By Joharah Baker
Hamas and Fateh can no longer be considered political opponents. Such labeling connotes a healthy rivalry, a relationship between two ideologically or politically dissimilar groups that agree to disagree on how to reach one common goal.
Today, these two Palestinian political giants can only be called one thing: bitter enemies, and the seething words coming out of the mouths of their leaders are clear testimony to this.
As we all know, the enmity between Hamas and Fateh has been escalating and expanding ever since Hamas formed its government in Mach of last year. It took months of negotiations, Saudi intervention and several dozen body bags before the two groups agreed to form a national unity government.
This, of course, did not last for long, since the underlying reasons for their differences remained unresolved. The tension continued to build until it spilled over in a volcanic eruption of rage and bloodshed, leaving over 100 dead in the Gaza Strip alone from loyalists of both parties.
Now, with Hamas in control of Gaza and a controversial emergency government in place in the West Bank, the war of words between Hamas and Fateh is sinking to new lows. Still, like everything else in politics, we must always wonder if other, more far-reaching plans are lurking behind the scenes.
Let’s take the most recent developments. While the actual street fighting has subsided in both Gaza and the West Bank, the verbal battle is in full force, with both sides casting blame for the internal crisis on the other. We have heard it all – Fateh claims Hamas has carried out a “coup on Palestinian legitimacy” calling its leaders “mutineers” and refusing to negotiate with them until the situation in Gaza is returned to its “legitimate state”.
Hamas has also ladled out its fair share of accusations against Fateh, dubbing the emergency government, “Dayton’s government” and charging Fateh leaders with conspiracy with the United States and Israel.
However, President Abbas has taken this verbal war to a whole new level, yesterday charging that Hamas is harboring Al Qaeda in the Gaza Strip. In an interview on Italian television, the Palestinian president single-handedly invoked the west’s most bitter archenemy and brought it into the Palestinian conflict in one sentence. “Thanks to the support of Hamas, Al Qaeda is entering Gaza,” he said.
Hamas, no doubt, was livid. Ever since the September 11 attacks, Hamas has purposely disassociated itself with Al Qaeda, maintaining that there are divisive ideological differences between the two movements even though they both espouse Islamic doctrines. Deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was quick to respond, insisting that his movement has no links to Al Qaeda, neither politically or strategically. “Hamas fights the Israeli occupation and only inside the Palestinian occupied territories, and has never operated outside these borders,” he said.
Whether there are elements inside Gaza emulative of Al Qaeda or not, one cannot but draw the comparison between Abbas’ statement and repeated claims by Israel of the same nature. What was Abbas hoping to achieve by throwing this lethal accusation into the already hostile atmosphere between his faction and Hamas? Brownie points from the international community? Or is this claim linked to his demand for international forces in the Gaza Strip? That is, if Al Qaeda is really lurking around every corner in the Strip, perhaps an international presence would help to curb this “growing danger.”
Hamas has already made it very clear that it would not accept any international troops in Gaza, saying it would deal with these troops like any occupation force on Palestinian land.
While Abbas is most likely trying to drum up even more support for his government, which is due for ratification by the nearly-defunct Legislative Council in a few days, this level of bitterness could very likely backfire.
In the West, Al Qaeda is synonymous to the devil and any mention of it in the Gaza Strip might elicit a ripple effect that could send shockwaves throughout the entire region. So, even if Abbas was using this as a ploy to gain popularity among his western allies while concomitantly further ruining Hamas’ image in their eyes, what he may not have predicted is that Israel will use any excuse to devastate the resistance in Palestine, be it from Hamas, Fateh or any other faction.
Neither Hamas nor Fateh is innocent of adding fuel to the flames of this poisonous verbal sparring. Hamas is adamant that it will not relinquish its hold over the Gaza Strip, maintaining that it has restored law and order where it did not exist under Abbas. The president, on the other hand, is resolute on solidifying his authority and ousting Hamas from power for good.
No doubt, he has the upper hand, if only for the sheer fact that the military and financial powers of the world are cheering him on. Abbas may secure money for PA civil servants, and he may find himself and his newly appointed ministers back in the forgiving limelight of the international community, but how much will this serve him if he continues to defame and vilify a major portion of his own people? If the Palestinians go to early elections, will Abbas hold on to his seat or will it be yanked from beneath him by those who believe he sold them out for a brief 15 minutes of fame?
Early elections may be the only way to solve this crisis and average Palestinians should be given a podium to voice their opinions in a place where guns and threats often silence any voices of reason. However, if Hamas, Fateh or any other Palestinian party (and there are quite a few others) want to show their best sides, they all have to clean up their acts. Accusations and backstabbing can go but so far. It is time for our leaders to rise to the occasion and be responsible for bringing about national unity, not its demise. If they do not, these endless accusations will pull us all down like deadly quicksand and leave the field open for our real enemies to swoop in.
-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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (This article was published by www.Miftah.org, July 11, 2007)