Kifah Zaboun
Asharq Alawsat
November 6, 2007 - 12:58pm

When Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip last June; it emerged as a strong victorious army while Fatah was weak and defeated. Palestinians were awestruck by the force and speed of Hamas’s military takeover and believed that the already fragmented Fatah had been dealt a severe blow from which it would not recover. Meanwhile, others believed that the Gaza takeover represented the deadly blow for the victorious Hamas, which had fallen into the Gaza trap.

Gradually it became apparent that the powerful Hamas was pursuing Fatah to hold talks. Fatah is the party governing over the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the same party which Hamas had expelled from its security headquarters. But Hamas appeared to be facing a series of crises, some humanitarian and others security related. Some sources have confirmed various other differences and disputes, upholding that the fractured Fatah is unable to reunite its ranks while the rifts continue to deepen.

The Hamas-led coup may have opened the floodgates to a series of coups yet to come. In Ramallah, the authority (Fatah) still continues to tend to its wounded. Immediately after the coup, Mahmoud Abbas appointed the internationally- and nationally- recognized Salam Fayad as prime minister of the new emergency cabinet to replace the dissolved Hamas-Fatah coalition. In the aftermath of the coup, Fatah consulted with Fayad and rebuilt the mobilization bureau and the movement’s organization. Fatah issued reassurances that the public was on its side and gave the security services the authority and free reign to put an end to Hamas’s potential similar ambitions in the West Bank.

Abbas’s declaration of a state of emergency in the Palestinian territories was met with anger among some in Fatah who believed that Fatah had come to its senses a little too late, adding that “Gaza has already fallen.” Many Fatah affiliates firmly stated that they will not fight in Gaza, and thus emerged the difficult question: If they were going to go out to fight, whom will they be defending?

Whispers amongst Fatah can still be heard wondering whether the ‘authority’ was worth dying for. They also question if the authority would appreciate this undying loyalty, and if it would compensate their families in the case of their death  especially since they accuse it of not ensuring a decent living for them while they are still alive.

Only some of the Fatah soldiers in combat have received their salaries, which had gone unpaid for many months. Hamas has deemed them “Fatah fighters” and considered itself accountable for them. Members of Hamas would say, “To whom are we sending funds and paying salaries? To the sons of Fatah!” As for Fatah, it had considered its soldiers, first and foremost, as officials from the Hamas government. Fatah sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that they “were hungry and unwilling to die for a leadership that lets them go hungry,” and added that they, “will never fight”.

The same sources revealed that, “some [Fatah] officials who had been in charge of the military sites [in Gaza] had contacted Hamas in order to try and urge it towards a peaceful handover of these sites; however they, [Fatah] refused to die in a losing battle.” Other Fatah sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Mahmoud Abbas, “had personally made calls to the heads of the military sites in an effort to urge them to hold steadfast, but it was to no avail.”

Hamas triumphed, and its men prayed in the “liberated” land and began to establish the party’s authority heedless of the orders issued out of Ramallah by the PA. United and proud, perhaps Hamas thought that the story would not drag on, or that victory would be different than defeat: that it would not have a price.

Although the rifts and differences were not immediately visible in Gaza, they instantly manifested in Ramallah. Fatah members in Ramallah were discontent by Fatah members in Gaza whom they deemed to be “fugitives fleeing from Hamas”. Some of these party members told Asharq Al-Awsat that Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] did no want to see any of them and that he tried to send them to Egypt.

Word buzzing around the political arean at the time was that some of the prominent Fatah leadership figures were glad with what had transpired in Gaza, not because they supported Hamas, but rather in defiance against Mohammed Dahlan, the Fatah leader who was described as Gaza’s strongman.

Dahlan disappeared from the political scene and Hamas started to boast that it had ousted him, furthermore telling Fatah that it should be happy with this development. However, there are still some among Fatah in Ramallah who predict Dahlan’s return, maintaining that he will lead Fatah and that he could perhaps even be the next president. Sources close to Dahlan told Asharq Al-Awsat that Dahlan is aware that Fatah backstabbed him.

There are discussions amongst Fatah about the possibility of Marwan al Barghouti, a prominent Fatah leader presently detained in an Israeli prison, becoming the new president. This is soon followed by the question: Is anyone in Fatah capable of saving the movement?

In an upscale café in Ramallah, retired leaders and former freedom fighters of Fatah express their anger over the whole situation with Hamas, Fatah and the PA. However, not every Palestinian feels the same way, there are some in Fatah who still believe that it will rise to power again to lead the national project and restore control over Gaza  but they do not know when, how, or who will be responsible for it, only that he may emerge at any time.

Many have told Asharq Al-Awsat that Fatah is without leadership and can no longer be considered an organization today. Fatah loyalist Brigadier Yousef al Sharqawi said, “No one is leading Fatah, it is without a head, a headless body that walks alone.”

“Or,” he amended, “perhaps it is a body with multiple heads,” and as though he just remembered something, he said, “Fatah is gone.”

Like others before him, al Sharqawi maintains that Fatah died with Yasser Arafat. Others uphold that although Fatah is the Palestinian Authority, it does not wield any control over it, but that’s another story. Some believe that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad and the ministers he appointed do not represent Fatah; in fact, observers believe that Fayad is headed towards a confrontation with Fatah, as some among the movement’s leadership have been saying. There are those who consider this to be the impending second coup in Ramallah.

According to a Fatah loyalist, “Today, Fayad is a national requirement but he will soon no longer be,” indicating that all the important and influential posts are occupied by officials that are not part of Fatah. This fact was pointed out by the Israeli newspaper ‘Haaretz’, which also added that a dispute was starting to come to light between Abbas and Fayad over the formation of a Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) that is independent from Fatah and “not affiliated to any political party”. This is something that many in the Fatah leadership will regard as a blow. And yet, it was Abbas who granted powers to Fayad, something which he has denied Hamas.

Various Palestinian politicians, including businessman Munib al Masri and First Deputy Speaker of PLC, Hassan Khreisheh, are currently discussing the formation of new [political] parties as an alternative to Fatah and Hamas. This move has received the blessing of President Abbas himself. Some cite the Israeli Kadima party as an example, which was able to “seize power from the historic Likud and Labor parties.”

Differences with Fayad are considered one of the undeclared fronts that Fatah is battling, however these disagreements are starting go become more apparent, especially after Fayad’s announcement that he intends to decrease the number of military personnel by half. This move has been considered by many Fatah activists as a denial of their rights and yet another blow to the movement and its resistance, particularly for the ‘Old Guard’.

Abu Ali Shahin, a senior Fatah official and member of the movement’s Revolutionary Council said that there is some discontent within the movement over Fayad’s actions but that “his credibility was intact.”

But this discontent spans wider and deeper than that, some Fatah veterans have been issuing statements and adopting stances that are more inclined towards Hamas. Faruq Qaddumi’s verbal attack on Abu Mazen was explicit and confirmed the existence of two types of Fatah members: those of the resistance and those of the regime.

Hani al Hassan, a senior Fatah leader and a senior advisor for the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, faced severe consequences after stating that, “what happened in Gaza is a defeat for General Keith Dayton’s plan.” The wounded Fatah retaliated by dismissing him from his position as presidential advisor and commissioned an inquiry to question him; however, he refused to comply with it.

Meanwhile, a military tribunal was set up in Jericho to try eight [Fatah] military personnel [following the coup], while the Fatah members in Gaza accused the PA of slaughtering the military establishment.

Tawfiq Abu Khussa, the former Interior Ministry spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat, “They are trying the officials who have defended the authority and did not hold accountable the politicians responsible for the defeat.”

Abu Khussa added that senior Fatah officials did not heed the president’s orders to go to Gaza a few days before the coup and said that no one has questioned them. “Where is the political institution? And what of those who procrastinated, or conspired and schemed before and during the coup?” he questioned.

In the midst of this conflict, Bassam Abu Sharif, former senior adviser to the late Yasser Arafat and press officer of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) accused Abbas of governing a dictatorship and of neglecting the veteran Fatah activists  even refusing to treat some of them in hospitals. Abu Sharif called upon Abbas to emulate Arafat whom he sang praises of. Meanwhile, Abbas’s media advisor told Asharq Al-Awsat that, “these statements mean nothing to us.”

Fatah members often times complain of being forsaken. When the PLC formed by Abbas to govern over Gaza resigned, Ahmed Nasr, who had been a member at the time said, “The resignation came as a result of Ramallah’s neglect of thousands of Fatah members’ families that have been living without salaries.”

Despite the official denial that the council had tendered its resignation to President Abbas three times, Nasr added, “Fatah did not learn a lesson from Gaza. Egypt has learned a lesson from Gaza but Ramallah hasn’t.”

Political science analyst Abdul Sattar Qasim upholds that Fatah did not learn a lesson because it is not an organization as many believe it to be. “If funds are available, Fatah unites, if they are absent it splits up,” said Qasim. He added that following its defeat, Fatah is now viewed as a ‘paper tiger’ by the public. Furthermore, he disclosed that some among the Fatah leadership had told him that if it were not for the diversity of the West Bank, they [Fatah] would have kicked them [Hamas] out of the land [West Bank].”

Palestinian security sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Hamas, “would not dare and does not have the capacity to take over the West Bank,” and added that, “our response will be a radical and difficult one.”

Indeed the idea of Hamas seizing the West Bank is a central preoccupation for Fatah and one that it is potentially possible; however Fatah affirms that in the event of that happening its response would be wide-ranging and severe.

Hamas accuses Fatah of holding talks with Israel and of taking steps to hinder Hamas’s resistance. Meanwhile, Fatah describes Hamas resistance as a cover that serves the party’s political project, furthermore stressing that Hamas is not based on ideological beliefs as it claims.

Some Fatah members have expressed grave concerns over the possibility of a Hamas-Israel agreement that states upon the former’s control of Gaza and the West Bank. Fatah cited an abundance of examples to support that claim, including cases of preventing and stopping Qassam rockets being launched in the West Bank. These allegations have been confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat by sources in the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine.

According to top-level source in Fatah, “Hamas is communicating with Israel via an Arab country that is on friendly terms with Israel.” Other sources question why Israel has not launched an attack on Gaza, while some sources believe that the objective is to strengthen Hamas.

But Hamas’s real strength arose from its reliance on ‘religion’ as it took over all the mosque pulpits and set up charitable organizations for the poor and gave money to the Palestinian people, also not neglecting the needs of the families of Hamas members during the Intifada, or those who had been imprisoned.

Najat Abu Bakr, a member of the PLC told Asharq Al-Awsat that Fatah had become aware of the role of religion in politics a little too late.” She accused Hamas of employing religion to serve its personal interests. “They are lying,” she said, “even from the pulpits of mosques.”

In the Hamas-controlled Gaza, you would be hard pressed to find anyone from the party who speaks with the same candor as those in Ramallah. According to observers and journalists in Gaza, it is a police ‘state’, no information can be accessed within the organization and that it is dedicated to keeping up an appearance of a united front.

Some theorists within Fatah have described Hamas as ‘the communists of this era’ (in reference to the movement’s cohesion and fortitude), however discordant voices within the ‘iron Hamas’ have started to make themselves heard about discontent over the party’s policy. This has become especially more pronounced and discrepant after the coup.

The resignation of former cabinet's spokesperson Ghazi Hamd although denied by Hamas was confirmed by reliable sources within the movement who said that he had indeed resigned in protest against the movement’s policy.

The controversy has deeply manifested itself with Hamd’s evasion of the media and his keeping a low profile and staying at home. Despite the fact that Hamas has dispelled rumors about a rift with Hamd or that he was dismissed by the movement after making statements that Hamas was negotiating with Israel, Fawzi Barhoum, the Hamas spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat that, “he [Hamd] still has our respect but he is at home now.” The movement’s official statement pointed towards the fact that it expressed a personal difference, not one that was held by the movement.

Like Hamd, Ahmed Yousef, Haniyeh’s advisor has also disappeared from the scene lately. Some sources within the movement had severely criticized Yousef for his declared statements and positions, some going further to describe them as “Fatah-inclined”.

Although Hamas has publicly and overtly denied the existence of growing rifts; inevitably, hidden cracks are starting to become apparent. Recently, differences have been surfacing between the Hamas leadership in Gaza and that in the West Bank.

Political science analyst Abdul Sattar Qasim upholds that “Hamas, unlike Fatah, is a hierarchal organization; it adopts an extremist attitude and does not accept or listen to other opinions.”

All these developments unfold amidst the ongoing clashes between the Palestinian factions, while the differences become deeper and graver with each passing day. Today the Palestinians are entrapped by three authorities: Israel, Fatah and Hamas, while chaos, poverty and unemployment prevail destroying the last vestiges of hope.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017