By Gerry Foley / May 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper
The combination of increased Israeli attacks on Palestinian communities under the pretext of Hamas’s control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the imperialist countries cutting off their funding of the PA on the same excuse, and the growing conflicts between the Hamas and Fatah militias provoked by Fatah’s resentment at the loss of its majority in the PA parliament is aggravating what was already a disastrous situation in the Palestinian territories to the point of catastrophe.
Already at the end of March, three Palestinians were killed and 25 wounded in a clash in Gaza that followed what may have been an Israeli targeted assassination. Abu Yousef Abu Quka was killed on March 31 when his car exploded in front of a mosque in Gaza City. He was a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC).
The murder of militants by air-to-ground missiles is a common Israeli practice. But in this case, the tensions between Fatah, which dominated the PA from its founding until the recent Hamas electoral victory, were so great that PRC militants suspected Fatah of the murder. That prompted the clash, in which Palestinian militants killed Palestinian militants.
In the Gaza strip in particular, since the withdrawal of Israeli forces, a multiplicity of Palestinian armed groups has been creating an atmosphere of insecurity. On April 20, the Hamas government proposed forming a new PA armed force to establish order under the command of Jamal Abu Samhadana, the commander of the PRC, whom the Israeli military has been trying to kill. But the plan was vetoed by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), a leader of Fatah, who was elected president of the PA in a previous election.
On April 26, apparently in response to the Hamas proposal, Fatah leaders announced that they were forming a new militia. Reuters reported: “Gunmen from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement announced on Wednesday a plan to form a new militia, a move likely to raise tensions with the governing Hamas group over security control in the Gaza Strip.
“‘The new force would aim to protect Fatah men against the Israeli enemy and against any attempt by any party inside the homeland to target them,’ Abu Saqer, a spokesman for Fatah’s Yasser Arafat Brigades, told Reuters. Some 30 people were wounded in Gaza in clashes earlier in the week between Fatah and Hamas gunmen.
“The violence followed Abbas’s veto of a police force Hamas said it would set up through the Interior Ministry to curb lawlessness in Gaza.”
On April 24, Abbas said in an interview with anti-Syrian newspapers in Lebanon and Jordan and picked up by the Turkish service of CNN that he thought he had the power to disband the Hamas government if it continued to refuse to recognize Israel: “The constitution gives me clear and definite authority to remove a government from power, but I don’t want to use this authority.”
At the same time, he accused the Hamas leader Khalid Meshal, based in Syria, of trying to incite a civil war in Palestine. In its April 25 issue, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Abbas’s statements, stressing: “Abbas added that ‘Hamas has to face the facts and establish communication with Israel,’ or the Palestinian people would be left to starve due to the party’s policies that have led to a cut of funding from the United States and European Union.”
The PA has been financed essentially by aid from the European Union and the U.S. as well as taxes and duties collected on its behalf by Israel. All of these parties have cut off the payments to press demands that Hamas formally recognize Israel.
On April 19, the Pacifica Radio program “Democracy Now” interviewed Colombia University Professor Rashid Khalidi and asked him to describe the situation today in the Palestinian territories. He said: “I think that what’s happening is an intensification of the situation that’s existed really for the past six years.
“You have a population basically imprisoned, which is now under sort of a lockdown almost, with almost no movement and with very, very limited ability to engage in economic activity, which is now being further punished by this removal of aid.”
Since normal economic activity is restricted, the Palestinian population largely depends on international aid. But in the same program, the presenter noted that the London Telegraph has reported that aid officials are afraid to continue their work for fear that Israel and its allies will consider them terrorists.
Moreover, a lot of the aid depends on the infrastructure of the PA, which is now deprived of funds, as Adrienne Smith of the aid agency Oxfam explained on “Democracy Now”: “Well, what happened is that as the European Community decided that they wanted to cut off aid to the territory, to the Palestinian Authority specifically, there was a hope and a desire that NGOs, like an Oxfam or the Red Cross, would be able to continue aid so that people were unaffected, so that one could both simultaneously cut off the Palestinian Authority, but also not have people affected. And we don’t believe that that’s possible.
“You know, Oxfam is providing the only source of clean water to about 140,000 villages and to families who depend on that, and so we certainly will do everything we can to help people, but we do not feel that we can replace the Palestinian Authority in infrastructure that existed, and the Red Cross has done a similar assessment, as have other groups.”
Smith pointed out that about 80 percent of Palestinians in the territories live on $2 or less a day and thus live day to day without being able to accumulate reserves.
Shir Hever, an economist for the Israeli Alternative Information Centre, pointed out that “Israel is obligated by international law to provide money that was in the first place due to the Palestinians. It’s taxes from Palestinian workers that, according to the agreements, must be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.
“It’s customs that Israel is collecting on behalf of the Palestinians and taking a very large percentage to itself.
Not only did the U.S. government stop its aid to the PA, it prohibited all private individuals from dealing with Palestinians.
The “Democracy Now” presenter pointed out: “On Friday [April 14], the U.S. government barred Americans from doing most business with the Palestinian Authority. The Treasury Department memo said transactions with the PA by U.S. persons are prohibited unless licensed. It said that the decision had been based on existing terrorism sanctions.”
In recent days, the Israeli military has threatened to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, and it operates at will in the West Bank, almost every day killing Palestinian militants. However, although the Israeli government acts as if the Palestinian Authority did not exist, it indicates no readiness to assume responsibility for the population of the Palestinian territories.
The Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority has appealed to Muslim and Arab states and donors to make up the revenues denied by Israel and its allies. Large sums have been pledged, but so far much less than the lost financing. However, even the oil-rich Middle East states do not have the resources of the U.S. and the European Union. Russia has pledged a relatively paltry sum of $10 million.
And there is the question of how the outside donors can get the money to the Palestinian Authority, since the territory over which it formally presides is totally cut off by Israel. As of now, the Palestinian Authority is out of money and the salaries of its employees have not been paid for weeks.
And the PA is the only major employer in the territories. About a third of the population is dependent on the wages of PA workers. Clearly, the situation of the Palestinian population is desperate. So, it is hardly surprising that some persons resort to suicide bombings.
Surely, the Israelis and their allies can be forced to retreat. To assure that, it is essential to maintain the full publicity possible on the basic realities in the territories and oppose all attempts to obscure them by arguments about Hamas’s rhetoric or formal political positions.
In the face of an threatened imminent collapse of the Palestinian Authority, even the United States was forced to relent to a certain extent. The British Guardian reported May 10: “Washington signaled that, while not prepared to deal with Hamas directly, it was content to let the EU, which has been the biggest donor to the Palestinians, find a way of bailing out the Palestinian Authority to prevent it from collapsing.”
This is an indication that the imperialist powers are worried about the scandal of an impending humanitarian catastrophe and can be pressured to offer further concessions to the Palestinian people.
In the long run, the conflict between Fatah and Hamas is a problem that the Palestinians will have to solve by the creation of a new leadership. But the tensions will be greatly reduced if the material pressure on the Palestinian population is mitigated.