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Behind The Gaza Breakdown

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    Behind The Gaza Breakdown Chris Toensing December 18, 2006 http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/12/18/behind_the_gaza_breakdown .php Chris Toensing is editor
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 26, 2006
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      Behind The Gaza Breakdown
      Chris Toensing
      December 18, 2006
      http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/12/18/behind_the_gaza_breakdown
      .php


      Chris Toensing is editor of Middle East Report, a publication of
      the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington, D.C.

      The latest convoluted set of events within Palestine, and at its
      borders, form a depressing tableau that mirrors the conflict as a
      whole.

      Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister compelled by an Israeli-Arab-
      Western financial blockade to seek his government's budget from Iran
      and Sudan, was denied reentry into Gaza, the seat of his government,
      until Israeli-Egyptian-U.S. negotiations decided he would leave his
      bags of donated cash behind in Egypt. That a Palestinian's movements
      should be thus externally controlled is not, of course, novel, and
      Israel accorded Yasser Arafat similar treatment, in life and in
      death. But there was a twist in Haniyeh's delayed border crossing on
      December 14: The prime minister's entourage met a hail of bullets
      from gunmen likely linked to Fatah, the main rival of the Hamas
      movement to which he belongs. Haniyeh escaped, but a bodyguard did
      not.

      The backdrop to this imbroglio is the refusal, by Israel, the United
      States and much of Fatah, to accept the outcome of the January 2006
      Palestinian elections, won fair and square by Hamas. Israel promptly
      halted transfer of the customs revenues it owes by treaty to the
      Palestinian Authority. The U.S. organized a Western-Arab aid embargo
      upon the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, to remain in place unless
      Hamas recognizes Israel, renounces violence and embraces all
      agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians under Arafat.

      One might call these actions hypocritical. Having spent 2005
      extolling the virtues of electoral democracy to Arabs, the Bush
      administration then boycotted the victor of the first Arab elections
      in decades in which the reins of power actually changed hands.
      Certainly, the revenue and aid blockade, aiming as it does to starve
      the Palestinian people into turning against Hamas, is immoral.

      But the half-secret behind the sordid scene at the Gaza border
      crossing is that the embargo is slipping. For some months, alarmed
      by humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories, the European
      Union has been sending indirect aid, which, though not disbursed by
      Hamas-controlled ministries, does ease the burdens on the population
      and, hence, the popular pressure on Haniyeh's party. Neither is
      Hamas simply waiting for charity. According to European border
      monitors, the prime minister's colleagues had already brought some
      $80 million in cash, much of it raised in the Arabian Peninsula,
      into Gaza before he was stopped. Hamas has weathered the embargo
      without acceding to U.S.-Israeli demands and, thus, it has retained
      its mantle as the political force representing the spirit of
      resistance to Israeli occupation. As independent leftist Mustafa
      Barghouti told The Washington Post, "If they were to hold [new
      parliamentary] elections tomorrow, I'm fairly certain the results
      would not be much different." Why? Mouin Rabbani of the
      International Crisis Group puts it this way: "The Palestinians are
      being asked to choose between their national dignity and their next
      meal"—and so far they are choosing the former. Even Israel's five-
      month offensive in Gaza, following Palestinian capture of an army
      corporal, seems not to have eroded Hamas' support.

      Enter the final dramatis personae, President Mahmoud Abbas and those
      others in Fatah whose hopes spring eternal for a resurrection of the
      1990s "peace process," despite Israel's manifest lack of interest.
      For months, Abbas has been avowedly anxious to woo Hamas into
      forming a "national unity" government, but his conditions keep
      moving away from a national reconciliation document agreed upon in
      June and toward the Israeli-U.S. conditions for relaxing the siege
      upon Gaza and the West Bank. For that reason, and because the
      embargo has amplified less compromising voices within Hamas, the
      Islamist movement has declined. On December 16, Abbas upped the
      ante, threatening to call new parliamentary and presidential
      elections if Hamas does not change its mind.

      The U.S. and Britain have backed this maneuver, whose legality the
      American media persist in casting as "unclear." But according to
      Nathan Brown, a scholar of Arab constitutions, the Palestinian Basic
      Law is "extremely clear and definitive" that Palestinian legislative
      terms are four years long. Full stop. The Palestinian president,
      Brown writes, "has no more basis for early parliamentary elections
      than President George W. Bush has for ordering new Congressional
      elections if he does not like the result."

      Couple this fact with Fatah's complicity in Washington's attempts to
      unseat Hamas—such as back-door funding, already in October, for the
      Islamists' putative electoral opponents—and the deeper contours of
      the ongoing Hamas-Fatah clashes in Gaza come into focus. The U.S.
      might like to see the fighting escalate; when Israeli Prime Minister
      Ehud Olmert last visited Washington, Bush reportedly pressed him to
      allow the Badr Brigades, a Palestinian armed unit based in Jordan,
      into the West Bank. Do the two largest Palestinian factions have the
      stomach for civil war? Or, instead, will Hamas return underground
      and step up attacks on Israel, hoping for Abbas to assume the role
      of Israeli-U.S. proxy policeman played by Arafat during the 1990s?
      The Hamas politburo head promises the latter scenario, if his party
      is not permitted to govern. So Israel and the U.S., who limned the
      Palestinians' current plight, will also sketch the outline of the
      sequel.

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