Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Divide and Rule: How Factionalism in Palestine Is Killing Prospects for Freedom

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Divide and Rule: How Factionalism in Palestine Is Killing Prospects for Freedom

Article excerpt

AS PALESTINIANS in the occupied territories begin preparations for local elections which are scheduled for October, division and factionalism are rearing their ugly head.

Palestinian political platforms and social media are abuzz with self-defeating propaganda: Fatah supporters attacking Hamas' alleged failures, and Hamas' supporters doing the same.

What is conveniently overlooked by all sides is that the performance of Palestinian municipalities is almost entirely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

In the West Bank, local councils are governed by strict Israeli-PA arrangements. Aside from very few chores, village and town councils cannot operate without a green light: an endorsement from the Palestinian Authority itself conditioned on a nod from the Israeli occupation authorities.

This applies to almost everything: from basic services to construction permits to digging of wells. All such decisions are predicated upon political stipulation and donors' money, which are also politically motivated.

Blaming a local mayor of a tiny West Bank village that is surrounded by Israeli military walls, trenches and watchtowers, and is attacked daily by armed Jewish settlers, for failing to make a noticeable difference to the lives of the villagers is as ridiculous as it sounds.

The local elections, however, are also politically and factionally driven. Fatah, which controls the PA, is buying time and vying for relevance. No longer having a major role in leading the Palestinians in their quest for freedom, Fatah constantly invents ways to proclaim itself as a relevant force. It can only do so, however, with Israeli permission, donor money and U.S.-Western political backing and validation.

Hamas, which might endorse selected candidates but is unlikely to participate in the elections directly, is also embattled. It is under a strict siege in Gaza and its regional politicking proved costly and unreliable. While it is not as corrupt-at least, financially-as Fatah, it is often accused of asserting its power in Gaza through the use of political favoritism.

While one must insist on national unity, it is difficult to imagine a successful union between both groups without a fundamental change in the structure of these parties and overall political outlook.

In Palestine, factions perceive democracy to be a form of control, power and hegemony, not a social contract aimed at fostering dialogue and defusing conflict.

Thus, it is no wonder that supporters of two Fatah factions, one loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and another to Mohammed Dahlan, recently clashed in Gaza. Several were hospitalized after sustaining injuries.

Of course, a main case in point remains the civil war of 2007, a year or so after Hamas won parliamentary elections. The Fatah-Hamas political culture failed to understand that the losing party must concede and serve in the opposition, and the victorious party cannot assume the vote as a mandate for factional domination.

Other factors contributed to the Palestinian divide. The U.S., at the behest of Israel, wanted to ensure the collapse of the Hamas government and conditioned its support for Fatah based on the rejection of any unity government.

Israel, too, inflicted much harm, restricting the movement of elected MPs, arresting them and eventually entirely besieging Gaza. …

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