The one-up game and the Palestinian tale of failure


After the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip in 2005, Hamas was very successful in representing the Israeli decision of unilateral withdrawal as their own triumph over the “Zionist occupation”. When elections were held in 2006 for the post of Prime Minister (under Western pressure), Haniyeh won the election. Hamas won, on the one hand, because of the additional popularity that “defeating the Israelis” gain them, but also because of the internal divisions in the PLO camp. While Hamas candidates benefited from unified lists, the PLO candidates set up competing lists in many of the electoral districts of the Palestinian Authority, dividing the PLO vote during what was in the face of it, a close election to begin with. Hamas and the PLO have been at odds since the 1980s. While Arafat was very adept at keeping everybody under the tent, his death in 2004 removed the one unifying factor that kept the factions to go into open internecine warfare. Abbas initially attempted to work with Haniyeh, but Hamas' uncompromising rejection of negotiations with Israel added to Western pressures, led Abbas to dismiss Haniyeh. Haniyeh never accepted this dismissal, leading to the separate governments of Gaza and the West Bank which existed since. The rejection was followed by a bloody repression and murder of PLO supporters in Gaza, solidifying Hamas' control over the strip.


Abu Mazen was elected Arafat's successor in 2005 under a more pro-PLO legislature, and his term was supposed to end in 2009. Surprise, surprise, no new elections were called and Mahmoud Abbas remains President of the Palestinian Authority, albeit by any democratic rules, an illegal one. He has been courting on and off Hamas for a Unity Pact. This courting is his attempt tp step into Arafat's shoes as the elder statesman and become the unifying figure of Palestinian society. He would very much like that to be his legacy.


Salam Fayyad is a graduate of the American University of Beirut (1975), and earned an MBA at St Edward's University in Austin (TX) followed by a PhD in Economics from the University of Texas. Upon graduation he went to Jordan, where the taught at the Yarmuk University, and in 1987 he joined the International Monetary Fund as representative of the Palestinian Authority from 1996 to 2001. Arafat called him back to become Finance Minister of the Palestinian territories, a post he held briefly. After resigning he joined Hanan Ashrawi and Yasser Rabbo in foundign the Third Way Party which competed with Hamas and the PLO in the 2006 elections.


As part of Abbas' attempts to work with Haniyeh, Fayyad became the compromise choice for Finance Minister because he was seen as a technocrat with no strong loyalties to either the PLO nor Hamas. After Hamas' take over of the Gaza strip, Abu Mazen appointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister. The intention was multipronged. Fayyad had been improving the Palestinian economy and was becoming popular in the Palestinian street, so Abbas' calculation was that bringing him in, would strengthen his hand against Hamas. While the government he joined, as well as his own appointment, are considered illegal by many, they are the de facto government of the West Bank.


In the midst of all this political upheaval and confrontations, Abbas' start is in decline while Haniyeh's continue to be strong due to his iron fist tactics against political opponents. At this point both, the Hamas government in Gaza as well as the “Independent”, Abbas-led, government in Ramallah are essentially illegal as they have retained power beyond the stipulations of the Palestinian laws.


What we are witnessing is, therefore, an open fight for power between two strongmen who are the product of a society in which strength makes right and in which power trumps authority. In this climate, Fayyad has continued his attempts to strengthen the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. But if you believe Fayyad is a stranger to power jockeying, think again. His “resignation” was half-hearted and clearly intended to remind the Palestinian people that western economic support depends on his remaining in power, thus explaining the timing of his resignation which came on the heels of Kerry's visit to the region and his announcement of an economic plan for the Palestinian territories.


Will any of this bring us closer to Peace? - I don't know

Will any of this bring us closer to a Palestinian State? - possibly

Will any of this bring the Palestinians closer to accept Jewish sovereignty over Israel? - probably not

Will any of this make Israel more secure? - No


We are witnessing a classical power struggle between Palestinian factions, a struggle in which hate of Israel is one more piece in their game of one-upmanship.


Israel recognized already the right of the Palestinian people to establish their own state in some of the territory Israel occupied from Jordan and Egypt in 1967. Peace will come between Israelis and Palestinians only when Palestinians will reciprocate that gesture and accept the presence and political sovereignty of the Jewish in its ancestral land. The they can sit up and talk over the details...


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