Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Playing "Favorites" in the Palestinian Civil Conflict Will Not Resolve the Issue

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) June 19, 2007 - Over the last several weeks, the bloody internal struggle in the Palestinian Territory has resulted in a military victory for the forces of Hamas. In Gaza, security forces loyal to the Fatah-led government of President Mahmoud Abbas were overrun by Hamas fighters, with scores of Fatah security officers and government officials forced to flee to Egypt or the West Bank.

The Gaza offices of the Prime Minister and the private home of the late Yasser Arafat were also ransacked.

The fragile coalition government of Hamas and Fatah was also a casualty of the internal war: Mr. Abbas fired his former Hamas-affiliated Prime Minister and replaced him Salam Fayyad.

And, in a reversal of the 15 month U.S. and international boycott of the Palestinian government, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has communicated with Mr. Fayyad to offer both diplomatic support and material assistance to the newly-installed Palestinian government-one that has no official role for the most popular political faction in Gaza and the West Bank. The European Union has also followed suit in an attempt to both disempower, and isolate, Hamas as a political force in Palestine.

In the short run, the end of the diplomatic and foreign assistance boycott against Palestinians could provide some desperately needed humanitarian aid, and possibly, the release of millions of dollars in Palestinian customs revenue withheld by Israel, which constitutes some 60% of the necessary operating budget of the Palestinian Authority. But in the long run, the political-and military-situation in Palestine will only become worse.

Why? Consider that Hamas remains the political choice of a clear majority of Palestinians. This is not necessarily because Hamas is a militant "Islamic" front, but because, in fact, they are seen as an alternative to a Fatah movement widely criticized for both corruption and cronyism. The further isolation of Hamas by Western governments and aid agencies will not likely result in the moderation of the views of the Islamic resistance toward the state of Israel, or the use of armed violence as a tactic of resistance. And there is also a danger that the armed conflict in Gaza will spill over into a more violent civil war in the West Bank.

Moreover, the United States and its European allies may have inadvertently placed the "kiss of death" on the Fatah movement by recognizing and supporting one party in a violent civil conflict without providing assistance for the resolution of the underlying conflict itself.

Lobbing missiles at Israeli border settlements may not be a way to resolve the greater issue of the occupation of Palestinian land. But playing favorites in this war, and denying any legitimacy to the political entity elected to govern the people of Palestine will not advance the legitimate interests of the people either.

We believe that the only way out of this dilemma is for both Hamas and Fatah to declare an end to armed hostilities-both for the sake of political security, and for the sake of the lives of real people in Palestine being murdered in this conflict. Revenge killings and reprisals must also end if the hopes for an independent Palestinian state are to ever be realized.

The United States should also use economic and political power to strategically bring the conflicting parties together. Hamas will not simply fold up their tent and go quietly into the night simply because they are being denied U.S. diplomatic recognition and material support.

It would also behoove America to put more direct pressure on Israel to stop the expansion of settlements and the gross violations of Palestinian human rights that are at the core of the Palestinian resistance.

Hamas could, and should, use the power of its popular political mandate to truly serve the material interests of the Palestinian people through means that exclude internal or external warfare.

If all parties in this conflict would agree to advance an agenda of non-violent coexistence with each other, and a strategic use of nonviolent means to end the occupation of their homeland, they would probably, in the long run, be able to offer the people of Palestine the true gift of freedom-both political freedom, and freedom from fear.

It will, in all probability, be a difficult road ahead for both Fatah and Hamas. But it might very well be the only road that can ultimately lead to an end to the Israeli occupation and, in the final analysis, peace and security for the people of Palestine and the entire Middle East.

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