January 23, 2007 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 316

Escalation in Fatah-Hamas Conflict

January 23, 2007
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 316


Since the failure of the attempts to establish a national unity government in the PA, tension between Fatah and Hamas has been escalating. This tension peaked in recent days when PA Legislative Council member Muhammad Dahlan said that the Fatah forces must be ready to defend themselves and to prevent attacks on their people, threatening harsh retribution should Fatah members be harmed. This statement came after a top commander in Fatah's Preventive Security Apparatus was killed by Hamas's Executive Force. Hamas members, on their part, accused Dahlan of trying to stage a military coup in accordance with an Israeli plan. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) issued a presidential decree which pronounced Hamas's Executive Force illegal, while the Hamas-led Palestinian government announced that it planned to expand the Executive Force to 12,000 men.

These events were preceded by an attempt on the life of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, by Hamas riots at the Rafah border crossing and by Abbas's December 16, 2006 speech in which he announced his intention to hold early elections for the presidency and the Legislative Council. Following this announcement, Hamas escalated its statements, declaring that the decision to hold early elections is illegal and would lead to civil war. Since then, clashes between Fatah and Hamas have been occurring on a daily basis, resulting in numerous casualties on both sides. Abbas blamed Hamas for the failure of the attempts to form a national unity government, and criticized the ongoing chaos in the PA as well as Hamas's violations of the ceasefire with Israel. Abbas also rejected Hamas's proposal to offer Israel a hudna in return for a Palestinian state within temporary borders, and called to aim for a solution that will end the conflict.

The following are excerpts from statements by Abbas and Dahlan, and from a response by Hamas spokesman MP Salah Al-Bardawil.

Statements by Mahmoud Abbas

*Criticism of Hamas for Violation of the Ceasefire and Responsibility for the Chaos in the PA

In a December 16, 2006 speech in Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas said that after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, the Palestinians dreamt of investments, projects and prosperity, but none of that came to be "because we [Palestinians] were determined to fire rockets... [in violation] of the hudna - the first one, the second one and the third one..."

Abbas also harshly criticized Hamas for the riots that ensued at the Rafah border crossing on December 15, 2006 after Haniya was stopped from bringing funds into Gaza. "When Prime Minister [Haniya] was held up [on the border], groups [of Hamas members] came to greet him upon his return from a successful visit, but they came [armed] with RPGs, even though leaders are [generally] supposed to be greeted by their associates with flowers and words of welcome... People stormed into the terminal, and broke and stole equipment. Why?"

About Haniya's attempt to bring funds into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing, Abbas said: "...The PA and [its] government need funds [to care] for the people, but not smuggled funds that could have been obtained [legally] through the Arab League..."

Referring to the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Abbas said that it has cost the Palestinians dearly: "The abduction led to fighting in Gaza that has so far resulted in [the death of] 500 martyrs, over 4,000 people injured, thousands of homes [destroyed] and thousands of dunams of trees [uprooted]..." [1]

*Criticism of Hamas for Making Threats and Accusing Fatah of Treason and Heresy

The PA Chairman added: "We evoked democracy. What is democracy? [In democracy] there is a majority and a minority, there are some who agree and some who disagree. But if you [try to] intimidate me by saying 'this is God's will' and [by saying] that the [PA employees] who went on strike [to protest the holding back of their salaries] are traitors and that anyone who [criticizes] the government is a traitor - this is terrorism that must not be accepted or allowed. Religion should not be exploited. Religion is God's, [and it belongs] in the mosque, church or synagogue. We are all religious, and nobody can claim to be more [religious] than we are. We were praying and fasting before some [of those who criticize us] were [even] born. It is a disgrace to accuse others of heresy..." [2]

*"Since Our Struggle Began and Until Our Homeland Was Liberated, We Aimed Our Guns at the Occupation, and That is our Legitimate Right"

In a January 11, 2007 speech, Abbas said: "While sitting here with you, I heard shots fired in the air, and this is something that must be opposed. Gunshots [fired at] a brother, neighbor, friend or member of the opposing faction is something that must be opposed. We must not accept the slogan '[they] are Shi'ites.' We are one people, and even if there are differences of opinion among us, the homeland unites us. We are brothers, and we [must] not reject anyone or accuse the other of heresy... [We] must not [spill] Palestinian blood. Dialogue is the only language we must use among ourselves. Since our struggle began and until our homeland was liberated, we [always] aimed our guns at the occupation, and that is our legitimate right, but we must not aim our guns at one another..." [3]

I [vowed] to Arafat: "[our] young men will continue the struggle until a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, is established on Palestinian soil... [This] 42-year struggle was initiated and led by Fatah in early January 1965. [Fatah] transformed the Palestinian cause from a refugee problem into a [cause] of a fighting people which serves as a model for liberation and independence movements throughout the world. [It] transformed [this cause] from a [dispute] over borders into a [struggle] for existence, placing Palestine on the world's political map, after many tried to eradicate it but failed and were defeated.

"We remember today the long list of martyrs who fell on the various battle [fronts]... Yasser Arafat;... Ahmad Yassin;... [Fathi] Al-Shqaqi, [a former leader of the Islamic Jihad organization, killed by Israel in 1995]; Faisal Al-Husseini; 'Abd Al-Qader Al-Husseini, leader of our ongoing revolution... and Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam... This [ongoing] revolution has been going on and will continue until the Palestinian dream is realized." [4]

*Hamas is Responsible for the Failure of the Peace Initiatives

In his December 16 speech, Abbas blamed the Hamas leadership abroad for the failure of the Qatari peace initiative, and said that the unique aspect of this initiative is its emphasis on mutuality. The initiative proposes that the Palestinian government will recognize the international and Arab resolutions as well as the signed agreements, and will accept a two-state solution. In addition, both sides are called upon to mutually relinquish terrorism. Referring to this last clause, Abbas said: "This is the first time since 1981 that mutuality is established between us and the Israelis. All [previous] initiatives and hudnas were independently initiated by the Palestinians. This time, [the Israelis said]: 'we are willing to accept [the principle] of mutuality - [if] you stop [the terrorism], so will we.' We said: '[we agree to] mutual cessation of terrorism...' The Qatari foreign minister brought this initiative. He visited Damascus a number of times... And what was the result? [Hamas] told him: 'we accept the initiative but want to change it. The [Palestinian] government must do thus and such,... the president must recognize this and that...'"

Abbas also mentioned that Haniya had rejected the Arab (Saudi) peace initiative of 2002 because, according to Haniya, it ignores the refugee problem and calls for a Palestinian recognition of Israel. Abbas said: "The Arab peace initiative includes a clear and explicit clause regarding the refugees [which calls for] a just and agreed-upon solution based on [U.N.] Resolution 194. This is the first time that this resolution is mentioned in an official document since it was passed in 1949... For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, an Arab country has put forward an Arab initiative, saying that it was willing, along with all the other Arab and Muslim [countries], to normalize relations with Israel providing that four [conditions] are met: Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories, establishment of a Palestinian state and resolution of the Palestinian problem... Where does it say 'recognition of Israel'? But Haniya said: 'we cannot [accept this]'...

"There are principles that we constantly fight for, namely [the establishment of] an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders alongside Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. Jerusalem is ours. The settlements are illegal. The Arab [Saudi] initiative proposed a just solution to the refugee problem based on [U.N.] Resolution 194, which states that any [refugee] who does not wish to realize his right to return [to Palestine] will be compensated. I accept this. Anyone who does not wish to return will have the right to receive compensation, but anyone who does wish to return will have the right [to do so]..." [5]

*No to a Long-Term Hudna and to a State with Temporary Borders; The Conflict Must Be Ended

Referring to Hamas's suggestion of a long-term hudna with Israel, Abbas said: "In the past, Hamas declared: 'we will never agree to [the establishment of] a state in part of Palestine, since [all of] Palestine is waqf land.' But this [position] cannot be implemented in reality. [Now] we see Hamas talking about something else: about a state within the 1967 borders, right? It is also talking about a 15-year hudna. Is it conceivable to leave the Palestinian [problem] in the state of a hudna for 15 years?" [6]

In a Fatah Day speech from January 11, 2007, Abbas added: "Today more than ever before we must stick to the Palestinian principles. We will not agree to a state with temporary borders and we will not compromise on the [issue of the] refugees. We will not give up a single inch [of land] in Jerusalem..."

"We are in favor of peace. Everyone must hear this... Yes indeed, we are in favor of peace, but not just any peace - a peace based on justice. In one hundred years of sacrifice, the Palestinians have proven that they are not willing to be defeated or to give in. They are definitely not ready to hold up a white flag. I repeat today what our eternal president, Abu 'Amar [Yasser Arafat], said: We want peace for the sake of our children and their children, for the sake of our grandchildren and their grandchildren. We want peace based on equality and justice and not upon injustice and discrimination. [We want] peace that is not based on negation [of the other], on annexation of land, on killing and destruction... We want peace [based on] justice and equality. Therefore, our hand is extended in peace. The whole world must know this and turn in this direction..." [7]

In a January 14, 2007 press conference, after his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Abbas said: "We explained to the Secretary of State that we are against temporary solutions and interim settlements - including a state with temporary borders - since we do not see this as a realistic option that can be built upon. There is a need for energetic and ongoing efforts on the part of all the regional and international forces in order to end the conflict and reach a peace agreement..." [8]

*On the Decision to Hold Early Elections for the Presidency and the Legislative Council

Abbas said in his December 16, 2006 speech in Ramallah,: "I issued a presidential decree to establish the cabinet, and I have the right to issue a presidential decree to dissolve it, and I will do so when I choose. Dissolving the cabinet is not a '[justification] for civil war' as [Mahmoud] Al-Zahar said. [Hamas] will not intimidate us. It is my constitutional right [to dissolve the cabinet], and I will exercise it when I wish... We are in a bad situation. Should we let it continue? We must emerge from this [crisis], and that is why, after sensing the mood of the Palestinian [public] which is waiting for relief and is looking to the elected president [to take the necessary steps],... I decided to call for early elections for the presidency and the Legislative Council. The constitutional law specifies that the people are the source of the authorities' [mandate]. We will turn back to the people and let them decide. I have consulted with the Central Elections Committee and will consult them [again] as soon as possible in order to prepare [for the early elections]... In any case, my goal will remain... the establishment of a national unity government [made up] of experts that will bring us out of this crisis and [enable] the siege to be lifted... " [9]

In another Fatah Day speech, Abbas said: "In my last speech, I said that we wanted to hold early elections not only for the Legislative Council but also for the presidency. The response was violence and gunfire. We suggested early elections. We may be right and we may be wrong. Who shall decide? Not the streets and not the guns but the law. If we speak of democracy and rule of law... [then] we [must] abide by the decision of the court, since we respect our courts. I do not believe that a democratic society will accept the [violent] actions and responses [that followed my proposal of early elections]." [10]

*Hamas Refused to Recognize the PLO

Abbas also mentioned that, after Hamas won the elections for the Legislative Council, all the [Palestinian] factions refused to join its government since "Hamas had refused to recognize the PLO..." He also mentioned that, when he advised Hamas to honor past commitments and agreements, it refused to do so. [11]

Dahlan: Any Attack on Fatah Members Will Be Met with Harsh Retaliation

In a mass Fatah Day rally held in Gaza on January 7, 2007, top Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan criticized Hamas harshly and promised that any attack on Fatah members would be met with fierce retaliation. He said: "On this blessed day, you have come to say in unison, with one voice: 'long live Fatah, death and shame to the killers... [long live] the future of Palestine.' You have come to respond [to the murder] with peace, brotherhood and unity. You have come to respond to those murderers who made the killing of Palestinians licit. While the Israeli forces were invading Ramallah, the forces of shame and disgrace [i.e. Hamas] [entered] Jabalia and attacked the home of the shahid Muhammad Ghraib, a top commander in the Preventive Security [Apparatus], and killed him in a premeditated manner and in cold blood...

"The participants of this rally came here in response to Fatah's call which is echoing in all our hearts, in order to convey one message that is the same from Rafah to Jenin. The essence [of this message] is that [our] hands are still extended in [a bid for] national unity and [our] guns are still aimed at the occupation. Anyone who thinks that these guns will not be used to defend the members of Fatah is mistaken. These guns will unite in order to defend the members of our movement. Not in order to attack anyone, but in Fatah's defense."

Addressing the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and all of Fatah's other military bodies, Dahlan said: "From this night on, you must leave your fingers on the trigger, not in order to attack [anyone] but in order to [ensure] that events which repeated themselves in the past will not [continue to] reoccur...

"We will leave this [rally] with a plan that will reach all of Fatah's civilian and military bodies. If one Fatah member is attacked, we will retaliate several times over. If the [Hamas] leaders think they are out of the reach of our forces, they are wrong. We reject their method of killing in the evening and then sitting with us in the morning. Long live Fatah! Death to the murderers!

"This huge rally sends a message of unity, [and a message of] support for the Fatah leaders, for President Abu Mazen, for the movement's Central Committee and for its military branches. Our relationship [with Hamas] will be written in the blood of the martyr Muhammad Ghraib, and if they think that his murderers will avoid punishment, they are mistaken."

Responding to anti-Hamas cries of "Shi'ites! Shi'ites" from the audience, Dahlan admonished: "Fatah does not speak the way [Hamas] speaks. They are not 'Shi'ites' but murderers. We will not respond to bloodshed with bloodshed but by [emphasizing] our movement's unity and its roots sunk deep in the blessed Palestinian soil." [12]

Hamas Accuses Dahlan of Trying to Stage a Military Coup

Salah Al-Bardawil, Hamas spokesman in the Legislative Council, accused Dahlan of promoting a Zionist plan for a military coup against the Palestinian people and government: "Dahlan is trying to ride the wave [of hatred at the expense] of the Fatah movement, to exploit the chaotic atmosphere which leads to civil strife between Fatah and Hamas, to sow hostility among Palestinians, to draw [people's attention] away from our real conflict with the enemy, and to conceal the corruption which will one day be revealed... to the entire [Palestinian] people.

"The [language] of threats is the [language] that weak and frightened people use when they are trying to hide their fear. In the end, our people will remain united, all honorable people will remain united, while all those who deviate from their faith and thrive on the blood and suffering of others will be purged from our people."

Al-Bardawil further said that "Dahlan's revolutionary faction and the Zionist enemy which is supporting [his faction] with funds and weapons have a joint plan for winning the war on the ground by military [means]. Some people, tempted by [the defeat] of the Islamic Courts [Union] in Somalia and by the general frustration that prevails in the Arab, Islamic and Palestinian street, are trying to apply the same [method] on Hamas in order to win the war on the ground by military, rather than democratic, means." [13]

*C. Jacob is a Research Fellow for The Middle East Media Research Institute.

[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 9, 2007.

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 9, 2007.

[3] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 12, 2007.

[4] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 12, 2007.

[5] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 9, 2007.

[6] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 9, 2007.

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 12, 2007.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 15, 2007.

[9] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 9, 2007.

[10] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 12, 2007.

[11] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 9, 2007.

[12] Al-Ayyam (PA), January 8, 2007.

[13], January 8, 2007.

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