Deepening chasm

Continued moves by Fatah against Islamic charities and
institutions in the West Bank are testament that
reconciliation is a pipe dream, writes Khaled Amayreh in
Ramallah

Despite laborious efforts by Egypt, Qatar and other
Palestinian factions to reconcile Fatah and Hamas,
divisions between the two largest Palestinian factions are
getting deeper and wider.

This week, five Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip
agreed in principle that resolving the enduring crisis
between Fatah and Hamas would have to be based on the
formation of a national reconciliation government that
would prepare for national elections as well as the
rebuilding of security agencies on professional rather than
factional foundations.

However, the agreement, to which Hamas was not party, is
likely to fall into irrelevance with true reconciliation
appearing more remote than ever.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister
of Interior Abdul-Razzaq Al-Yehia ordered security forces
to take over all Islamic institutions, including charities,
boarding schools, orphanages as well as youth and sports
clubs. The stringent measure is widely believed to be aimed
at eradicating “Hamas’s institutional existence” in the
West Bank, as long demanded by Israel and the United
States.

In the Hebron region, PA security personnel on Monday 18
August summoned the head of the Islamic Charitable Society,
Abdul-Jalil Katalo, informing him that he and the rest of
the charity’s governing board had been sacked and that a
new governing board made up exclusively of Fatah members
would run the charity and the affiliated orphanage and
boarding school.

It is not clear what will be the fate of hundreds of
orphans who receive schooling and lodging free of charge.

Earlier, the PA Interior Ministry effectively took over
Al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron by appointing unelected Fatah
members to the governing board running the hospital. The
hospital was built nearly 20 years ago by the local branch
of the Muslim Brotherhood and has ever since become one of
the best medical facilities in the occupied Palestinian
territories.

Similarly, Islamic or Islamic-oriented institutions all
over the West Bank have either been closed down or taken
over by the Interior Ministry. The manifestly unlawful
measures are carried out quietly with PA security barring
PA media from reporting these events.

Meanwhile, the Fatah-dominated security agencies continued
to round up an average of 10-20 suspected Islamic activists
on any given day. The detainees are interrogated, often
harshly, on their relationships with Hamas. Some of them
are reportedly beaten savagely, with at least one elderly
person from Nablus, identified as Marwan Al-Khalili, 67,
suffering a brain haemorrhage as a result of torture.

Moreover, several journalists and cameramen are still being
detained in PA jails for being “over critical” of the PA
and “tarnishing” its image. In recent days, the PA security
agencies went to unprecedented extents in suppressing
freedom of speech and expression.

In Hebron, for example, a man, identified as Walid
Suleiman, was summoned for interrogation at the local
Preventive Security Forces office this week. There a young
officer interrogated him in connection with an article
written by a relative and published by the pro-Fatah Maan
news agency. Suleiman told the interrogator that he had
nothing to do with the article and that the author had his
name printed above the article. However, the young Fatah
officer told Suleiman that he was aware that he was not the
author of the article, saying that he only suspected that
“the ideas” of the article was his, not the author’s.

“How am I supposed to reason with people like this?”
Suleiman asked Al-Ahram Weekly.

The attempted eradication of Hamas’s civilian
infrastructure in the West Bank is officially justified as
a response to Hamas’s clampdown on Fatah in the Gaza Strip.
However, it is amply clear that Fatah’s efforts to
eradicate Hamas’s political influence in the West Bank are
more systematic than anything done by Hamas against Fatah
in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian journalist and columnist Hani Al-Masri believes
that the draconian measures taken by each side against the
other are bound to deepen the national rift and might even
make it irreversible. “The psychological scars resulting
from this situation would be very difficult to heal. There
is a lot of vengeance and vindictiveness, and Israel is of
course the ultimate beneficiary,” Al-Masri said.

He added the Hamas-Fatah crisis was more than just a
“bilateral issue”. “It is becoming increasingly clear that
the persistence of crisis is an integral part of the
regional order, especially the overall Israeli-Palestinian
scene. Israel will do all it can to maintain or at least
prolong the conflict between the two Palestinian camps.”

This week, the Israeli government agreed to release as many
as 200 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill
towards PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli leaders said they
hoped the gesture would strengthen Abbas vis-à-vis Hamas
and show the Palestinians that “moderation pays”.

Abbas had bitterly complained to the Bush administration
that Israel was rewarding “the extremists” like Hizbullah,
by freeing Lebanese prisoners, and Hamas by agreeing to a
ceasefire with the militant group in the Gaza Strip, while
effectively discrediting him in the eyes of his own people
by refusing to free Palestinian prisoners.

The prisoners, including two long-serving inmates with
“Jewish blood on their hands” (each serving nearly 30 years
in jail) are expected to be freed later this week or early
next week to coincide with the arrival in the region of US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. According to Israeli
and Palestinian sources, Rice will urge Israel and the PA
to reach a general draft agreement on final status issues
before the end of 2008.

The conclusion of such an agreement before George W Bush
exits the White House, however, appears out of the
question. This week, Sari Nuseibeh, president of Al-Quds
University and one of the PLO’s most dovish figures,
pointed out in an interview with the Israeli Haaretz
newspaper that the two-state solution was becoming
increasingly impossible in light of unmitigated Israeli
settlement expansion.

“I still favour the two-state solution and will continue to
do so, but to the extent that you discover it’s not
practical anymore, or that it’s not going to happen, you
start to think about what the alternatives are. I think
that the feeling is that there are two courses taking place
that are opposed to one another. On the one hand, there is
what people are saying and thinking, on both sides. There
is the sense that we are running out of time; that if we
want a two-state solution, we need to implement it quickly.
But on the other hand, if we are looking at what is
happening on the ground, in Israel and the occupied
territories, you see things happening in the opposite
direction, as if they are not connected to reality. Thought
is running in one direction, reality in the other.”

Nuseibeh said the Palestinians would eventually “fight for
equal rights, rights of existence, return and equality,”
and that “slowly over the years there could be a peaceful
movement like in South Africa.” He further suggested that
the PA might be rendered irrelevant if a final and
comprehensive peace agreement with Israel was not reached
within a few months.

Earlier, PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei warned that the PA would
switch to the one-state solution if Israel continued to
obstruct the two-state solution. Israel, which vehemently
opposes any thought of the one-state solution, doesn’t
believe that PA officials mean what they say since the PA’s
very existence and survival depends on the continued
relevance of the vision of a two-state solution.

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