Media Review: US Meddling Blamed for Gaza Crisis

The US intervention in the Palestinian affairs and categorization of Palestinian factions into moderates and extremists are partly to blame for the Gaza chaos, the intensifying power struggle between Fatah and Hamas and left plans for a unified Palestinian state up in the air, American analysts said Friday, June 15.

"The less we try to intervene and shape Palestinian politics, the better off we will be," Robert Malley, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the International Crisis Group, told The Washington Post.

"Almost every decision the United States has made to interfere with Palestinian politics has boomeranged."

Almost three years ago following the death of veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, US President George W. Bush stood in the White House’s Rose Garden and laid out his vision for the Palestinians and called for democratic elections for future leadership.

But democracy brought Hamas to power in a shock win to the US administration, Israel and the West, which all tried their best to marginalize Hamas and slapped a crippling economic boycott of its government.

Washington organized a financial boycott of the government, in an effort to showcase Abbas as a moderate alternative in his role as president.

Well-placed sources had further told Reuters that the US and EU backed the training of Fatah’s troops in Jordan to reinforce Abbas in any showdown with Hamas.

"Ever since Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections last January, President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel have done everything they could think of to isolate Hamas and far less than they might have to help Fatah’s most important remaining leader, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas," The New York Times said in its editorial on Friday. 

"Seventeen months later, Hamas is that much stronger and Fatah is that much weaker. With the pretense of joint government now shattered, the Palestinian power struggle is certain to continue, even to intensify," it added.

Up to 110 Palestinians were killed since Saturday in the deadliest Hamas-Fatah infighting with Hams gunmen routing Fatah militants in the Gaza Strip and controlling all security and Fatah offices.

Abbas dismissed the government of Ismail Haniyeh, but the latter rejected the move as illegitimate.

The Palestinian unity cabinet that took office on March 17 in a Saudi-mediated power-sharing deal was supposed to end factional fighting that killed more than 100 people in December and January.

But tensions between the two rivals continued to simmer, stoked by disagreements over cabinet posts.

Palestinian State?

Experts further say that the US president can no longer speak about a viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel as he used to say every now and then. 

"The two-state vision is dead. It really is," Edward G. Abington Jr., a former State Department official who was once an adviser to Abbas, told the Post.

The violence has ripped apart Palestinian hopes for a much-hoped and long-awaited state.

Before the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Bush and his aides had debated whether the president should make a speech marking the fifth anniversary of his Middle East address, on June 24, in part to rebut criticism that his administration has accomplished little to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Post said.

"It is not clear what the president would say," the paper said.

Alvaro de Soto, the outgoing UN Mideast peace envoy, said on Wednesday that the unquestioning subservience of the UN and the international community to the US and Israeli interests had handicapped all efforts for peace in the Middle East and added insult to Palestinian injuries.

In his 53-page report, the seasoned diplomat regretted that the UN and the rest of the Mideast Quartet – Russia and the EU – have become a "side-show" and "pretty much a group of friends of the US."

Two Governments 

Experts say Abbas’s declaration of an emergency cabinet in the West Bank holds out the prospects of two cabinets and finally early elections, an option staunchly opposed by Hamas.

They say the US and Israel, both announced their full support for Abbas Thursday, would work now on consolidating "Abbas’s government" in the West Bank.

According to Friday’s edition of The Washington Post, US officials signaled that they will move quickly to persuade the Quartet to lift aid restrictions on the emergency government, allowing direct aid to flow to the West Bank-based cabinet that Abbas will lead.

"There is no more Hamas-led government. It is gone," a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Post.

The official said the dissolution of the Hamas-led government is a singular moment that will allow the United States and its allies to create a "new model of engagement."

The United States on Thursday endorsed Abbas’ decision to declare an emergency government in the West Bank.

"President Abbas has exercised his lawful authority as president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the Palestinian people," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

Israeli officials further suggested that Israel would work with Abbas and a Fatah government in the West Bank, and could gradually hand over to it the remaining Palestinian tax moneys, about $562 million, withheld since Hamas took power a year ago in March, The New York Times reported Friday.

"To give the money to a Hamas government would be reckless," one senior Israeli official said.

"To give it to a Fatah government is an opportunity."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged support for Abbas Thursday.

"I call on my friend Abu Mazen (Abbas’s alias) to take the opportunity, now that almost the entire world understands the viciousness, the brutality of Hamas, to exercise his authority as the leader of the Palestinian people," he said.

In an interview with The New York Times, Olmert said Israel would be "helpful and supportive of the Palestinian people in every possible way, including economic cooperation and security cooperation."

In fact, even in relatively peaceful times, Gaza has been almost totally separated from the West Bank.

The comprehensive agreement which Rice thought she had brokered in November 2005, and which included provisions for "safe passage" from Gaza to the West Bank, has not been implemented. Israel retains control of Gaza’s crossings, territorial waters, and airspace.

(, June 16, 2007)

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