Joharah Baker: A Tale of Two Governments

By Joharah Baker
 
In literary terms, the Palestinian situation could only be categorized under one genre: the theater of the absurd. The events of the past few weeks have reshuffled the cards, both locally and internationally on the Palestinian scene and a more panoramic picture of the future is slowing coming into focus.

The Palestinians have been divided, yet again. Not only have these people been forced out of their homes in 1948 by the nascent Jewish state, then in 1967, they were then dissected and thrown into colonialist-fashioned categories – West Bankers, Gazans, refugees, East Jerusalemites, Palestinian-Israelis, returnees and those in the Diaspora. Following the Oslo Accords of 1993, these distinctions became starker than ever – West Bankers and Gazans were separated by the Erez Crossing, which effectively isolated those 1.5 million Palestinians from their brethren in the West Bank.

Over the years that ensued, a culture unique to Gaza seemed to have developed and thanks to Israel and the barriers it put up around the Gazans, the idea that Gaza was somehow “different” seemed to take form.

In any case, regardless of the differences that may have developed between Palestinians living in the oversized prison of the Gaza Strip and those slightly more fortunate living in the West Bank, the leadership managed to remain united. The West Bank and Gaza were always considered one political entity and part of the future Palestinian state.

Until now, that is. With the recent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip following a week of bloody confrontations with Fateh, a new reality has taken shape. According to authorities granted to him in his capacity as head of the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas dissolved the national unity government and formed the 12-minister emergency government under a new Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad.

Hamas has refused to recognize the government, saying it is unconstitutional. While Hamas concedes that Abbas has the right to dissolve the government and declare a state of emergency, it insists there is nothing in the Palestinian Basic Law that allows for the formation of an emergency government. Hence, in Gaza, Hamas maintains that the current government is still legitimate and in effect.

Dismissed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh even held a meeting of ministers in Gaza on June 19. Of the 24 national unity government ministers, only four attended. Haniyeh called on the ministries to resume work and for the police to continue “carrying out their national duties.”

In the West Bank, Fayyad’s government has wasted no time in holding meetings and press conferences, pledging its commitment to restore security in the Palestinian territories, ensuring that even though the Gaza Strip is currently under Hamas control, it is still part of the new government’s jurisdictions.

In all practical terms, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, some five million people, are under two governments, in addition of course, to the ubiquitous Israeli military occupation over all of occupied Palestine. And while the actual street fights have plateaued, the verbal sparring between the two sides has continued, each blaming the other for the unprecedented violence that gripped Palestinian streets.

Still, one cannot but consider that this is how certain parties envisioned the end game for Hamas right from the start. While Hamas seems to have “won” the battle in Gaza and is currently patrolling the streets and the security forces there, diplomatic wheels are in motion at the international level aimed at marginalizing the Islamic movement once and for all.

Almost as quickly as US President Harry Truman announced US recognition of Israel after its birth in 1948, it pledged its commitment to the new Palestinian emergency government under Fayyad. The Europeans followed suit immediately and even Israel has called the emergency government a “new opportunity.” The speed with which the international community jumped on the new cabinet is unbelievable and hints at schemes hatched long ago. The EU announced it would resume direct assistance to the PA, with a similar promise from the United States. Neighboring Arab countries were keen to jump on the bandwagon as well, since any stability in the Palestinian territories means less pressure and responsibility on their own regimes. During his White House visit, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also promised to release tax revenues owed to the PA and which have been held by Israel for over a year.

With cash and financial assistance flowing back into the West Bank, thus stabilizing the currently impoverished civil servant sector and most likely attracting foreign investors who have kept their distance since Hamas took power over a year ago, Hamas will be further ostracized and politically shunned at the local (government) and the international level.

This is already happening. Gaza borders have been closed off and hundreds of Gazans looking to escape to the West Bank after the recent Hamas takeover have been stranded at the Erez Crossing for the past five days. The idea is to strangle Gaza economically and politically until Hamas is run into the ground and cannot lift its head for years, if ever. Once that happens, the cash-satiated Abbas/Fayyad government will swoop in, take over and “save” Gaza from the grips of poverty. With so much international and Arab support, the voice of “Palestinian moderation” would have been restored to power.

What this means for the cause as a whole remains to be seen. It is well known that Abbas, formerly Yasser Arafat’s second-hand man, is extremely moderate in his views and has been careful to surround himself with equally moderate ministers. Players such as the United States and Israel are hopeful that such a cabinet makeup will mean a much more lenient position vis-à-vis negotiations with Israel and perhaps reaching a final solution to the conflict suitable to the palettes of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.

This is how Hamas and other less pliant Palestinian movements see the current turn of events. Hamas spokespeople have even called the new government “treasonous”, dubbing it “Dayton’s government” in reference to Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator for the PA security forces. Hamas leaders are so far holding on to their positions tooth and nail, insisting on the legitimacy of their cause.

The fact remains, however, that whether their cause is just, legitimate or right, there are stronger forces at play that will decide who will sit at the helm of Palestinian power. It is clear that this divided government will not last for long, not because Hamas lacks determination, but because this is not in the interests of Israel, the United States and least of all, Fatah. These parties have wanted Hamas off the political scene from the start. Ironically, however, where Israeli bombardments, invasions and sieges and a suffocating international boycott have failed to bring the movement to its knees, Hamas’ self-declared “victory” over Fatah just may be the final nail in its own coffin.

-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Published in www.Miftah.org – June 20, 2007)

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