Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Palestinian Feuds and the International Stalemate

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Palestinian Feuds and the International Stalemate

Article excerpt

The bitter and interminable quarrel between Fatah and Hamas is spreading its poison across the Middle East and beyond. The breach between the West Bank and Gaza appears unbridgeable. The two broken-backed and suffering territories-the one under Israeli occupation, the other under Israeli siege-remain at each other's throats, as if unaware that their feuding is in danger of dooming their national cause to oblivion.

The Palestinians themselves are the main victims of the stubborn Fatah-Hamas feud. Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and president of the Palestinian Authority, is widely discredited in Palestinian circles, not least because of his shilly-shallying over the Goldstone Report on war crimes committed during the Gaza war last December-January.

But there are other casualties as well. Egypt has made immense efforts to mediate between Fatah and Hamas. After long and patient negotiations, it drew up a detailed document, dealing with such controversial subjects as arrangements for Palestinian elections set for June 28, 2010, the merging of security forces, the future governance of the two territories by a joint Fatah-Hamas committee, and so forth. It was hoped both sides would sign in October, and thus embark on the path of reconciliation, perhaps leading in due course to the formation of a national unity government.

But these hopes have once again proved vain. The document remains unsigned. Cairo's influence has suffered a blow, as has the reputation of its intelligence chief, Gen. Omar Suleiman, who led the lengthy mediation efforts. Worse still, Egypt's national interest is threatened. Cut off from the world by Israel, Gaza is increasingly integrated into the Egyptian economy. It depends for its survival on goods smuggled in from Egypt through hundreds of cross- border tunnels.

Israel would like nothing better than to hand Gaza over to Egypt, but there is nothing that Egypt fears more. Who would want to inherit responsibility for a shattered society of one and a half million angry, deprived and radicalized people, nine-tenths of them below the poverty line? Egypt has problems enough of its own without having to worry that desperation in Gaza might seep across the border and infect Sinai, creating grave security problems there.

Having no wish to be blamed for the failure of Egypt's mediation, Mahmoud Abbas on Oct. 23 signed a decree calling for elections in both the West Bank and Gaza on Jan. 24. Hamas promptly declared his decree illegal and said it would not take part.

Another casualty of the Palestinian feud is U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East peace strategy. …

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