Attack Intensifies Palestinian Divisions

By Danny Rubinstein

Published April 21, 2006, issue of April 21, 2006.
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Despite the refusal of official Hamas representatives to condemn Monday’s terrorist attack in Tel Aviv — the Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, called it “a legitimate act of self-defense” and said Israel must take responsibility for its policy of “aggressive occupation” — the timing of the attack is most inconvenient for the militant Islamic movement.

Hamas’s top leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar, respectively prime minister and foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, are investing heavily in efforts to extricate the authority from its financial troubles and international isolation –– efforts threatened by the group’s image as a sponsor of terrorism.

Within the government, Haniyeh convened representatives of various factions in Gaza and suggested, once again, that they join a national unity government. The current government, which was sworn in less than a month ago, includes Hamas representatives only –– which precludes it from being identified as a “Palestinian government,” as Hamas leaders would like, rather than a “Hamas government.” Fatah representatives boycotted the meeting in Gaza in a continuation of the conflict between the Haniyeh government and the “presidential institution” headed by P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Another indication of the increasing conflict between Hamas and Fatah could be seen in their different reactions to the Tel Aviv suicide bombing. In contrast to Hamas’s words of praise, Abbas described the bombing as an act of terrorism that damages Palestinian interests.

Externally, the Hamas government is trying to recruit alternative sources of funding. Zahar is on a fund-raising trip to Middle Eastern states and appears to have notched some success. Iranian leaders have pledged between $50 million and $100 million; Qatar followed with an offer of $50 million, and Saudi Arabian officials hinted they would also send aid. But Monday’s terrorist attack, and the impression it gives of a state that supports terrorism, is undoubtedly harmful to this mission.

The P.A. needs an estimated $170 million a month to pay its basic bills. If Zahar is forced to make do with the few contributions he has received, he will be endangering the position of his administration. From the outside, it will be defined as an isolated government linked to what President Bush considers the axis of evil. From the inside, it will be seen as bankrupting its own people.

Monday’s attack also intensified another dispute between Abbas and the Hamas government related to supervision of the Rafah crossing, where European observers are stationed. Abbas announced last week that he will be transferring responsibility for the crossing to the Hamas government. Embarrassed Hamas spokesmen rushed to announce that they do not want the responsibility.

The reason is that Hamas understands that if it supervises the Rafah crossing, the Israeli-Egyptian agreement and the presence of European observers would come to an end, raising the possibility of it closing altogether. That is not what Hamas wants, since the closure of the Rafah crossing would tighten the siege on Gaza and generate anger toward the Hamas government.






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