Spoiling for a Fight

It is doubtful that Hamas will succeed in taking over the West Bank as well, but there is no doubt that without Hamas, there isn't going to be any diplomatic agreement here.

As though the Palestinian government in the West Bank didn't have what to quarrel about with the deposed Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, a new issue has been found: On what days will the days off for the weekend fall?

Hamas in Gaza is requiring government officials to take off Thursdays and Fridays, while in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad has officially announced that the weekend break will be Friday and Saturday.

There is a difference among the various sectors in the Palestinian territories with respect to the weekend days off. Government officials usually took off Thursdays and Fridays, while the private sector took of Fridays and Saturdays. Fayad wanted to coordinate between the sectors and therefore ordered the change. In Gaza they refused, even resulting in an exchange of blows between workers at various ministries.

A more serious quarrel raged around the release of British journalist Alan Johnston. Hamas has depicted this as a great victory that it achieved in the context of the attempts by Ismail Haniyeh's government to maintain law and order in Gaza. Fatah spokesmen scoffed, saying that the whole affair was like 'a wild West film with a successful ending,' according to Navil Amir, or 'an amusing show,' according to Yasser Abed Rabbo, who also said that the kidnapper, Mumtaz Durmush, is nothing but a pawn in the hands of Hamas.

In the past, Hamas activists had sent him to murder the commander of Military Intelligence, Musa Arafat, and he himself has admitted that he is also the one who was behind the attempt to assassinate Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) by means of an exploding tunnel. So they shouldn't go around telling stories now. Hamas in fact abducted Johnston and now it has released him, say people close to Abu Mazen.

The Palestinians are also quarreling about the functioning of their parliament, which is totally paralyzed because one-third of its members (Hamas representatives from the West Bank) are in Israeli prisons. The parliament was supposed to convene yesterday, but Hamas boycotted the meeting and it was canceled.

Hani Abu al-Hassan, a member of the Fatah central committee, caused a major scandal when he embarked on a campaign to depose Mohammed Dahlan, and when he expressed criticism of Abu Mazen for not having opened a dialogue with Hamas. Abu Mazen and his people saw this as an act of treason, and in an official statement announced that al-Hassan had been deposed from his position as senior adviser to the chairman.

The story is not a simple one. Al-Hassan, together with his older brother Khaled, who died about 10 years ago, was one of the founders of the movement. His family is originally from Haifa, where they owned the holy site of al- Hader, which is Elijah's cave on the Carmel slope. Another of their brothers, Bilal, who lives in Paris, is one of the best-known Palestinian journalists. The al-Hassan family has many supporters, but most of them are hesitant about identifying themselves, especially because the major Palestinian daily newspapers (Al Quds, Al Iyyam and Al Hayat al Jadida are taking an explicit stance in support of the Fatah, and are censoring reports that favor Hamas.

In phone calls from Gaza many people are saying that now after many years in Gaza City and the Gaza Strip, there is a sense of quiet and security, but there is no hint of this in those newspapers. The subject for the quarrel these days is Abu Mazen's accusation that Hamas is allowing Al-Qaida cells to act in Gaza. Haniyeh has angrily denied this.

They are also quarreling these days over the payment of salaries in Gaza. The Fayad government is supposed to transfer money that it has received to pay government employees in Gaza, but it is afraid that Hamas activists will gain control of the salaries. Spokesmen for the government in the West Bank have even raised the possibility that Hamas people will take over the bank branches in Gaza and seize the salary moneys from them, on the grounds that they have been considered government employees ever since they started working as officials in the Hamas government.

The Israeli government cannot do much in this uproar. Any Israeli statement of support for Abu Mazen only decreases his value in the eyes of the Palestinian public, and makes him a collaborator. To extricate himself from this, Abu Mazen publishes through the Palestinian Liberation Organization steering committee sharp statements against Israel, which describe the activity of the Israel Defense Forces in the territories as war crimes. This is not helping him. The Internet site of the newspaper Al Quds conducted a survey and asked: Whom would you like to see as president of Palestine Fifty-seven percent said Haniyeh, 13 percent said Abu Mazen.

It is doubtful that Hamas will succeed in taking over the West Bank as well, but there is no doubt that without Hamas, there isn't going to be any diplomatic agreement here.