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Date posted: December 15, 2006
By Rami Bathish for MIFTAH

The past 24 hours have perhaps underlined the worst fears for all Palestinians; the volatility of factional antagonism between Fateh and Hamas has been amplified to unprecedented levels by an attack against the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyeh of Hamas as he was leaving Rafah Crossing. One day before President Mahmoud Abbas anticipated address to the Palestinian people, in which he is expected to outline decisive measures concerning the formation of a national unity government and an exit strategy from the current political and economic turmoil, the attack is threatening to provoke a wave of political violence in the occupied territories which no side would be capable of controlling once it gains momentum.

The attack at Rafah Crossing last night has left one of Haniyyehs bodyguards dead, his aide, son, and 20 bystanders injured, and the entire population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a state of fear and dismay. Fear of what may well be a future dominated by internal strife, and dismay with the inability of the Palestinian leadership (Hamas, Fateh, among other groups) to transcend factional rivalries and provide workable solutions to a conflict that is destroying the very fabric of Palestinian society, to the extent of paving the way for civil war.

In addition to the fact that the latest target of Palestinian infighting is of the highest ranks within both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, this latest upsurge in violence has been fuelled by Hamas allegations that the perpetrator of the attack is Fateh loyalist and former Palestinian Interior Minister Mohammad Dahlan. The accusations, which Fateh later dismissed as premature speculations and incitement, came hours after the Rafah incident in the form of a press conference held by high-ranking Hamas officials, in which they bluntly placed full responsibility for the attack on the former head of the Palestinian Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip.

Within this context, and in light of the sensitivities provoked by the involvement of top factional leaders from both Hamas and Fateh, the ripple effect of the Rafah attack could be felt across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank within hours. Following Friday prayers at noon in Ramallah today, crowds of Hamas supporters marched in the city as a demonstration of solidarity with Ismail Haniyyeh and to commemorate Hamas establishment on this day in 1987; it took only minutes before Palestinian police, Palestinian Presidential guards loyal to Abbas, and members of Fatehs Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades confronted the protestors, leaving 31 people injured (including security personnel, civilians, and medics caught in the middle of the clashes).

What followed on Friday afternoon from public condemnations, pragmatic appeals for calm, and calls for cooling off periods by various Palestinian political circles is unlikely to reverse the damage that has beset Palestinian political life following the countless accusations and counteraccusation by both Fateh and Hamas against each other within the past 24 hours. The truth is, this time the antagonists have crossed the line, and the horrific measure of their antagonism has been exposed by the nature and timing of the Rafah attack.

Ultimately, the objectives of President Abbas speech tomorrow have been greatly undermined by todays events. Even if he does indeed demonstrate good leadership skills by outlining concrete and assertive steps towards national conciliation (which is no easy task in the first place), the overwhelming impact of a deeply polarised political landscape in the Palestinian territories will most likely override any other considerations. This includes the decision and will to intensify or de-escalate infighting. In other words, the fate of the Palestinian people is now in the hands of those who possess the means to launch civil war, and not necessarily within the control of those at the top of the pyramid, whose consistent political blunders have dragged all of us to the edge of this cliff.

Rami Bathish is director of the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). He can be contacted at mip@miftah.org

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Source: MIFTAH
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