Show of solidarity on the Palestinian street, not among elites

Despite the massive Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, Middle East specialist Frédéric Encel believes the Palestinians remain deeply divided.


Almost 400 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. What is its impact on Palestinian unity?


This question is central. In the Palestinian street, even in the West Bank and especially in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, people have displayed their solidarity toward Hamas because the strikes claimed so many lives and because Israel remains their age-old enemy. At the same time, if you prod a little further, many however criticise Hamas policies.


In the West Bank, Palestinians accuse the Hamas of acting irresponsibly and of jeopardising progress made by [former Palestinian President Yasser] Arafat and [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas, including obtaining an autonomous status for the West Bank and recent economic developments. West Bank Palestinians want to continue talks with Israel whereas in the Gaza Strip, which is more conservative and poorer, Palestinians continue to back Hamas. The Palestinian divide between Fatah and Hamas is double, both historical and economic. For those who belong to lower social classes, who are more religious and even more mystical, Abbas’ path to peace is leading nowhere.


Palestinian elites remain thoroughly divided. It is revelatory that Abbas recently called Hamas a putschist movement and condemned it for launching Katyusha rockets against Israel. And the West Bank elite, those who have something to lose, important traders or civil servants, continue to support him.


On the Internet, bloggers say Fatah has helped Israel prepare for the present attacks against Hamas in the Gaza Strip? Are these reports credible?


No, they’re not. Fatah has not helped Israel because it is incapable of doing so. Israel has used air raids to strike Hamas and Fatah has no aircraft. Moreover, Hamas has ousted Fatah members from Gaza. Even if there are a few sympathisers left, they do not have the means of helping Israel. They are either in prison, under great suspicion or have fled by now. I don’t believe such accusations leveled against Fatah.

Abbas’ mandate ends on Jan. 9. Will elections be maintained though the Gaza Strip will still be reeling after the recent Israeli raids?


An election will be held in 2009, as set out by the Palestinian constitution, but it is not guaranteed that Hamas will take part in the poll. Abbas’ authority is not recognised by Hamas which broke constitutional law when it seized Gaza ministries in 2007. Abbas might organise open and democratic elections without letting Hamas take part in them.



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