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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 October 2006

New crisis hits the Palestinian Authority

Hamas clashes with striking workers

TWELVE PEOPLE have been killed and over 120 injured in gun battles between Hamas militias and striking government employees in the Gaza strip.

Amnon Cohen

The battles started on Sunday morning when the Interior Ministry militia, which consists of Hamas activists, broke up a demonstration of Palestinian policemen, some of whom have not been paid since January. The ensuing battles spread to other areas of Gaza and the West Bank. In a further escalation, the Fatah Al-Asqa brigades have threatened to assassinate Khaled Mashal (Hamas' chairman) and other Hamas leaders.

These clashes represent a serious deepening or the crisis which has gripped the Palestinian Authority (PA) since Hamas took power in January 2006.

Hamas won a crushing majority in the legislative elections because the Palestinians had had enough of the corruption of Fatah (the party which had dominated Palestinian politics since 1969), whose policy of negotiations and capitulation to the Israeli state had brought them nothing but misery.

Hamas's victory was a devastating blow to Bush's plans for a 'new Middle East'. The Israeli state responded to the Hamas victory by stepping up its military attacks, especially in the Gaza strip. The Israeli army had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip in September 2005. But since then 500 Gazans have been killed by the Israeli armed forces, far more than during any year of Israeli occupation. The bombardments, bombings and military incursions were escalated after the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June.

Alongside the Israeli military campaign, EU governments halted the flow of economic aid that had until then kept the Palestinian economy afloat. This meant that the new Hamas government did not have the funds to pay its employees. Since the PA is the main employer, this has meant a crushing blow to the economy, driving living standards to the edge of starvation levels. Waves of strikes and demonstrations against non-payment of wages have spread throughout Palestine undermining Hamas' popular support.

Without a strategy to advance the Palestinian struggle, or defend itself against the combined military and economic onslaught, Hamas has attempted to form a government of 'national unity' with Fatah - the same party whose betrayals and corruption were so decisively rejected by the Palestinian electorate only nine months ago!

Fatah demanded as a condition for joining a unity government that Hamas would recognise Israel and agree to be bound by all previous peace agreements made by the PLO/Fatah/PA (agreements which have been torn to shreds by the Israeli government). By making these demands the Fatah leadership demonstrates to what extent it is serving the interests of imperialism.

The Hamas leaders were prepared to agree to a fudge of the issues, but an explicit agreement would have meant a total ideological U-turn and widened the split between the Hamas leadership and activists to breaking point.

Palestinian society is at the brink of civil war. Both nationalism and political Islam have made it clear that they have no way out. The building of a socialist alternative is necessary.

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