Leadership needed to prevent chaos, internal fighting

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Palestinians living in the occupied territories are clutching at straws these days. The one-month public servants strike which crippled all public institutions and kept hundreds of thousands of Palestinian students in the streets does not seem any closer to a resolution.

Palestinian weapons meant to be used for self defence have become offensive weapons. Political parties and military factions are not able to meet on any clear minimum programme. Worse of all, the use of violence to solve the most mundane dispute threatens the national fabric of the Palestinian society.

Every day news is heard about people being killed, officials being shots at, clubs being burned, telecommunications centres destroyed. Even religious sites, once believed to be above any internal dispute, are now targeted.

Following the statements of the Pope, a number of churches were burnt and in one anonymous leaflet, the small Palestinian Christian minority in Gaza was physically threatened if the Pope doesn’t apologise.

No one seems to have been held to account for these crimes and vandalism; even for burning churches –” acts polls show as totally rejected by almost all Palestinians –” no individual or group seems to have been punished. If arrests did take place, this would be the kind of news that the population is dying to hear in order to feel reassured that there is someone in Palestine who takes the oath about caring for life and property seriously.

The most recent killings in Gaza have properly attracted the most attention. Statements from political, religious and community leaders have denounced these attacks, but again, no one has been arrested for the killings of protesters in Gaza nor for the revenge attacks against supporters of Hamas in the West Bank. News coming from Gaza point out to the fact that, for the first time, the local population has responded angrily to the actions of the ministry of interior’s use of live ammunition by literally throwing stones at its troops. The angry reaction to the attempts to break up the public workers’ strike seems to have been the main reason for the withdrawal of the armed police loyal to the Hamas minister of interior.

Naturally the situation in Palestine cannot and should not be seen in isolation of the larger context. The Israelis and the US, as well as Arab countries, have contributed in different ways. The Israelis through their continued illegal and immoral occupation, the Americans by backing this occupation and refusing any dealings with a democratically elected Palestinian government. The Arab countries are to be blamed for two different reasons. Some pro-US countries for agreeing to contribute (directly or indirectly) to the unjust siege on Palestine. Arab countries who are opposed to the US for their negative interference in Palestinian affairs.

News from Gaza is that the six-point agreement between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was reportedly rejected by Damascus-based politburo chief Khaled Mishaal. Similarly, according to Egyptian officials, the prisoner exchange deal that was worked out with the Israelis was derailed because of outside help.

A PLO source in Ramallah equates the group’s present situation with that in the past, when the diaspora-based Yasser Arafat would try and force the outside parties to deal with him. The only difference today is that Hamas’ leaders in exile don’t have the overwhelming public support that the PLO had at the time both in Palestine and within the Arab world.

Abbas doesn’t have many legal solutions to deal with the situation. Palestinian law, approved for the purpose of limiting Arafat’s powers, doesn’t give the president the right to dissolve the parliament; nor is there any political party law that would require parties running for office to accept a set of basic issues.

Even though the present Basic Law talks about the PLO as the Palestinian reference point, Hamas officials continue to refuse to accept the agreements signed by the PLO, saying that during internal discussions, they said they would only recognise the PLO when it is reformed. Some believe this condition is meant to reflect Hamas’ willingness to accept the PLO only if it can control it.

The anger of Palestinians in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank is certainly not limited to one party. Both Fateh and Hamas, both president and prime minister are responsible for the situation the Palestinians find themselves in. And while Palestinians don’t remember any worse time in their recent history (with the exception of the Nakba in 1948), there is still an opportunity to redress the situation.

Palestinians are looking anywhere for a sign of hope and change. They are grasping at anything to prevent the entire society from drowning in chaos, internal fighting and self destruction. What is required is statesmanship, courage and leadership to do what is right not what is feasible.

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