By Danny Rubinstein
The headline of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s speech before masses of his supporters in Gaza last weekend was: "Despair not! Hamas will lead the next government." But when the content of his speech is examined, in fact, the first hints of despair and distress emerge. An oriental fable explains why when iron strikes iron it makes a loud sound, but when iron strikes wood no sound is heard. The reason is that when iron strikes iron, the iron cries out in pain because its brother, the flesh of its flesh, is hitting it. Not so with wood, which is a stranger to iron.
In this context, portions of Haniyeh’s speech were interesting. He complained about powerful forces in the world, headed by the United States, that have been wrestling his government since it was first established. Clearly hinting at PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his Fatah movement, Haniyeh added that to his great regret, there are those in the Palestinian camp who are abetting this. Haniyeh had a clearer cavil about his brothers, the Arab governments. Since his party’s election victory, no Arab government has invited him to visit aside from the emirate of Qatar.
It appears that betrayal by Arab brethren is causing the most pain. A journalist from Gaza says he also heard Haniyeh complain that in the past few months, Abu Mazen has traveled to every corner of the world, but not once did he bother to take along anyone from the Hamas government. Although I have not found a report in the Palestinian newspapers about any such complaint, it doesn’t matter. The picture that emerges from Haniyeh’s complaints is that for the first time in the seven months since the government’s formation, it appears he is a bit fearful.
In one Palestinian publication last week, Haniyeh was quoted as having said that the outlook is black. In the best case scenario, he said, Gaza and the PA will sink into anarchy, and in the worst case, a civil war will break out.
Haniyeh has reasons for a bad mood and bleak predictions. It appears that the siege imposed by Israel and countries throughout the world, as well as by Arab nations and Fatah – Hamas’ Palestinian rivals – has been unable to change the party’s ideological positions, which are based on an infrastructure of radical Islam. Public opinion surveys in the West Bank and Gaza have recently shown a weakening of Hamas, and the Palestinian public seems to be sending the organization a message: We elected you in order to lead reforms in the government and demonstrate pride and determination vis-a-vis Israel, but not to transform Palestine into a branch of Iran.
In this context, the tone of Abu Mazen’s remarks, or threats, regarding Hamas now sounds clearer. The whole world supports Abu Mazen, and is suggesting to him that he disband the Hamas government, delegate the formation of the government to a neutral figure, and declare elections next year. Everyone is declaring that it is necessary to strengthen him.
It is doubtful that this will help. Hamas will not surrender easily. One way the leadership can react to the government’s disbanding by Abu Mazen is to stop observing the truce, and embark on a campaign of terror attacks against Israel: it has the means and ability to do so. It is also possible that it is behind the video cassette distributed two days ago in the Gulf emirates on behalf of Al Qaida cells in Palestine, on which there are threats to execute any Palestinian commander who acts like an enemy of the people. In the cassette, the leadership takes responsibility for the murder of Palestinian officer Jad al Taya and four aides three weeks ago in Gaza as well as the assassination attempt four months ago on the head of intelligence in Gaza, General Tarq Abu Rajab.
It is hard to see a political Palestinian element that will face down Hamas and replace it in the government. The Fatah leadership is dismembered, and there is not an inkling of the start of reforms in the movement that were promised some time ago. The quarrels between the young guard and old timers have not ceased for a moment. The situation that will emerge from Hamas’ fall could be even worse.
© Haaretz, 9 October. 2006