The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

ICG: After Gaza

The International Crisis Group has released a much-awaited report on the late unpleasant events in Palestine, After Gaza. To sum it up, ICG says "West Bank First" would be a disaster, takes Hamas to task for the way it has run Gaza, tut-tuts Fatah for not wanting to share power and urges Palestinians to form one national government again with support from international community:

A more promising course would be for Fatah and Hamas to immediately cease hostile action against each other and begin to reverse steps that are entrenching separation between Gaza and the West Bank and undermining democratic institutions. In the longer run, they should seek a new power-sharing arrangement, including:
• a clearer political platform, explicitly endorsing the Arab Peace Initiative;

• a commitment to a reciprocal and comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire;

• reform of the security services, to include de-factionalisation and integration of Hamas’s Executive Security Force;

• reform of the PLO, expanding it to include Hamas and Islamic Jihad;

• formation of a new unified government approved by the parliament; and

• consideration of early presidential and legislative elections, although not before one year before the establishment of new government.

To facilitate this, Arab states and other third parties should offer their mediation and monitoring of any agreement. If an agreement is reached, the Quartet should be prepared to engage with a new government politically and economically.

One lives in hope. The report also sheds light on the brutality of the fighting between the two main Palestinian factions and dispels a few myths commonly repeated in much of the mainstream American media. Such as:

Some observers stress the ideological incompatibility of two movements with very different ideas about how to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In numerous talks Crisis Group held with Fatah and Hamas leaders during this period, however, program divergence virtually never came up. The battle was essentially over military and political power, more specifically who would control the security sector and whether Hamas would be allowed to join the PLO.


Clearly, continued deterioration in the economy and security, coupled with Quartet and Israeli refusal to amend policies, strengthened the more hard-line within Hamas. Sceptical of the decision first to stand for elections and next to share much power in a national unity government, they could point to the continued boycott, international financial and material support to Fatah, Hamas’s inability to govern and its loss of popular support and ask: why are we doing this? In Rafah, a newspaper run by members of the military wing, the Martyr Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, published an article denouncing Haniya as a renegade for involvement in politics and defending a government set up under occupation. It was accompanied by statements by the late Hamas leader Abd-al-Aziz Rantisi attacking formation of any government under occupation.


Hamas’s bête-noire – continuing the starring role in Islamist demonology he assumed in the 1990s during successive crackdowns on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad as head of the Preventive Security Force (PSF) in the Gaza Strip – was Muhammad Dahlan. Intelligent, ambitious and ruthless in equal measure, he adroitly used his powers and position over the years to develop an extensive, loyal patronage network, outmanoeuvre and/or co-opt Fatah and PA rivals and solidify his role as the most important Fatah power in the Gaza Strip. To Hamas, he personified everything it detested: “collaboration, corruption, and chaos�. Islamists denounced him as the “head of the snake�, the local strategist and point man in a campaign led by the U.S. to reverse the 2006 elections. Hamas saw Dahlan’s 18 March appointment by Abbas as national security adviser with expanded powers – a presidential prerogative exercised the day after the national unity government was formed – as a clear signal that Fatah power centres opposed to reconciliation retained the upper hand. Some concluded that their rivals’ commitment to the Mecca Agreement stemmed from their conviction that the engineered failure of a national unity government would justify early elections. Commenting on such a scenario, a Hamas leader in late May warned:

Dahlan and his allies are seeking to torpedo the national unity government. We will not let this happen. We will not allow elements within Fatah to restore its hegemony and will not participate in early elections or recognise their legitimacy.


Facing a growing security vacuum, Hamas officials also expressed increasing concern about the emergence of rival, radical jihadist groups that might outflank them, as Hamas had done with Fatah. Several weeks before the June confrontation, a leader said: “The Zawahiris are gaining. The one party that is winning is al-Qaeda�. Such sentiments were echoed by Fatah, though to accuse Hamas of creating a climate conducive to the radicals’ growth. In response, Hamas accused Dahlan of sponsoring the Army of Islam, a clan-based militia whose leadership had previously cooperated with Hamas but with which it had been in bitter conflict since mid-2006.

Also juicy little bits of detail like:

When Dahlan associates sought refuge in the home of Egyptian diplomats, Qassam militants dragged them out.

Some important conclusions too:

It appeared not so much a victory for Hamas – which was suddenly confronted with new and unprecedented responsibilities and challenges – as for the Qassam Brigades, not only because they and their commanders rather than the politicians in Gaza or Damascus seemed to be calling the shots, but because Fatah’s defeat and their control of Gaza’s streets gave them the opportunity to appear publicly for the first time in over a decade.

There's a lot more in there if you dig.