Will There Be a Palestinian Civil War?
- The June 25 Palestinian attack from the Gaza Strip on an IDF military post inside Israel is directly connected to the Hamas-Fatah struggle over the “Prisoners Document,” which may be put to a Palestinian referendum. The core of that document calls for the unification of all armed factions to carry out joint operations against Israel. What remains in dispute is who exactly will lead the new unified front. Essentially, Hamas’ Khaled Mashaal is telling Fatah that it will not determine for the Palestinians how to conduct the “resistance.”
- Fatah sources have said that the referendum initiative was designed to offer Hamas a ladder with which to climb down from the current stalemate. However, Abbas did not properly calculate the veto power of Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas’ Damascus-based political bureau.
- Mashaal views Hamas as in the Iranian-Syrian orbit, while Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Gaza identifies his government as part of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement. Haniyeh is also limiting his horizons to the PA, while Mashaal has a broader vision of the global spread of Islam. Mashaal maintains direct command of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.
- The fact that the Prisoners Document was produced by jailed Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti – the bitter enemy of the old Tunis Fatah echelons – created tensions inside Fatah between the Old Guard and Abbas, whom they suspected of secretly nurturing the Young Guard at their expense. The advent of Barghouti as the one who is controlling the development of events has led the Old Guard to limit their support of Abbas’ initiative.
- Support for Abbas in a showdown with Hamas could come from the alarmed Arab governments that feel threatened by the rise of Hamas, and especially Jordan, which uncovered several attempts by Hamas in Syria to operate inside Jordan. The capture by Israel of Ibrahim Hamed, the military commander of Hamas in the West Bank, led to the exposure of far-reaching plans by Hamas to attack Jordan from the West Bank, according to directives coming from Mashaal in Damascus and backed by Tehran.
- While there is no reason to suspect Abbas’ rejection of a renewed armed conflict with Israel, his build-up of a new militia based on Force 17 personnel who are in contact with Hizballah does raise concerns. It is also noteworthy that the Prisoners Document still calls for “resistance” inside the territories and accepts the establishment of a Palestinian state inside those territories, but without renouncing the fundamental Palestinian right of return to areas inside Israel.
Pinchas Inbari is a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians: Between Terror and Statehood.
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