Israel Helps Fatah Activists Escape Hamas In Gaza
The move shows why ongoing peace efforts are unlikely to succeed. Rivalries among Palestinians include rifts within Fatah itself.
About 180 Fatah activists fled into Israel on Saturday, escaping some of the worst inter-Palestinian fighting that the Gaza Strip has seen since the violent Hamas’ takeover there a year ago.
At least 11 people were killed in the weekend clashes between the Hamas government and members of the Hilles family clan, a Fatah stronghold, in a Gaza City neighborhood. Hamas blames clan members for a bomb attack a week earlier in which five Hamas members and a little girl were killed.
This is the completion of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, said Prof. Hillel Frisch of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv.
Hamas ousted the Fatah-allied Palestinian Authority in a brief, violent coup a year ago June but pockets of armed resistance remained, including the Hilles clan, Frisch told CNSNews.com.
Rivalry within the Palestinian Authority explains why the Gaza Strip fell so easily to Hamas a year ago and why some Fatah members like the Hilles family clan remained in the Gaza Strip when others fled. The Hilles family refused to follow the Fatah faction led by P.A. security chief Mohammed Dahlan. When Dahlan and his followers were forced out of Gaza, the Hilles clan stayed behind.
Hamas ousted more than half of Fatah last year. Over the weekend, Hamas simply completed its victory and defeated pockets of resistance, Frisch said.
Some analysts say the Hilles clan had established a “mini-state” in the Gaza Strip with a military training base and several small factories for weapons manufacturing.
Clan head Ahmed Hilles told the Associated Press that the clan faced a difficult decision: “Either be trampled under Hamas’ shoes or stand in dignity.”
Sufian Abu Zaydeh, a Gaza native and former Fatah Palestinian Cabinet minister, said the incident marked a new low.
“When a man stands between two choices: to be killed by his people or to be arrested by his enemy, and he reaches a conclusion that it is better to be arrested by his enemy, it shows you how cruel the situation is in Gaza,” the A.P. reported.
Further complicating matters, Palestinians in the West Bank are not eager for the return of the Fatah members ejected from Gaza.
The decision to allow the activists across the border in the first place was based on humanitarian need, said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev.
It was made in “close cooperation” with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and was a gesture to him, Regev said by telephone.
Initially Abbas was willing to allow the Fatah men into the West Bank city of Ramallah. But on Sunday, Abbas apparently had a change of heart and told Israel to return almost all of the Fatah activists to the Gaza Strip.
After more than 30 were returned and then arrested by Hamas, Israel abruptly halted the process, fearing that their lives would be in danger.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office said Israel stopped the process of returning the Fatah clan when it “received information that they were being arrested by Hamas and that their lives were in immediate danger.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel even filed a petition with the Supreme Court calling on Israel not to return what it called “asylum-seekers” to Gaza because it said their lives were in danger there. The appeal was dropped after it appeared that Israel would allow them to stay.
Israel on Monday was transferring some 85 Fatah activists who fled the Gaza Strip to the West Bank city of Jericho in coordination with the P.A., the army said.
As of Monday afternoon the fate of about 50 activists was unclear. The rest had already returned to Gaza, were in the hospital or on their way to the West Bank, an Israeli security source said.
There are several reasons why Abbas didn’t want to allow the Palestinians from Gaza to enter the West Bank.
Rifts within the Palestinian Authority account for some of the reluctance. And Abbas is afraid the newcomers will cause trouble. Strategically, he also wants as many Fatah activists as possible to remain in Gaza, said Frisch.
According to Frisch, Abbas is giving about $100 million a month to support the Hamas government in Gaza compared with the $12 million a month that Hamas is chipping in itself.
Abbas is doing so in the hope that some of the Gazans will remain loyal to him and that he eventually will regain power in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas is not going anywhere any time soon, Frisch said.
As for the peace process between Israel and the P.A., experts have said that it will not be possible for Israel and the P.A. to sign an agreement as long as the Palestinians are divided internally.
Washington wants to see Israel and the P.A. reach an agreement on permanent status issues before the end of President Bush’s term in office.
But Frisch said he doesn’t see an inter-Palestinian agreement happening any time in the “near future.” If Israel were to leave the West Bank, Hamas would take over, said Frish.
Hamas is trying to develop a totalitarian regime in the Gaza Strip, said Frisch. It attacked the Hilles clan as it has attacked other clans in the past. Hamas is “picking everybody off,” he said.
Except for Cuba and North Korea, Arab leaders manage to hold onto power longer than most other leaders in the world, said Frisch.
Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi has been in power since 1969 and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak since 1981. If one deduces from the past, Hamas is going to be in power for a long, long time, he said.