Despite Repression, Hamas Survives in Shadows of Palestinian-Run West Bank

Is Islamist Group's Main Fight With Israel — Or Rival Fatah?

One-Faction State: Palestinians protest the high cost of living in the West Bank. The ruling Fatah faction keeps a lid on any opposition, especially from its Islamist rival Hamas.
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One-Faction State: Palestinians protest the high cost of living in the West Bank. The ruling Fatah faction keeps a lid on any opposition, especially from its Islamist rival Hamas.

By Reuters

Published May 26, 2013.
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With its charities and social services office shuttered by PA authorities, Mansur says there is no way Hamas can reach out to its support base and compete fairly if new polls are held.

“Fayyad’s bloc got less than 1 percent and we got more than 60. He becomes prime minister and we’re under their heels. Is this democracy?” she said, referring to Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister who resigned last month.

Fayyad, an independent, was a close ally of the West whose resignation is now seen as providing the opportunity for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

COLLABORATION, COOPERATION

Israel says Hamas presents an intractable terrorist threat and its reconciliation with Fatah would effectively kill any peace process.

Hamas’s campaign of suicide bombings in Israeli buses and cafes during the Second Intifada seared an indelible mark on Israel’s psyche and military strategy.

In a sprawling army base adjoining the Beit El settlement just north of the PA’s seat in Ramallah, Barak Raz, an Israeli military spokesman, a pistol at his side, spoke confidently of putting Hamas on the back foot.

Suicide bombings have stopped in Israel. Several factors have contributed to the improved security: Raz credits Israel’s own network of informants and its “separation barrier” - a wall built in 2002 to keep militants out and considered illegal by the United Nations.

Another of the main keys to Israeli security is the PA’s pursuit of Hamas, Raz said.

“The more they do, the less we have to,” he told Reuters. “And those who call this ‘collaboration’ are missing the point - that this is something they do out of their own interest.”

The PA-Israeli security cooperation has undermined Hamas’s ability to form cells and gain weapons. Israel says the group’s militants are determined to abduct an Israeli soldier or civilian as a bargaining chip to free Palestinian prisoners.

In 2011, Israel released 1,027 jailed Palestinians to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, seized by Hamas guerrillas in 2006 and hidden away in Gaza. The exchange, Raz said, emboldened Hamas and gave it a “backwind” of popular support.

“Hamas through violence and its self-proclaimed ‘resistance’ has been able to achieve greater gains than the PA, which as far as the Palestinian public sees it, hasn’t been able to achieve anything through diplomacy,” Raz said.

WESTERN AID

Washington strongly opposes reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. U.S. officials hoped aid to the Palestinian security forces would defuse tensions with Israel and pave the way for the founding of a Palestinian state at peace alongside it. That hasn’t worked out.

“Our rhetoric was very good about supporting the moderates, Abbas and Fayyad - but financially and diplomatically, they have not been given enough to deliver the goods to their people,” said Steven White, a retired U.S. Marines major.

White served from 2005 to 2011 as a top adviser for the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, an American program facilitating PA cooperation with Israel.

The United States has channelled some $645 million toward building up the PA’s forces and judiciary since its 2007 split with Hamas, as well as some $2.4 billion in budgetary assistance since 2005, money that goes in part to paying salaries.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called upon Western governments to re-evaluate their aid to PA forces after several detainees died from suspected torture and no personnel were publicly convicted for abuse.

In a statement to Reuters, the European Union’s training mission for the civilian police said it encouraged the PA to have “all such allegations investigated as a matter of urgency”.

Hamas and many average Palestinians say the Western missions deliberately aimed to undermine the PA’s internal rivals, something White denied.

“Congressional and international conditions barred us from funding a government that refused to recognise Israel and renounce violence,” he said. “Hamas has stuck to their narrative. If it showed any realpolitik and accepted these conditions, Western countries would be in a tougher spot.”


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