The Palestinian Wrestling Match

The information that PA officials in the West Bank and Hamas officials in Gaza are disseminating about each other must be examined carefully.

Danny Rubinstein
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Danny Rubinstein

In a telephone interview broadcast on BBC's Arabic-language network a few days ago, an Arab journalist asked Yasser Abed Rabbo in Ramallah: "Who, in your eyes, is the enemy: Israel or Hamas?" Abed Rabbo, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's steering committee, was a minister in previous Palestinian governments and is currently considered one of the people closest to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). His views against Hamas are among the most rabid in the PA.

Even before Abed Rabbo managed to answer, the journalist hastened to explain that he was asking who the enemy is because the PA is conducting a dialogue with the government of Israel, whereas it is refusing to speak to Hamas. Abed Rabbo, who sounded astonished by the question, did not reply; instead, he lambasted the journalist: "You are cheap and insulting." The journalist replied: "I suggest that you watch your tongue." Abed Rabbo repeated, "you are cheap and insulting" and slammed down the phone.

The fact that Abu Mazen and representatives of Prime Minister Salam Fayad's government in the West Bank are holding talks with Israel's government at the same time as they are boycotting and refusing to talk with the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip is the harshest accusation that Hamas spokesmen have leveled against Abu Mazen. Last Friday, Abbas issued a presidential order that sentenced every member of Hamas's Executive Force in Gaza to three to seven years in jail. This force is in complete control of the Gaza Strip, and Abu Obeideh, a spokesman for the organization, responded to the order with mockery and scorn.

In the harsh media war between the sides, Hamas spokesmen recently whipped out a video cassette that they found when they took over PA offices in Gaza. The cassette shows Abu Mazen at a meeting with Fatah activists in Gaza, where he asked them about the clashes with Hamas. One of the activists answered: You have nothing to worry about. It will take us less than one ghalwa to wipe out Hamas. A ghalwa is the few seconds for which black coffee can be allowed to boil before it must be removed from the fire so that it does not boil over. The cassette was broadcast on the Hamas television channel, Al Aqsa, and prompted scores of jokes about "Abu Ghalwa" and the false information that Mohammed Dahlan and his people fed Abu Mazen about their strength vis-a-vis Hamas.

Now, too, the information that PA officials in the West Bank and Hamas officials in Gaza are disseminating about each other must be examined carefully. Senior PA officials, like Abbas advisor Nabil Amar and Minister of Information Riad Maliki, have declared that shortages and despair prevail under the Hamas regime in Gaza and that it will end "much faster than people think." Two journalists from Gaza with whom I spoke last Saturday said that the opposite is the case: Quiet and order prevail in the Gaza Strip, and there is personal security such as has not been experienced for years. According to them, there are shortages in Gaza, but they are not terrible. Hamas is even interested in exaggerating the talk about distress and shortages so that international organizations will transfer more aid to Gaza.

The clear impression is that neither side will be able to make the other side surrender - and certainly not in the near future. The Hamas regime in Gaza will survive. Abu Mazen's PA in the West Bank will continue to boycott it, and it will also continue to conduct negotiations with Israel over an agreement on principles, which might well be achieved in the coming weeks. But this will obviously be a virtual agreement, because the road to implementation is still long, and without Hamas, such an agreement is in any case of little value.

Neither side is capable of defeating the other, and therefore, they will have no alternative but to negotiate and arrive at an agreement sooner or later. The Palestinian public in both Gaza and the West Bank wants national unity, as do many parts of the Arab world and the international community. Therefore, the pressure in this direction on leaders in both Gaza and the West Bank will increase, until in the end, Hamas and the PA will come to an arrangement. Israel's adamant opposition to any compromise and its threats against Abu Mazen should he make concessions to Hamas will not succeed in preventing this.



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