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Palestine:Some comments on Gaza "coup"

[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

Middle East News Service compilation by Sol Salbe: The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is bad enough. There was really no need for the Australian and international media to compound the problem by providing
such abysmal, simplistic coverage. The Palestinian situation may have slid back decades but that is no reason for the media coverage to match it.

One example to start with: On 16 June SBS news reported that the Arab League meeting had condemned the Hamas takeover in Gaza. The league condemned the situation all right, but it went out of its way not to apportion blame,
something that can be verified by checking the actual statement. Only the BBC world service seems to have picked up the difference.

But this is small fry compared to the big picture. The media and well those mainly western forces which have been referring to the "Hamas coup" seem to have ignored the most obvious point. Whether we particularly like it or not,
it was Hamas that won the elections.

The Observer's Foreign Editor Peter Beaumont summed it up well:
"Here is how democracy works in the Alice in Wonderland world of Palestinianpolitics under the tutelage of the US and international community. After years of being hectored to hold elections and adopt democratic norms, a yearand a half ago Palestinians duly elected Hamas with 44 per cent of the vote,ahead of Fatah on 41 per cent.

"It was a good election, as former US President Jimmy Carter observed at thetime, a free, fair and accurate expression of the desires of a Palestinianpeople sick of the uselessness, corruption and gangsterism of Fatah. The problem was that it didn't quite reflect the wishes of Washington and theinternational community."

Some Israeli reporters had no problem in explaining the driving force of the"coup" to their readers. Danny Rubinstein wrote in Haaretz
"The recent events we have been witnessing in Gaza are actually the disbanding of Palestinian rule. The primary reason for the break-up is the fact that Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has refused to fully share the PA's mechanism of power with its rival Hamas - in spite of Hamas' decisive victory in the January 2006 general elections. (Emphasis added)

"Fatah was forced to overrule the Palestinian voters because the entire world demanded it do so. The United States, the European nations, most of the Arab leaders and, of course, the State of Israel, warned Fatah not to share power with Hamas."

So why did matters come to a head now rather than at any other time? Veteran Gush Shalom leader Uri Avnery
"The timing of Hamas' decision to take over the Strip by force was not accidental. Hamas had many good reasons to avoid it. The organisation is unable to feed the population. It has no interest in provoking the Egyptian regime, which is busy fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother-organisation of Hamas. Also, the organisation has no interest in providing Israel with a pretext for tightening the blockade.

"But the Hamas leaders decided that they had no alternative but to destroy the armed organisations that are tied to Fatah and take their orders from President Mahmoud Abbas. The US has ordered Israel to supply these organisations with large quantities of weapons, in order to enable them to fight Hamas. The Israeli army chiefs did not like the idea, fearing that the arms might end up in the hands of Hamas (as is actually happening now). But our government obeyed American orders, as usual."

Although there are varying views as to the relation between the US and Israel on this issue, Avnery is not telling anything new. The Israeli media had all the details, chapter and verse, of the myriad of these manoeuvrings: Which weapons, which troops were being moved to the point that at least one Palestinian newspaper accused Haaretz of deliberately manipulating the situation. The Palestinian security forces loyal to Mohammed Dahlan, the Fatah chief in Gaza, were about to move on Hamas.

On the other hand Avnery is only telling part of the story. Hamas had the choice to mobilise the Gaza population against any Fatah onslaught. Their experience with getting large numbers of people to come to homes being threatened by the Israeli security forces bode well for this strategy.

Sure it may be easier to deal on this level with Israel - it is more susceptible to public opinion than with Dahlan's men. Israelis often quote Yitzhak Rabin famous adage on why he preferred Fatah to deal with Israel's enemies: they can do it "without Bagatz and without B'Tselem." Bagatz is the Israeli High Court of Justice while B'Tselem is country's best known human rights organisation. But from Romania to Iran experience has shown that beyond a certain point, no army can be trusted to hurt its own people.

At any rate the Americans and Israelis pressed the right button. The hard liners in Hamas who preferred to respond with force got the upper hand inside the organisation. What happened next was on TV screens everywhere (although later on-the-spot reports suggest that the depiction of violence against ordinary Fatah members was somewhat exaggerated.)

The US and Israel got their wish. Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) dismissed the government and installed Salam Fayyad in his place. Students of Australian history may notice the resemblance to the dismissal of the Labor Government in 1975 by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. Both dismissed a legal government that had the confidence of the Parliament. But there are some obvious differences. For a start the Australian caretaker PM, Malcolm Fraser got a lot more votes than 2.4 per cent that Fayyad's party got. While both Kerr and Abu Mazen had the legal right to dismiss the PM (I do not share Peter Beaumont's view that it was unconstitutional) there is one big difference. Kerr had the power to prorogue the Parliament while Abu Mazen does not. Thus by law the new PM has to face Palestinian Legislative Council after 30 days from the time of his appointment.

To paraphrase Beaumont: So which was the real coup? Hamas's bloody attack on the violent gangsters allied to Fatah who have terrorised Gaza for a year? Or Abbas's eventual unconstitutional moves with the US's backing?

"Either way, once again it is Palestinians who will suffer."

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