Notes on Gaza

Some readers have written to ask why I am not writing about the recent events in Palestine. The main reason, aside from not having internet access over the last few days, is that I am not there and do not follow events there very closely. For fresh analysis and reporting, you could do no better than head over to my friend Charles Levinson's Conflict Blotter, which is shock-full of interesting tidbits such as this timeline of the recent clashes. I have some thoughts on how this links in to bigger regional issues, but that will have to wait.

I actually think the most important document you can read to understand the current crisis is Alvaro de Soto's recently leaked UN report, revealed by the Guardian, in which he illustrates the sheer cravenness of US and Israeli policies towards the conflict, basically suggesting that the UN (and European countries) should withdraw from the sham that is the Quartet. The report is basically explosive, and considering this is widely believed to be one of the most important conflicts on the planet, it is an extremely important story. It has been fairly widely reported by the European press since the Guardian broke it. I just checked the websites of the New York Times and the name "Alvaro de Soto" does not show up at all in the past week; the Washington Post printed a story on page A16 last Thursday (I subscribe to the Post's daily mailing list and to its mideast RSS feed and did not see it).

Below are clippings from a variety of sources, some very anti-Palestinian, but they illustrate well one thing: that the leaders of Fatah, by and large, may have not had control of a real state but were cut from very much the same cloth as most other Arab leaders.

Hamas Takes Over Gaza Security Services - New York Sun

World Net Daily's Aaron Klein first broke the story of the document stash yesterday, publishing an interview with a spokesman for the Hamas allied Popular Resistance Committee, Muhammed Abdel-El. He told Mr. Klein, "The CIA files we seized, which include documents, CDs, taped conversations, and videos, are more important than all the American weapons we obtained the last two days as we took over the traitor Fatah's positions."

A CIA spokesman yesterday declined to comment. But a former CIA operations officer who worked in the Middle East, Robert Baer, said it was a major blow to Fatah, the party founded in 1966 by Yasser Arafat that America sought to prop up during the Oslo process as the CIA and Egyptian security services trained its members in the hopes that they would take action against jihadists such as Hamas.

"They are going to identify Fatah with the CIA. Fatah equals CIA is not a good selling point. They are going to show a record of training, spying on Hamas, that's about it. It's what we all knew. But the point is they have undermined the secular Palestinians for a long time. No one wants to be publicly associated with the CIA in the Middle East, except for maybe the Albanians," Mr. Baer said.

Mr. Baer said that most of the training the CIA provided in the Oslo years, aid codified in the Wye River Accords in 1998 between America, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, was fairly low level. "What we did was throw money at them. We give them dumb training, soft interrogation techniques, reports writing. All this stuff is a total waste of time. They will never get to the point where they do anything more than transmit a report verbally to someone they trust. That is just the culture."
PA Chairman Abbas issues decree outlawing Hamas armed militias - Haaretz

According to the current plan, Abbas will continue to refuse to negotiate with Hamas or to reach a compromise with the movement's leadership. This weekend he turned down a request to meet with Khaled Meshal. The emergency cabinet of Salam Fayad is sure to obtain broad Arab and international support. Since it contains no Hamas members, the boycott against the PA will be lifted and it will receive financial and diplomatic support from the whole world. This weekend, representatives of Abbas asked a number of non-partisan Gazan figures to join the new cabinet but so far none has agreed.

The blockade of the Gaza Strip will continue, under the plan framed by Abbas. Israel and Egypt will provide a small amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza residents, but the government of Ismail Haniyeh - dissolved by Abbas - will continue to be viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the international community. Gaza's borders will be nearly hermetically sealed, with only limited emergency supplies and intermittent water and electricity provided by Israel. The intention is to maintain the siege on Gaza for a few weeks - not to defeat Hamas or to reoccupy the strip, but to pressure Hamas into agreeing to a compromise according to terms dictated by Abbas.

Abbas sought and received Egypt's blessing for this plan, in contrast to Cairo's firm and public opposition to Abbas' Plan B, which called for introducing an Arab or international force into Gaza. The Egyptians explained that such a move would provoke resistance from Hamas and would turn Gaza into Baghdad.
Abbas aide: Fayad completed formation of emergency gov't - Haaretz

Hamas' Damascus-based political leader Khaled Meshal said Friday his group does not want to seize power in the Palestinian Authority, and that the group recognizes Abbas as the head of the PA.

"Hamas does not want to seize power ... We are faithful to the Palestinian people," Meshal said, promising to help rebuild Palestinian homes damaged in the months of bloody infighting.

"What happened in Gaza was a necessary step. The people were suffering from chaos and lack of security and this treatment was needed," Meshal continued. "The lack of security drove the crisis toward explosion."

"Abbas has legitimacy," Meshal said, "There's no one who would question or doubt that, he is an elected president, and we will cooperate with him for the sake of national interest."
How Hamas turned on Palestine's 'traitors' - The Observer

Discreetly, Hamas had forged links with members and former members of Fatah with whom it was happy to deal. It had drawn up a list of buildings belonging to the security forces of Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, to be overrun, and lists of Fatah loyalists it blamed for the murder of Hamas members. Finally, it had briefed journalists on the Hamas-controlled television channel al-Aqsa TV on the message to broadcast to Gaza's 1.4 million people to reassure them, as the fighting turned from clashes to an all-out assault on Fatah-held positions.

It was a message that would dramatically underline the nature of last week's assault. It was not an attack on Fatah, the broadcasts would insist, or Gaza's people. Instead, those under attack, the supporters of Gaza's head of the Preventive Security Force, Mohammed Dahlan, were 'collaborators with Israel and the US and traitors'.

What they did not say, but what was understood by all Gazans, was that the leadership of Hamas has a more personal grudge against the deeply unpopular Dahlan. Specifically, they blamed him for ordering a series of killings of members of Hamas that in their view had fuelled the cycle of violence that stepped up after Hamas swept Fatah from power in January last year.

The reality is that the only people who are really behind Salam Fayyad are the European and US diplomats who have long sung his praises behind the scenes to any journalist prepared to listen. So yesterday President Bush and the other members of the Quartet got what they wanted. Abbas trooped dutifully in to see the US consul-general in Jerusalem with Mohammed Dahlan, the man widely credited with beginning the cycle of violence in Gaza, in tow. And when they emerged, the boycott of US monies to the Palestinian government had been lifted.

Israeli official: Dayton failed - Jerusalem Post

As security coordinator between Israel and the PA, US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton was responsible for training and financing equipment used by the Presidential Guard, Abbas's elite force that was in charge of the Rafah and Karni crossings. During last week's fighting in Gaza, the forces proved their ineffectiveness and together with the rest of the Fatah military and political wing, failed to demonstrate a real opposition to Hamas.

"Dayton's plan completely failed," a senior defense official said. "The Presidential Guards which he was responsible for were easily run over by Hamas."

A few weeks ago I was having dinner with a noted analyst of Palestinian politics. We were talking about the dynamics of the Hamas-Fatah fighting. I asked him what he thought would happen if Dahlan is assassinated. He paused, thought a while, smiled and then answered: "Palestine is liberated."