Since Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian National Authority the Gaza Strip has witnessed an escalation from the occupying Israeli troops, and violent reactions from the armed Palestinian factions.
The official spokespersons for some of these factions have not hesitated to clearly and unequivocally state that these military operations they are carrying out are messages directed at Israel and President Abu Mazen, who is calling for an end to the militarization of the Intifada and for a return to negotiations as the only method to achieve the national rights of the Palestinian people after the occupation has ended.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been careful to include the participation of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in these operations. In addition to this, field communications in the Gaza Strip have witnessed an insistence on having Al-Aqsa Brigades, the military wing of Fateh which Abu Mazen belongs to and leads, a partner in every operation. The goal of such a move is no secret to anyone; this insistence aims at further embarrassing President Abu Mazen, and exerting further pressure on him.
Abu Mazen was looking forward to a meeting with Sharon soon so he can propose a mutual ceasefire and urge Sharon to return to negotiations to implement the roadmap. The military operations, carried out by the alliance of Fateh, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have however made Sharon take a decision to stop all contacts with the Palestinian Authority. This was a decision he took swiftly; even his first deputy Shimon Peres was not consulted.
This acceleration in events has forced President Abu Mazen to arrange a visit to the Gaza Strip to meet with representatives of the factions to discuss a ceasefire.
I had mentioned in an earlier article that Abu Mazen is entering the political arena as a president facing major challenges, the most important of which is reaching a mutual ceasefire that will open the door to implementing international pledges to work on implementing the roadmap.
I had also said that Abu Mazen needs to reach a Palestinian-Palestinian agreement (regarding a ceasefire) and needs to obtain an Israeli pledge (through the US) to stop operations and commit to a ceasefire. This escalation has however generated angry Israeli reactions that have made the Prime Minister and other ministers (some even from the Labour Party) specify Abu Mazen’s striking at terrorism as a precondition to any talks. The Israeli escalation has also generated reactions from the armed factions -” reactions that have focused on refusing to discuss a ceasefire with the head of the Palestinian Authority until Israel stops its aggression and attacks against the Gaza Strip.
President Mahmoud Abbas is now between the hammer of the Israelis and the anvil of the armed factions.
Mahmoud Abbas will be heading to the Gaza Strip to meet with the representatives of the armed factions but he will be surprised by the agenda the representatives have drawn up. The agenda is complicated but can be summarized by saying that the factions want a political reward in exchange for the ceasefire Abu Mazen wants.
Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar, Hamas’s leader in the occupied Palestinian territories, expressed this by saying: “The President elected for the Palestinian Authority is not authorized to stop resistance against the occupation.” In comments following the announcement of the results of the Palestinian presidential elections Al-Zahar said yesterday: “If Abu Mazen wants to be authorized then he must find a way to ask the Palestinians outside the occupied territories and not in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alone. More than half our people live abroad. Whoever wins will be head of the Authority only. These are not elections for president of the state, but for managing the internal affairs of the Palestinian Authority.”
Al-Zahar also warned against the pressure that will be exerted against the Palestinian Authority to implement the Israeli agenda which Hamas has emphasized does not include the establishment of a Palestinian state, but includes instead putting an end to armed resistance and forcing Palestinians to accept a settlement that does not include even the bare minimum of Palestinian rights. Al-Zahar explained that Hamas would present the elected president with “the honor code we have drafted, which answers questions pertaining to Jerusalem, the refugees, the occupied territories and the relationship with the Zionist entity and the Arab countries, as well as the internal questions regarding fighting corruption, the media directed against the resistance, politics, education, and settlement after they have been evacuated.”
He emphasized that Hamas’s stand regarding joining the Palestinian government which will be formed following the elections will be determined by the agenda of this government. “This is not a battle between Hamas and Fateh.” He added that the policies of the future government are what will determine the nature of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, be it a relationship of accordance or clashes.
Some may think that the military escalation by the armed factions has only one goal which is to embarrass the new president and make him feel that the balance of power is not in his favor (Hamas has emphasized more than once that it could have won if it had participated in the elections). The truth as we see it however is that the armed factions want to get more than one bird with one stone.
On one hand they wanted to discuss their agenda, political and organizational demands with Abu Mazen as part of their reward in exchange for agreeing to a ceasefire. On the other hand they wanted to inflict losses on the Israeli occupiers and force them to withdraw from the Gaza Strip quickly. Everyone knows that Abu Mazen cannot achieve any political progress (as he pledged in his election agenda) unless he obtains an honor document and pledge in the form of an official agreement to a ceasefire in order to give political negotiations a chance to move forward, or at least to embarrass Sharon’s government before the four-member committee and the international community.
Thus, Abu Mazen will find himself facing a major issue that he will have to deal with despite his earlier assumption that this issue would be dealt with at a later time and that he would not have to deal with it first, or in parallel with dealing with the topic of a ceasefire.
The armed factions have rallied their powers to strike painful blows at Israeli positions in the Gaza Strip. They know that this will generate Israeli reactions. Indeed Israeli reactions have begun -” Al-Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza was attacked; eight Palestinians were killed and dozens more were injured.
I estimate that this attack is the first in a series of aggressive attacks that the occupation forces will carry out against the camps and cities of the Gaza Strip. This will increase the burden on President Mahmoud Abbas.
The armed factions are not however taking this into consideration. The escalation to them means a show of force and a strengthening of their position in the negotiations with President Mahmoud Abbas in order to achieve the greatest gain possible in terms of the political agenda, the organizational agenda, and the media, educational and other agendas as well.
The demands of the armed factions with regards to the legislative council elections and municipal elections will undoubtedly be on the negotiating table as well.
The Gaza negotiations will be hard, and Abu Mazen might have to call the Executive Committee of the PLO to convene a private meeting in Gaza to discuss these matters, but he will definitely have to seek Fateh’s Central Committee’s approval on any fundamental point reached with the armed factions.
The situation might look bleak, but the common desire and common interest for everyone is to be rid of the occupation.