Palestinian infighting blows apart ‘national unity’ government

Gaza’s population faces further isolation

AFTER BLOODY clashes with Fatah militias linked to Palestinian President Abbas, the Islamic organisation Hamas took control of the Gaza strip on Thursday 13 June.

Kevin Simpson, CWI

Sensationalised media headlines described this as ‘civil war’, yet the vast majority of Palestinians took no part in the clashes. Instead this was a struggle for power between Hamas and Fatah and had little to do with ‘Palestinian national unity’, despite the claims of both sides. And as usual it was the majority of Palestinians, the impoverished working and middle class who suffered the consequences.

During the Gaza fighting, Palestinian civilians faced imminent death if they went out on the streets. There was no access to food and water. Gaza’s hospitals became a battleground for the two militias as their representatives stalked the corridors and wards looking to execute their wounded opponents.


The repercussions of Hamas’s defeat of Fatah in Gaza will exponentially add to tensions across the region. Western imperialism and the Israeli capitalist elite have strived to undermine Hamas’s 2006 election victory, but they are now faced with an unfolding nightmare. US imperialism and the reactionary Arab elite in Egypt and Saudi Arabia regard Hamas’ victory as strengthening their enemies in the region: the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

Who talks of peace now? Who even remembers the Oslo peace accords signed by the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1994, which most capitalist commentators said would lead to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Every solution imposed by imperialism and the regional capitalist elite addresses none of the real problems and leads subsequently to a worsening of the situation.

Since Fatah’s defeat, sections of the Israeli media have described Gaza as ‘Hamastan’ and blame ‘Islamic terrorists’. But commentators conveniently forget to mention that the Israeli secret services supported Hamas after it was founded in 1987 in order to undermine its stronger rival at the time, the PLO.

These events have their roots in the Israeli ruling class’s oppression of the Palestinian people. This began in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes, prior to the formation of the Israeli state. Suffering multiplied following the 1967 Israeli-Arab war when the Israeli military occupied the West Bank and Gaza.

So-called subsequent ‘peace’ agreements have been designed to institutionalise Palestinian oppression. This is because capitalism and imperialism cannot afford the political and financial costs of genuine Palestinian liberation.

The Oslo accords which led to the formation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) installed the Yasser Arafat-led PLO in power. However, the PLO leadership rapidly lost authority amongst Palestinians because of endemic corruption, spiralling poverty and no abatement of Israeli military attacks. This led to a growth in support for Hamas, which was seen as a more honest alternative to Fatah.

Despite ‘peace’ agreements, Israeli settlement of the West Bank increased by 50% from 1992-96. Palestinian areas were subdivided and separated from each other and Palestinian workers were barred from Israel, further increasing poverty. There are now 450 Israeli military roadblocks and 70 permanent checkpoints in the West Bank. This is in an area one-third the size of greater London!

Under pressure from US imperialism, Palestinian President Abbas called elections in January 2006. Hamas won as the PLO was punished for years of corruption and its inability to halt Israeli capitalism’s military onslaught.

Ever since then, US imperialism, the EU powers and Israeli capitalism have implemented collective punishment on the Palestinians for ‘voting the wrong way’. The intention was to force out the Hamas government.

The Israeli regime withheld $800 million in tax receipts that were owed to the Palestinian authority. The EU and US cut off economic aid. At the same time the Israeli military continued a bombardment against Gaza and the West Bank killing over 700 Palestinians.

US imperialism encouraged armed clashes between Fatah and Hamas militias by providing $80 million in weapons for President Abbas’s own militia.

All Hamas had to offer its electorate was anti-imperialist and anti-PLO rhetoric, and the memory of its armed attacks on Israeli civilians. While the socialist supports the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves, we do not support military attacks on Israeli civilian workers and young people, which drive them into the arms of the most reactionary political forces in Israel.

Last year’s Palestinian public sector workers’ strike against non-payment of wages indicated the pressure on Hamas.

Pressure from Arab elites in the region – from an opposite standpoint – led to the formation of a “national unity” government made up of Hamas and the PLO in February this year. But the new government solved none of the terrible problems Palestinians face on a daily basis.

Oxfam reported on the day of Hamas’s Gaza take-over that one family in 15 has debts greater than $25,000. A Palestinian school headmaster only earns $9,000 a year! Society is disintegrating. One of the only growth industries is kidnapping. Young people turn to crime or join the militias in order to survive.

Now Palestine consists of two statelets, one controlled by Hamas, and the other with Fatah as the major force. Given the social and economic situation, more conflict is on the agenda.


Abbas has dissolved the unity government and installed Salam Fayyad, its former World Bank-trained finance minister as the new prime minister. His party list only received 2.4% in the 2006 general election. Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister has insisted that the old government will remain in power.

Once again the hypocrisy of US imperialism and other western powers on the issue of ‘democracy’ is exposed, by their desire to support an unelected Fatah regime against the elected Hamas.

Tension has increased as the Israeli regime has threatened to cut off energy. There are press reports that the new defence minister in the Israeli government, Ehud Barak, is calling for a ground invasion of 20,000 Israeli troops to wipe out militias firing rockets on southern Israel.

This is not the most likely immediate outcome, since the Israeli military want to avoid a repeat of the debacle they faced in Lebanon in Summer 2005, when they committed ground troops to “destroy Hezbollah”. They fear an “Israeli Baghdad”.

However, new Israeli military incursion into Gaza cannot be ruled out in the next few months, especially if rocket attacks continue.

Under these circumstances the impression is given that workers and young people across the region can do nothing. But the alternative is a further drift into bloody conflict. In fact the conditions are there for a struggle against capitalism and poverty on both sides of the national divide.

The Israeli elite has never had such a lack of authority in their history. The army chief had to be replaced because of its Lebanon defeat. The finance minister faces accusations of siphoning money off from a charity which organises tours of concentration camp sites in Europe. Olmert, the prime minister, has only 1-2% support.

There is unprecedented wealth polarisation in the Israeli population. Neo-liberal economic policies, including wide-scale privatisation has led to a backlash with 59% of the population now supporting a “socialist economy” (ie, in this case, a desire to return to the pre-cuts welfare state) according to a poll from the Israeli Institute for Democracy.

An opinion poll by Near East Consulting, one week before the latest clashes, showed that 50% of Palestinians trusted neither Abbas or Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister. Over 60% think that rocket attacks have no positive effects.


The majority of Israelis and Palestinians have no trust in their ruling elites’ solving the present conflict. Movements based on the interests of the majority on both sides of the national divide need to be built, dedicated to the overthrow of the capitalist system that perpetuates division and conflict.

Ma’avak Sotzialisti, the Israeli sister organisation of the Socialist Party, is helping to build such movements. They are calling for:

An end to Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from those territories. Stop the international embargo of the Palestinian Authority.

For the building of direct links between community groups and workers on both sides of the national divide.

For the building of democratic and independent workers’ parties in both Palestine and Israel.

For the overthrow of capitalism and the building of a socialist confederation of the Middle East, with a socialist Palestine alongside a socialist Israel.