those killed belong both to both factions). The day following the shootings a general strike took place in Gaza. In response to the memorial day shootings, the ousted Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh has called for an inquiry into the events, while Fatah has sought to use the deaths of the Palestinians at the rally to further its factional war against Hamas.
Some veteran Israeli journalists such as Amira Hass are suggesting that Hamas is starting to lose control of the Gaza as a result of the shootings. However, while Hamas has come under extreme pressure and this pressure is beginning to take its toll, it should be noted that according to a number of experts on Hamas, there already a natural division between the political and armed wings of Hamas . So while the Hamas leadership exerts a reasonable influence on the Izzidine Al Qassam brigades, the two wings in fact operate on the whole quite independently as a security precaution. As a result, the political wing is not always 100% in control of what its military wing does. This in the past has proven to be an effective security measure for Hamas, but in the current conditions this may actually undermine the political leadership of Hamas if they can not bring their military wing under more disciplined control.
However, the primary issue in relation to Hamas is how much has former Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh and other moderates been sidelined? Over the past 5 years, as a number of writers on Hamas have noted that Hamas has moved towards a more "moderate" position compared to their original 1988 charter .The question now is will the current political pressure that Hamas is under result in it returning to its former more hard line positions.
It is hard to tell at the moment whether this has happened. While there seems to be increasing statements coming from the hardline Hamas leaders, it is hard to tell whether this is because Haniyeh has been sidelined or it’s a distortion due to the media blackout imposed on Hamas by Abbas.
Since June, Abbas’ regime have forcibly closed down any media outlets including newspapers they deem to be either affiliated with or sympathetic to Hamas. Abbas has also made it illegal for West Bank media outlets to broadcast speeches by Hamas or mention them. This has been applied more stringently to television and radio media, than print media. As a result, some media outlets such as Maan News, which is based in Bethlehem, have continued to report Hamas statements on their websites. However, when Maan’s executive director broadcast an interview with a Hamas leader on the privately owned Amal TV station, he was immediately arrested. Maan News closed down its website in protest.
In the past few months, all around Ramallah there has appeared huge billboards posters of Abbas and Arafat. The idea is to try and invoke the memory of Arafat to try and bolster Abbas, who enjoys little real support amongst the Palestinian people (even amongst those loyal to Fatah). In many ways, the appearance of these billboards is a sign of the desperation within Abbas’ leading circle. They know he can not win the support of the people himself, so they must invoke Arafat to try and justify his rule and actions.
In the past week, both Abbas and Fayyad have also sought to use the November 11 anniversary of Arafat’s death and the shootings in Gaza to step up pressure on Hamas. The anniversary was marked in Ramallah by the opening of a new Mosque and mausoleum built in the Moqata (Arafat’s headquarters) to honour him, where Abbas gave a speech. During his speech, Abbas said about the Israeli occupation, instead condemning Hamas and projecting the Annapolis conference as a "new phase in the middle east". During the speech sections of the Fatah dominated crowd began chanting "Shi’a, Shi’a, Shi’a". While Fatah warlord and CIA collaborator, Mohammed Dahlan may have been ousted (temporarily) from power, this reveals he still has influence amongst many Fatah members. Palestinian media also reported that the same chants were used at the rally in Gaza before shooting started. In the days following the shootingsm at the rallies organised in Ramallah by Fatah and the PLO, the same sectarian chants could also be heard.
Prior to 2006, this sort of sectarianism didn’t exist amongst the Palestinian community, only beginning under the auspices of Dahlan in Gaza (no doubt with the tactic approval of Abbas). Hamas isn’t Shi’a, but Sunni like the rest of the Palestinian Muslim community. However, Dahlan tried to use it as a divide and rule tactic, hoping to isolate Hamas and tar them as being simply tools of the Iranian government and to promote sectarian fear amongst the Palestinian Sunni community. This tactic was furthered after the June emergency declaration by Abbas when he tried to equate Hamas with Al Qeda. While this may have pleased Israel and the US, most Palestinians know that Hamas isn’t in anyway like Al Qeda. Abbas soon stopped saying this because it became obvious that he was just making a fool of himself by pursuing such a line of rhetoric.
In the lead up to the Annapolis conference, Abbas and Fayyad are continuing to step up pressure on Hamas. There is much speculation in the Israeli and Palestinian media what the failure of the conference (they all expect it to fail) will mean in relation to Gaza and Hamas. Abbas will push hard to gain something from Annapolis (although he will win nothing) because he is aware that if he comes away empty handed that it will be very hard for him to continue to ignore Hamas and refuse to negotiate with them. Both sides are trying to play up that it will be real, but also playing down what will not be discussed. Olmert is under pressure from his government coalition partners, who are from the extreme anti-Arab right. While he wouldn’t have offer much, he will now not even make the pretense of offering anything as his coalition partners are threatening to walk even if Jerusalem is mentioned at the conference. As a result, there will not even be a pretense of trying to discuss the final status issues of Jerusalem, borders, settlements or refugees.
Abbas argues the conference will be real and they won’t concede anything. However, he and his coterie are already conceding an immense amount by attempting to dismantle the Palestinian resistance, refusing to reconcile with Hamas and establish national unity (the thing most wanted by the Palestinian population at the moment). Months of “photo op” discussions with Olmert have result in, as predicted, very little except for the release of a few hundred prisoners out of 11,000 languishing in Israel’s prisons. Most of those released had only months left of their prison terms and in meantime Israel continues to abduct and detain almost twice as many as they release.
Maan News in the past week posted an interview with the Abbas’ appointed Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, who correctly identified that in relation to their agenda, what is actually more important is not Annapolis but bringing Nablus under PA control. Nablus has a long tradition of being the centre of Palestinian resistance to Zionism. It was one of the first areas to rise up in the 1936 Palestinian revolt, as well as during the first and second intifada. All the factions are represented there. If Abbas and Fayyad can bring Nablus under their control, they will have succeeded in capitulating fully to the US and Israel by all but destroying the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank (it should be noted that under international law, which Israel is a signatory too, an occupied people have the legal and legitimate right to armed resistance against occupation).
Both Abbas and Fayyad believe that if they succeed in disarming the Palestinian resistance they will be able to win concessions from the Israeli. This, however, as a number of writers, including former CIA analyst, Kathleen Christison, has pointed out is pure delusion on the behalf of Abbas and Fayyad .
As Christison noted in the wake of the June state of emergency, that while Abbas and his leadership are desperate to be seen as “moderate” and “reasonable”, there has never been any clear evidence that “Israel will never make meaningful territorial concessions to the Palestinians or even any real political concessions to Fatah, such as release of significant numbers of Palestinian prisoners” or that the US will pressure them to do .
This has not stopped Abbas and Fayyad, however, in the past month seeking in Fayyad’s word’s "permission" from Israelis to increase the number of PA security forces in the West Bank. This has resulted in 300 newly trained PA security forces being deployed to Nablus, supposedly under the pretext of bringing the criminal gangs in Nablus under control. The reality, however, is that the purpose of the PA security forces is to bring the Palestinian resistance under control, disarm it and kill it off. This was confirmed on November 18 by a Fatah official from Nablus who stated that the PA was increasing its collaboration with Israel and that “Whatever the Israelis can not do, the (Palestinian) Authority comes to do it for them"  .
Within two days of the security forces arriving in Nablus, they besieged Balata refugee camp. A fight was put up by members of Al Aqsa Brigades and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Over the past few days, the PA security forces and IOF have once again attempted to go in and disarm the Palestinian resistance, this time in Ein Beit Al-Ma refugee camp (there are 3 refugee camps in Nablus), however, they are currently being held at bay by PFLP fighters. According to the November 18 Ynet article, Palestinian security sources confirmed that "through the operation PA forces were working to disarm the last traces of the PFLP’s infrastructure in Nablus and the northern West Bank. Palestinian officials see the Nablus security plan’s success as the key to the strengthening of the PA throughout the entire West Bank".
While the focus on the Israeli and international media has been on Hamas’ transgressions in Gaza, such as the shootings at the rally, the arrest of Fatah members, attacks on journalists, they’ve failed to mentioned that Abbas and his regime have been systematically arresting and detaining Hamas members in the West Bank for months. Since the June, Fatah aligned PA security forces have detained and arrested without trail or charge at least 900 to 1000 Hamas members, many of whom are then handed over to Israel. In addition, they have continued to carry out brutal beatings and attack on other Hamas members, raid their offices and destroy them. They have also shut down at least 110 Hamas affiliated charities (many of whom provide aid to some of the poorest Palestinians) and arrested journalists who have reported Hamas speeches and statements. In Ramallah, the PA security forces stop and detain people at will. On a number of university’s Fatah students have attacked Hamas students resulting in the death of at least one Hamas student.
Currently most of the other factions have opportunistically fallen in behind Fatah, as many see it as an opportunity to sideline Hamas. Many of the so-called Palestinian Left, who are dependent on salaries from the PA, while having staged rallies and spoken out against the excesses of Hamas and the Gaza take over, have failed to make any public statements or organise any activity in opposition to similar activity by Fatah and the Fatah dominated PA security forces. In addition, they have had little to say about the unconstitutional nature of not only the unelected Fayyad technocrat PA, the illegal decrees being issued by Abbas and the continued undermining of the democratically elected Palestinian Legislative.
As Palestinian feminist Majda Hassan noted recently, the Palestinian Left has taken "the opportunistic and unprincipled position taken by the right-wing "left" of the PLO vis-a-vis the current standoff between Hamas and Fatah". Hassan notes that instead of "harnessing all effort to fight the outcome of the Oslo Accord and instead of respecting the outcome of the 2006 elctions and forming a Unite Front with the party that won the election (Hamas) with a clear majority on a platform of resistance and reforms, the Left has, alas fallen in line with the undemocratic methods adopted by the controlling party (Fatah) and failed the historic test" 
In the wake of this failure by the Palestinian left and the ongoing brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine, the next few weeks after Annapolis will be a crucial time for the Palestinian liberation struggle. Whether or not Abbas and his regime will be able to continue as they have is in doubt, something which Israel, the US and even Abbas recognises himself. If Hamas can maintain control of its forces in Gaza and with stand the blockade a while longer, they continued to place themselves strategically in a good position. Abbas will not be able to continue to ignore them and will be forced to the negotiating table. Also if Fayyad and Abbas continue seek to actively disarm the resistance, this may result in pushing some of the other factions closer to Hamas, thus placing more pressure on Abbas and Fayyad. However, if Hamas are unable to keep control of its forces and starve of defeat in Gaza, they may well begin to revert to their former hardline positions rather than capitulate to the dictates of the US’s favourite quisling in Ramallah.
Either way, if the failure to re-forge a united Palestinian liberation struggle continues, the biggest loser will, of course, once again will be the Palestinian people.
-Kim Bullimore is currently working and living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She has a blog www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com and is a regular contributor on Palestine-Israel issues to the Australian based Green Left Weekly, www.greenleft.org.au.
1.See Hroub’s Hamas for Beginners and Tamimi’s Hamas: A history from within
2.see Amayreh’s Hamas Debates the Future http://conflictsforum.org/briefings/Hamas-Debates-the-Future-monograph.pdf recently published on Conflicts Forum).
3.Christison, K., The siren song of Elliot Abrams, Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.org/christison07262007.html
4. Waked, A., PA Security forces carry out mass arrests in Nablus, YNet, http://www.ynetnews.com/Ext/Comp/ArticleLayout/CdaArticlePrintPreview/1,2506,L-3472708,00.html
5. Hassan, M., The Osloisation of the Palestinian Left, Palestine Chronicle www.palestinechronicle.com/story-092007162357.htm).