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Palestinian authority on the brink of civil war?
PALESTINIANS RECENTLY interviewed in the press described their life in Gaza and the West Bank as like "living on the set of a horror film". Except this isn't entertainment even of a distasteful kind - it's real life and it's horrific. And none so real or horrendous as for the residents of Beit Lahia in Gaza last Friday, seven of whom were torn apart by Israeli shells as they had a picnic on the beach near their homes.
Kevin Simpson, CWI, London
Three Palestinian children aged ten, seven and one year old died in what the Israeli authorities called "this unfortunate incident". How much more suffering can Palestinian working class families endure?
This is just one incident in a gathering storm of instability, violence, and the disintegration of society which gathers pace. This social, political and economic tornado threatens to engulf not only the Palestinian Authority (PA) but also Israel and the wider Middle East.
In May, events in the PA gave a chilling warning - if one were needed - of the future devastation that may befall the Palestinians if the working class and poor peasantry remain sidelined observers of the situation. Serious armed clashes developed between armed militias of Hamas and Fatah, against a background of economic collapse and bankruptcy as a war of words was traded between the Hamas government and the Fatah leader and Palestinian President, Abbas.
These clashes are a direct consequence of imperialist and Israeli capitalist policies in the PA since the January Palestinian general elections, which dealt a crushing defeat to Fatah, the dominant political force amongst Palestinians for the last 40 years. On the other hand, Hamas, despite its anti-imperialist rhetoric, has no viable strategy to lead the Palestinian masses to genuine national and social liberation.
It is an organisation whose leaders put forward divisive, theocratic and anti-working class policies. When they recently assumed control of local councils in the PA, they made cuts in jobs and services and sold off council property.
The Hamas victory was a stunning blow to US imperialism's plan to "democratise the Middle East", replacing existing regimes with ones more compliant to western interests.
How wrong Bush was! His public response to the election result was to say "We support democracy but it doesn't mean we have to support governments elected as a result of democracy". In the aftermath of these comments US imperialism and its allies moved to attempt to immediately drive out the new Hamas administration by cutting off all economic aid to the territory and attempting in reality to destroy what little there remains of infrastructure for the PA.
The PA budget is approximately $1.9 billion a year, of which $1.3 billion comes from the US, EU and taxes collected on behalf of the PA by the Israeli authorities.
Alongside this, Israeli capitalism used the Israeli Defence Force to exert massive military pressure on the PA and terrible collective punishment on its population. In the last two months the IDF has rained 6,000 shells into Gaza bombarding areas which are up to only 100 metres from civilian accommodation.
The economic sanctions and military campaign has had a terrible effect on the lives of millions. Hospitals have run out of supplies and so people are dying of kidney failure. Palestinian women are selling family jewellery for a pittance so that their families can live a step away from starvation.
Dor Alon, an Israeli company which holds the monopoly of fuel supply for Gaza and West Bank cut supplies of fuel in early May causing massive shortages over night using the excuse of non-payment of bills. This is despite the fact that the Israeli authority has withheld the $50 million a month it collects in taxes on behalf of the PA and which is normally used to pay for fuel supplies.
The two Israeli banks which provide currency to the PA also announced around the same time that they were halting the flow of money to the PA because they were concerned about being prosecuted by US courts for aiding "terrorist organisations".
This campaign has nothing to do with the supposed "terrorist" character of Hamas. Israeli, US and EU authorities have all negotiated with Hamas representatives over the years.
Imperialism wants to force Hamas to accept the right of the Israeli state to exist, implement previous peace agreements and announce an indefinite ceasefire.
This is an attempt to entrap and emasculate the Hamas administration and to use it to control and hold back the Palestinian masses who are increasingly enraged by their suffering. It is quite clear that this would be a first step to forcing Hamas out of government and bringing back Fatah as a senior partner in a so-called government of national unity as part of a US engineered "creeping coup".
Hamas leaders whose government faced imminent bankruptcy moved onto the offensive. Over 165,000 government employees have not been paid for over three months.
These workers and members of the mainly Fatah dominated security agencies support it is estimated, 1.5 million other Palestinians in the PA. The collapse into poverty has been sudden and catastrophic and has fuelled enormous discontent amongst Fatah fighters, ostensibly employed by the government as part of the security forces. The World Bank recently produced a report where it said that its previous calculations that Palestinians would see a 30% drop in their personal incomes was an underestimation.
One Hamas leader, Mashaal claimed that Fatah were cooperating with US imperialism and the Israeli government to undermine the democratically elected Hamas government. This was followed by the administration announcing the setting up of a new militia made up of battalions of Hamas fighters. As a result Fatah mobilised its militias demanding payment of wages and protesting against Mashaal's comments. A series of tit-for-tat killings soon swept across Gaza and the West Bank.
It was Abbas's presentation of a new plan put forward by Fatah and Hamas prisoners over the last two weeks that has stepped up the tempo of political developments and caused difficulties for Hamas government.
The prisoners plan put forward the idea of setting up a Palestinian state in the territory encompassed by the pre-1967 borders (when Israeli capitalism first occupied Gaza and the West Bank) with East Jerusalem as its capital.
This effectively means the implicit recognition of the Israeli state something which Hamas nationally has not been prepared to formally do.
While there is a call for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and towns across Palestine and Israel, it is clear that there could be movement on this question with a repeat of the 2002 position of Arab leaders that there would be no automatic right of return but compensation.
The reason for this initiative is that Abbas wants to undermine Hamas and re-win control of the PA. He is backed fully by western imperialism in this aim. But the Palestinian elite are also desperate to try and regain the initiative in the light of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's threat to impose a unilateral solution to the borders between Israel and the PA.
Abbas increased pressure by threatening to call a referendum if the Hamas administration did not sign up to the prisoners' document. The referendum has now been set for the end of July.
This is a high risk strategy for Abbas - at the moment there is a majority in favour of voting for the referendum but over the last couple of days both Islamic Jihad and Hamas prisoners have withdrawn their support for the document.
The issue of the referendum could become another flashpoint in armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah militias and may not necessarily go ahead.
While the quartet group (United Nations, US, European Union and Russia) came up with a deal to funnel $50m a month in emergency payments through Abbas's office for payments to the most needy, this will only fuel tensions and friction between Hamas and Fatah.
What is clearly needed is for the interests of the working class and poor peasantry to be reasserted in this situation.
Even if only with the support of tiny handfuls initially, the necessity of building a united working class movement based on socialist policies becomes more urgent every day as the situation becomes increasingly dangerous.
Only Maavak Sozialisti, the CWI in Israel, consistently raises these ideas amongst Israelis and Palestinians despite the complicated political situation.
In The Socialist 15 June 2006:
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