Liam Bailey: Civil Strife and Ceasefire: Latest from Gaza

By Liam Bailey

In the latest Gaza ceasefire the actions of leaders on both sides have proved that they are so hardened and corrupted by the years of conflict that they can’t fully commit to peace.  In just the last few hours, Israel blocked the re-entry of Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh into Gaza from his Middle East trip.  The decision came in response to reports that he was carrying $35 million in cash.  He has since been allowed to enter but has reportedly left the cash in safe hands with Egypt’s leadership.  This display’s, as Palestinians repeatedly complain, that even when Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza they still control it. 

I read a report over a week ago that the Likud were suggesting such a move and I actually chuckled at the stupidity of it.  I honestly thought that it would be abandoned to the realms of yet more outrageous rhetoric from Israel’s far-right.  For them to actually do it, knowing full well the anger and backlash it would instil in Gaza and the occupied territories, displayed Israel’s lack of respect for Palestinian democracy.  The backlash it did instil; was Hamas gunmen going to the Gaza-Egypt border and opening fire.  Prompting a gun-fight between Hamas and Fatah allied security forces, which are currently patrolling the border areas. 

Events in the last few days were already threatening to provoke civil war in the Palestinian Authorities.  Three sons of a Fatah allied Gaza security officer were gunned down Monday.  Hamas were blamed but denied the attack.  Reprisal came yesterday when four gunmen waited for a Hamas commander outside the courthouse in Khan Younis.  When Bassam al-Fara, 30, a judge at the Islamic court arrived he was dragged from the car and onto his knees by three of the men, and shot by the other.  Hamas have since released a statement blaming a Fatah "death squad" for the attack.  Whoever is responsible for the latest violence it makes a Palestinian Authority (PA) coalition government a distant possibility. 

Saturday’s statement by Mahmoud Abbas that there are to be new elections in Palestine made matters worse still, making further fighting likely and civil war a definite possibility.  Hamas called the plan to hold elections early a Fatah coup attempt on a democratically elected government.  Their foreign minister said that Hamas are in government positions and if they don’t take part in elections then there are no elections.  If elections do go ahead some good may come from all the violence in the form of a Palestinian unity government.

Israel has stated that it will only deal with a PA coalition government that is willing to recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Israel’s actions in blocking Haniyeh’s return therefore, –predictably– provoking further internal PA clashes show that Israel is keen on killing, once and for all, the talks to create a coalition government and therefore peace.  Of course without doing anything that would prompt a facade of objection from Bush and the U.S, who still class Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Since the truce came into effect the Palestinian Authority and militant factions haven’t helped themselves, their people or chances of peace either however.  They have had weeks to find some common ground and form a unity government, which collectively at least recognizes Israel and denounces violence.  Obviously something more than the (collective punishment) dire poverty the world’s embargo on the Hamas government is causing the general Palestinian public, is needed to justify putting their difference aside.  Of course the talks may have been more effective had Hamas leader been in Palestine.  One of his commanders being killed cut Haniyeh’s tour short.  But the new ceasefire and weeks of talks to form the coalition, necessary to achieve peace didn’t.  This shows the Palestinian Prime Minister’s overall lack of desire for peace.

The latest events however, only reinforce the lack of commitment being shown on both sides.  The morning after the ceasefire came into effect in Gaza, Israel’s arrest raids and assassination of Palestinian militants in the West Bank began with renewed vitality and have continued throughout the prolonged period of supposed calm.  Israel’s supreme court Thursday ruled that the ‘targeted killing’ could continue, but only as a last resort.

Israel’s actions in the West Bank have been met with frequent rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, another one landing Thursday in response to the Israeli border blockade.  With Olmert again upping the rhetoric over how long Israel can show restraint in the face of the Qassam attacks, which one Palestinian speaking anonymously called.  "big metal forged fireworks."

The Palestinian resistance groups can not yet see the futility of the rocket attacks, which to Israel are like a giant being hit with a fly swat.  It seems they would sooner sacrifice themselves to fight for the freedom of the Palestinian people, than do what so many have done before… unite in the face of a common enemy and settle differences when that enemy is defeated.  The PA need to engage in diplomacy as one collective and eternally more powerful voice. 

I respect the Palestinian militant factions for their resolve in the face of adversity, under months of heavy Israeli bombardment, military incursions and disproportionate reactions this year and through the years.  But their failure to see that Israel’s actions, which, technically haven’t breached the ceasefire; are a strategy meant to provoke the Palestinians into breaking the truce.  Once again returning the moral high ground to Israel. 

As for Israel’s leadership…   Israel currently relies heavily on U.S aid, which continues to flow freely because the conflict with the Palestinians is lumped into the –broad term– War on Terror.  If Israel did pull back to the 1967 borders it is likely that the resistance from the Palestinians would be cut to a minimal level.  And ensuing diplomacy over the right of Palestinian return could almost certainly end it.  Where this would leave U.S aid to Israel is unclear to everyone including their leaders.  The recent shift in power in the White House and the Baker report calling on a new approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have undoubtedly added yet more uncertainty over future U.S aid. 

So, in the current climate it is unlikely that Israel will go all out for peace.  It appears that their every action is aimed at guaranteeing continued U.S support.  That includes continuing the conflict and making the Palestinians look like –terrorists– the bad guys.

I wrote in my last article that the Gaza truce is nearer to collapse each day.  The last few days have undoubtedly accelerated its collapse.  With the current internal clashes in the PA.  And the desire of some on both sides for renewed violence.  Surely the ceasefire can’t hold on for much longer. 

If and when the ceasefire does collapse, I doubt there will be another opportunity like this for quite some time. And unless there are some serious changes on both sides, and in the world’s treatment of both sides, the next opportunity is liable to be squandered just as carelessly.
-Liam Bailey is a U.K freelance journalist.  He can be contacted by

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