A War of Nerves for a While Longer

Danny Rubinstein
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Danny Rubinstein

The war of nerves between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas is reaching its zenith. The 10-day ultimatum Abbas put to the Hamas-led government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh over the prisoners' document ends today, even though the chairman said he is willing to grant an extension of a day or two.

Abbas is a very confident man these days. As a condition to his arrival to Gaza for talks with Hamas he said that "the interior ministry forces," must be removed from the city streets. He is refering to those same units that the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry deployed in Gaza, angering the other Palestinian security organizations.

The chairman also ordered civil servants who support Fatah to strike and demonstrate because they have not received their wages. "People are hungry, are not eating and are not drinking because of the views of the current [Hamas] government," said Abbas during a visit to Tunis last week.

It seems Abbas has managed to close the Fatah ranks ? in their opposition to Hamas. During his visit to Tunis he settled his differences with Farouk Kadumi, after a falling out that had lasted many years. The catalyst for the reconciliation is the disrespect Kadumi, in charge of external relations at the PLO, feels because Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Al-Zahar presents himself as the sole official authorized to discuss Palestinian foreign policy.

Abbas will not back down from his ultimatum. Hamas is upset over two to three passages in this document, authored by imprisoned Fatah and Hamas leaders. The first calls on the right of the Palestinians to establish a state with Jerusalem as its capital, "in all territories occupied in 1967"; the second and third call on "recognition of Arab legitimacy and the international agreements." The obvious interpretation of these paragraphs is the recognition of Israel along the 1967 border, and this Hamas is not willing to accept.

Furthermore, the Hamas leadership is furious at the forceful methods of Abbas. "Why a referendum?" they ask. "Did we not hold elections four months ago, in which Hamas won after putting forth its political platform?" "We have no need, or time for it, and there is no mention of referendum in the Palestinian constitution."

Abbas says: "I have full authority, and there is nothing in the Constitution that forbids me from doing so." Still, it is difficult to tell if a referendum will actually be held. The war of nerves will most likely continue for a while longer. Abbas enjoys broad national support, and the backing of Arab leaders. Hamas enjoys popular support. It does not appear that the violence, so far limited to local incidents, is likely to slide into a full blown civil war.

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