Palestine: Infighting blows apart ‘national unity’ government

Gaza’s population faces further isolation

After bloody clashes with militias linked to Fatah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Islamic organisation Hamas took control of the Gaza strip on Thursday 13 June.

Sensationalised media headlines across the world described this as ’civil war’, yet the vast majority of Palestinians took no part in the clashes. Instead, this was a struggle for power between Hamas and Fatah and had little to do with ’Palestinian national unity’, despite the claims of both sides. And as usual, it was the majority of Palestinians, the impoverished working and middle class, who suffered the consequences. On this occasion, 120 people died and there were over 500 casualties, many of them civilians.

During the Gaza fighting, Palestinian civilians faced possible death if they went out on the streets. There was no access to food and water. Gaza’s hospitals became a battleground for the two militias as their gunmen stalked the corridors and wards looking to execute their wounded opponents.

The majority of Palestinians were terrified. The latest clashes piled even more despair on a desperate population. Despite these conditions, as television footage showed, a heroic minority were prepared to come out on the streets to disarm militia men with their bare hands! If large independent Palestinian working class organisations existed in Gaza, they could have organised such actions on a mass scale which could have held back the militias from taking over the streets.

US imperialism and the regional capitalist powers have shown out-and-out hypocrisy in their response, decrying the ’Hamas’ coup’. They rushed to defend Fatah, the same organisation which in previous years they described as ’terrorist’. The Bush administration demanded ’democracy’ in the Middle East. When the Palestinians elected Hamas to power in a free and fair election, US imperialism, working with the undemocratic Saudi Arabian dictatorship, did its utmost to remove it from power.

US imperialism encouraged armed clashes between Fatah and Hamas militias by providing $80 million in weapons for President Abbas’s own militia. As the recently retired UN envoy to the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, explained in a leaked confidential report to his superiors: "The US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy declared twice in an envoys meetings in Washington how much ’I like this violence’, referring to the near civil-war that was erupting in Gaza" (Guardian, 18 June 2007).


The repercussions of Hamas’s defeat of Fatah in Gaza will exponentially add to tensions across the region. Western imperialism is now faced with an unfolding nightmare. US imperialism and the reactionary Arab elite in Egypt and Saudi Arabia regard Hamas’ victory as strengthening their enemies in the region: the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

Who talks of peace now? Who even remembers the Oslo peace accords signed by the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1993 and supported by the US government, which most capitalist commentators said would lead to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? See what happens if you mention Bush’s 2003 ’road map to peace’. Palestinians will point to the photo galleries of their young loved ones, cut down in the prime of life, casualties of the murderous, imperialist-backed occupation by the Israeli military.

Every time imperialist and regional capitalist politicians come up with a new proposal, none of the real problems of national oppression and mass poverty are actually addressed. In fact they get worse.

But these events have their roots in the Israeli ruling class’s oppression of the Palestinian people which began with the driving out of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 when Israel was created. This suffering was multiplied by the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 Israeli-Arab Six Day War whose fortieth anniversary passed just a few days ago.

In the intervening years, so-called ’peace’ agreements have been designed to insitutionalise the oppression of the Palestinians. This is because capitalism cannot afford the political and financial costs of genuine Palestinian liberation. The Oslo accords which led to the formation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) installed Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement which led the PLO into power, as the outsourced local jailers of the Palestinian people. Since Fatah’s defeat, sections of the Israeli media have described Gaza as ’Hamastan’ and blame ’Islamic terrorists’. But commentators conveniently forget to mention that the Israeli secret services supported Hamas after it was founded in 1987 in order to undermine its stronger rival at the time, the PLO.

Insitutionalise oppression

So-called subsequent ’peace’ agreements have been designed to institutionalise Palestinian oppression. This is because capitalism and imperialism cannot afford the political and financial costs of genuine Palestinian liberation. The Oslo accords which led to the formation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) installed the Yasser Arafat led PLO in power. However, the PLO leadership rapidly lost authority amongst Palestinians because of endemic corruption, spiralling poverty and no abatement of Israeli military attacks. This led to a growth in support for Hamas, which was seen as a more honest alternative to Fatah.

Despite ’peace’ agreements, Israeli settlement of the West Bank increased by 50% from 1992-96. Palestinian areas were subdivided and separated from each other and Palestinian workers were barred from Israel, further increasing poverty. There are now 450 Israeli military roadblocks and 70 permanent checkpoints in the West Bank. This is in an area one-third the size of greater London!

Under pressure from US imperialism, Palestinian President Abbas called elections in January 2006. To the horror of the Bush regime, Hamas won as the PLO was punished for years of corruption and its inability to halt Israeli capitalism’s military onslaught.

Ever since then, US imperialism, the EU powers and Israeli capitalism have implemented collective punishment on the Palestinians for ’voting the wrong way’. The intention was to force out the Hamas government. The Israeli regime withheld $800 million in tax receipts that were owed to the Palestinian government. The EU and US cut off economic aid. At the same time the Israeli military continued a bombardment against Gaza and the West Bank killing over 700 Palestinians.

All Hamas had to offer its electorate was anti-imperialist and anti-Fatah rhetoric, and the memory of its armed attacks on Israeli civilians. While the CWI supports the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves, we do not support military attacks on Israeli civilian workers and young people, which drive them into the arms of the most reactionary political forces in Israel.

Last year’s Palestinian public sector workers’ strike against non-payment of wages indicated the pressure on Hamas. Pressure from Arab elites in the region – from an opposite standpoint – led to the formation of a "national unity" government made up of Hamas and the PLO in February this year. But the new government solved none of the terrible problems Palestinians face daily.

Oxfam, the campaigning charity, reported on the day of the Hamas take-over that 1 family in 15 has debts greater than $25,000. A Palestinian school headmaster only earns $9,000 a year! Society is disintegrating. One of the only growth industries is kidnapping. Young people turn to crime or join the militias to survive.

Now Palestine consists of two statelets, one controlled by Hamas, in Gaza, and the other, on he West Bank, supported by Israel, the US and EU, with Fatah as the major force. Given the terrible and deteriorating social and economic situation, more conflict is on the agenda.

Abbas has dissolved the unity government, declared a ’state of emergency’ and installed Salam Fayyad, its former World Bank-trained finance minister as the new prime minister. Yet Fayyad’s party list only received 2.4% in the recent general elections. Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister has insisted that the old government will remain in power. Once again the hypocrisy of US imperialism and other western powers on the issue of ’democracy’ is exposed for all to see, by their desire to support an unelected Fatah regime against the elected Hamas.

It is not clear whether Hamas will attempt to attack Fatah offices and leaders in the West Bank or step up rocket attacks on southern Israel. While the evidence suggests that Hamas carefully planned its takeover, as in its January 2006 election victory, its leaders were surprised by the ease with which it was accomplished.

"Dahlan Rice"

This is because many Fatah militia men were paid fighters and not ideologically motivated. During the armed confrontations Fatah organisations in Gaza fractured, with big sections going over to Hamas. Fatah fighters had no real confidence in their leaders, some of whom were renowned for their acceptance of Israeli domination, corruption and links with criminal gangs in the Strip. Principal among these was Dahlan, who many young people in Gaza nicknamed "Dahlan Rice", after the US Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice.

Following the Hamas takeover, local Fatah leaders have announced a new interim committee to lead the organisation in Gaza, condemning the "collaborators" who used to head the organisation and claiming that Hamas would not harm "good" Fatah members. Incredibly, other Fatah hardliners have described the same individuals as part of the "mutiny trend" who capitulated to Hamas. On 18 June former Fatah secretary in Gaza Husam ’Udwan, called for the formation of an emergency committee to punish Muhammad Dahlan for this ’crime’.

It is not clear to what extent Hamas will apply strict Islamic law. Despite claims by Hamas spokespeople last Thursday that Gaza was an Islamic state, it is more likely that they will tread carefully.

However much the Hamas leadership boast about the ease of their victory, the measures they take will be based on how much support they think they have amongst the Palestinians people. Hamas leaders understand that this has fallen in the last few months. They are aware they do not have the same extent of grass roots support, for example, as Hezbollah does amongst the Shiah community in southern Lebanon. One initiative they could take is to strive to obtain the release of Alan Johnston, the kidnapped BBC journalist, to broaden their support.

But as is the case across the Middle East, no one force is able to determine events. Other Islamic-based militias could carry out rocket attacks on Israel, leading to a ground incursion into Gaza, or the Israeli military could carry out pre-emptive strikes. During the armed clashes between Fatah and Hamas, Israel tank fire killed five Palestinians, four of them children, east of Rafah (Ma’an News Agency, 16 June 2007).

The immediate calls for an ’international force’ to be stationed in Gaza have evaporated into thin air. This would be a suicide mission for any country involved. It may be the case that some sort of UN force could be deployed along the Gaza-Egyptian border, but this would also be risky for the countries involved.

Tension has increased as the Israeli regime has cut off fuel supplies to all outlets except the main power station. There are press reports that the new defence minister in the Israeli government, Ehud Barak, is calling for a ground invasion of 20,000 Israeli troops to wipe out militias firing rockets on southern Israel. This is not the most likely immediate outcome, since the Israeli military want to avoid a repeat of the debacle they faced in Lebanon in Summer 2006, when they committed ground troops to "destroy Hezbollah". They fear an "Israeli Baghdad" or as some of the Israeli press have said a "Palestinian Mogadishu". The latter refers to the takeover of Somalia’s capital by militias in the 1990s which subsequently led to the retreat of US and Pakistani forces stationed there under a UN mandate. However, new Israeli military incursion into Gaza cannot be ruled out in the next few months, especially if rocket attacks continue.

Under these circumstances the impression is given that workers and young people across the region can do nothing. But the alternative is a further drift into bloody conflict. In fact the conditions are there for a struggle against capitalism and poverty on both sides of the national divide.

Independent working class movement

Like many Palestinians, the CWI does not support the political positions of either Fatah or Hamas leadership. Unfortunately recent developments have proved embarrassing for some left groups internationally who have supported both of these organisations over the years. Hamas’ politics, although couched in anti-imperialistic rhetoric, is hostile to the workers’ movement and socialism. Their military attacks on Israeli civilians are incorrect and counter-productive. Fatah policies have zig-zagged over the years between exerting diplomatic pressure on the imperialist powers to grant Palestinian national liberation or carrying out armed attacks against Israeli civilians. As the present situation in the Palestinian areas shows, none of these tactics has worked. Only an independent working class movement on both sides of the national divide offers a way forward for the region. If a mass movement of Palestininas had developed in Gaza and the West Bank, in opposition to the murderous tactics of the Fatah and Hamas militias and demanding fundamental social change and defending the rights of all nationalities, this would have had a massive effect in Israel.

For it is not just amongst the Palestinians that there is a deep discontent with the ruling class. The Israeli elite has never had such a lack of authority in their history. The army chief had to be replaced because of its Lebanon defeat. The finance minister faces accusations of siphoning money off from a charity which organises tours of concentration camp sites in Europe. Olmert, the prime minister, has only 1-2% support. There is unprecedented wealth polarisation in the Israeli population. Neo-liberal economic policies, including wide-scale privatisation has led to a backlash with 59% of the population now supporting a "socialist economy" (ie, in this case, a desire to return to the pre-cuts welfare state) according to a poll from the Israeli Institute for Democracy.

An opinion poll by Near East Consulting, one week before the latest Gaza clashes, showed that 50% of Palestinians trusted neither Abbas or Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister. Over 60% think that rocket attacks have no positive effects.

Imperialism has nothing to offer Palestinians and Israelis alike but more suffering. Hopes for a UN-mediated solution will be sorely disappointed. But other ’capitalist’ solutions will also founder. Recently there have been suggestions in the Western media that perhaps a ’three’ state solution should be put forward. Or perhaps the incorporation of the West Bank into a federation with Jordan? However, the latter has been proposed before. It would not be accepted by the Jordanian ruling elite because of the instability it would build into the foundations of the country. Neither would the Palestinians accept being swallowed up by a regime renowned for its discrimination, lack of democracy and brutality. What none of these ’solutions’ explain is how the genuine desires for a decent life for all Palestinians and genuine national liberation will be fulfilled. The failure to do this has led to decades of conflict.

The majority of Israelis and Palestinians have no trust in their ruling elites solving the present conflict. Movements based on the interests of the majority on both sides of the national divide need to be built, dedicated to the overthrow of the capitalist system that perpetuates division and conflict.

Ma’avak Sotzialisti, the Israeli section of the CWI, is helping to build such movements. They are calling for:

  • An end to Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from those territories. Stop the international embargo of the Palestinian Authority.
  • For the building of direct links between community groups and workers on both sides of the national divide.
  • For the building of democratic and independent workers’ parties in both Palestine and Israel.
  • For the overthrow of capitalism and the building of a socialist confederation of the Middle East, with a socialist Palestine alongside a socialist Israel.
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