Monday, April 26, 2010

Fatah vs. Hamas: Civil War Or Cold War?

Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israel, writes about the developing dynamic between Hamas and Fatah. While Hamas increases its popularity in the West Bank, Fatah's decline is only worsening--it remains known for its corruption and is becoming irrelevant:
The key Palestinian leader in the West Bank today is Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad is not a Fatah member, and his government holds power not as a result of that movement's authority. Rather, Fayyad is in effect an appointee of the West. The security forces led by Gen. Keith Dayton, which keep him in place, are Western organized and financed, and not beholden to any political faction. His gradualist approach is quite alien to Palestinian political culture, and despite the undoubted improvements this approach has brought to daily life in the West Bank, the level of his support is uncertain.

It remains widely believed that without the presence of the "Dayton" forces and more importantly without the continued activities of the IDF in the West Bank, the area would fall to Hamas in a similar process to that which took place in Gaza.
Khaled Abu Toameh has written about why does not seem to fit in:
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad may be a good man with good intentions, but those who think that he will be able to persuade the Palestinians to make peace with Israel are deluding themselves.

In Palestinian culture, it is more important if one graduates from an Israeli prison than from the University of Texas at Austin.

Fayyad never spent a day in an Israeli jail. Nor did he or any of his sons take an active role in the “struggle” against Israel.
This makes Fayyad appear not only as an outsider but also a tool of the West--an impression that is very accurate, as Spyer writes:
Veteran Palestinian political analyst Yezid Sayigh recently noted that both the Gaza and Ramallah governments are dependent for their economic survival on foreign assistance. The Fayyad government has an annual $2.8 billion budget, of which one half consists of direct foreign aid. The Hamas authorities, meanwhile, announced a budget of $540 million, of which $480 million is to come from outside (Iran). The dependence on foreign capital reflects perhaps the salient element shared by both Palestinian governments - they are both able to continue to exist because of the interests of rival outside powers that they do so.
The split in the Palestinian national movement is ultimately a function of the broader strategic situation of regional cold war. It is thus likely to continue for as long as this regional reality pertains.
And there is no sign that this situation--the division between Fatah and Hamas; between the West Bank and Gaza--is going to resolve itself any time soon. As long as the division exists, any talk about a "peace process" is futile, not only because of the break between Fatah and Hamas, but because of who is backing Hamas and why:
The Middle East is currently divided between a loose alliance of states aligned with the US and the West, and an Iran-led "resistance bloc" of states and movements. Hamas is able to maintain its sovereign enclave in Gaza as a result of the willingness of Iran to arm and finance it. The Gaza enclave serves Iran's purposes well. It gives Teheran an effective veto over any attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It also gives non-Arab Iran a direct point of entry into the single most important regional conflict in the eyes of the masses of the Arab world.
The West, which also attaches massive importance to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has itself in turn been prepared to create, finance and underwrite a version of Palestinian politics and governance - that of Fayyad - which is to its liking, once it became clear that the Palestinians themselves were not going to do this.
The problem is that this split is more than just an inconvenience to the "peace process"--it is a cold war that changes the nature of the game itself
The result is that Palestinian politics has been thoroughly penetrated by the larger regional standoff. Each of the regional blocs has its own Palestinian authority, which acts as a laboratory and advertisement for its preferred methods. The Gaza version favors strict Islamic governance and armed struggle to the end against Israel. The Ramallah government - according to Sayigh the less representative of the two - stands for alignment with the West and proclaimed acceptance of a negotiated solution. 
The proudest achievement of PLO and Fatah leader Yasser Arafat was the establishment of a single, authoritative Palestinian national movement not beholden to or dependent on any outside power. Such a movement no longer exists. The split represents a profound change in Palestinian politics, which calls into question many of the basic assumptions regarding the conflict which have become received wisdom in Israel and the West over the last couple of decades.
The Jerusalem Post's Herb Keinon describes how in Israel there is a paradign shift in the peace process:
Israel, he said, has undergone “a fundamental political transformation” as a result of enduring five years of high-level terrorism, beginning in 2000. He pointed out that whereas Labor and Meretz, the two leading political parties of the left advocating for territorial concessions, received 56 seats in the 1992 national elections, they won only 16 seats in last year’s vote.

“Israel was mugged by reality,” according to Keinon, with missile attacks on northern cities from Lebanon in 2006 and on Sderot from Gaza for years have heightened a national sense of insecurity. Not a time for diplomatic risk-taking and ceding land, he said.

“We can’t go back to the land-for-peace paradigm” the U.S. is calling for now because “we got terrorism for land,” after withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005.
Washington believes in resolving the conflict, but Israelis now talk about managing the conflict.
If Spyer is correct, what is required is more than a paradigm shift in at attitude toward the peace process--because peace--at least through negotiation--is not what is at stake. Instead this "cold war" between Hamas and Fatah is developing into something much bigger, something that actually will affect the region as a whole.

And that is without taking into account questions about Abbas's health on the one hand and Iran's second puppet, Hizbollah, on the other.

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NormanF said...

If this is a Cold War paradigm, Israel should shift its policy from one of talks to one of "containment." It may take decades or even a century to change the Palestinian culture. A stream of never-ending unilateral Israeli concessions won't moderate it. The question whether the Israeli government and public are willing to steel themselves for however long it takes to wear the Palestinians down. That is something no quick-fix "peace process" will bring about any time soon.

Daled Amos said...

If this is a Cold War paradigm, Israel should shift its policy from one of talks to one of "containment."

I suppose that might be along the lines of what Keinon was referring to when he wrote, "Washington believes in resolving the conflict, but Israelis now talk about managing the conflict."

But as for the White House--well, foreign policy is not its strength.