The Original Sin

The direct cause of what is happening now in the Gaza Strip is that the traditional Palestinian leadership (i.e. the top echelon of Fatah) was not prepared to transfer authority to the elected Hamas leadership.

In countless speeches, media interviews and street-corner conversations, Palestinians have been asking one another: How did we get to this low point? The headlines in Gaza that are on everyone's tongue say: "Israel is killing us from the air, and Hamas and Fatah are killing us on the ground."

And the question that goes along with the situation is why do we deserve this?

Without a doubt, a series of reasons - political, economic, social and others - have brought these troubles down on the Palestinians. However, the direct cause of what is happening now in the Gaza Strip is that the traditional Palestinian leadership (i.e. the top echelon of Fatah) was not prepared to transfer authority to the elected Hamas leadership.

Many helped the Fatah leadership persist in its refusal to share rule with Hamas; this applies to all those who imposed a boycott on the Hamas government and the national unity government, including Israel, most of the Arab regimes and nearly the entire international community. All of them, rightly or not, tried and are still trying to help Fatah while trying to suppress Hamas.

In the meantime, the result is bringing Gaza closer to Somalia.

Recent Palestinian political history is known. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) found it difficult to step into the big shoes of his predecessor. The commanders of the security mechanisms remained loyal to only one man, Yasser Arafat, and obeyed his orders as though he were their direct commander. Nearly all of them were Fatah veterans, and all the reforms that were attempted in the various mechanisms always came up against a wall of veteran commanders who sought to, and succeeded to, maintain their power.

The Palestinian regime that was established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was in nearly all its elements under the control of Fatah, which shared little with other parties. Fatah veterans, who fought among themselves, cooperated on only one issue: strict maintenance of their seats, their traditional power positions. This can be seen in a series of areas. For example, the veterans, members of Fatah's Central Committee, for years have not allowed elections to be held for movement's leadership.

Nearly all of them are more than 70 years old, and they are not giving way to younger activists (and they are mostly over the age of 50). This is also true of institutions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is the Palestinian national movement. It is hard to believe, but PLO institutions are functioning according to a format established about 40 years ago. There is considerable representation for Marxist movements and small organizations long defunct.

But the main thing in all the PLO institutions is that Fatah continues to maintain its power. All of the promises, for example, that the Hamas movement will join the PLO (Fatah committed to this in the Mecca agreement) have turned out to be empty promises. For Fatah veterans the prevailing principle is that death alone will remove them from their chairs.

In this context Abu Mazen made the big mistake that Yasser Arafat never would have made. He agreed to hold democratic elections for the Palestinian parliament despite the danger that Fatah could lose. And, indeed, when veteran Fatah activists lost, they refused to accept the outcome. This was especially evident in Gaza, where Abu Mazen and his people had planned to take advantage of the Israeli withdrawal to prove to the world that they can build a masterpiece of Palestinian independence. What happened was the opposite.

The commanders of the security mechanisms in Gaza said explicitly that they had no intention of taking orders from a Hamas interior minister.

The Hamas interior minister set up a military force of his own.

A compromise was found in the shape of the unity government. However, it very quickly became clear that the commanders of the security mechanisms and their patrons in Fatah also refused to listen to the new, neutral interior minister, Hani al-Kawasmeh, who resigned.

His resignation marked the way to the current degeneration, and no one at the moment sees any way out.