Following long hesitation, in face of Hamas’ highly provocative and brutal takeover of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has finally reacted to the challenge right on his doorstep. Perhaps too late to redress the situation in Gaza, Abbas is trying hard not to lose his grip of the West Bank as well.
On Thursday evening, President Abbas made the obvious, but still quite dramatic step and dismissed the Hamas government declaring a state of emergency after six days of bloody factional fighting. His announcement came as Hamas fighters stormed remaining strongholds of his secular Fatah group in the Gaza Strip, finally seizing the presidential compound, the last bastion of Abbas’s authority in the enclave. Mr Abbas said in a statement he was declaring a state of emergency in all the lands of the Palestinian Authority because “criminal war in the Gaza Strip and and armed rebellion by outlaws” left him no other option. Although the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyah declined to accept Abbas’ statement as legal, the Palestinian constitution is clearly giving the ellected president the right to disolve any government, especially if “munity” is officially declared. Thus, Friday awoke to a new reality, one in which the Palestinian autonomous areas are split into two entities, Gaza and the West Bank. By declaring Hamas as outlaw, President Abbas has also created a new situation visa vie Israel. “Hamastan”, which is the new entity in Gaza has no longer any legal link to the Palestinian National Authority ( PNA), as long as the Islamic fundamentalists rule the Strip and refuse to accept the legislative rights of the PLO and Abbas’ authority.
Two important nominations have been made on Friday. In Israel, Ehud Barak is to be appointed defense minister by next Monday, which comes not a moment too soon under the escalating regional crisis situation. A man of his caliber at the helm of the IDF will no doubt affect not only the military, but also far-reaching strategic issues, urgently requiring determined leadership. The other appointment is in the Palestinian Authority, where the Palestinian president, has appointed Salam Fayyad, an independent parliamentarian, as prime minister of an emergency government.
The overall situation is extremely critical. Since Hamas is boycotted by Israel, it is still unclear how essential contacts will be handled, particularly coordination over the control of transit points and the entry into Israel of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip for humanitarian purposes. In fact, as Hamas is adhering to its traditional non-recognition status of Israel and continues its rocket attacks on its territory, this would hardly encourage any Israeli government to soften its attitude, to what is now officially regarded as a “rogue terrorist” entity.
Not only Israeli security is concerned. Egypt sent police to beef up security on the border with Gaza. Authorities deployed armored vehicles and water cannons to prevent any potential mass flight of Palestinians out of Gaza, while searching for tunnels under the border through which infiltrators could pass. There are also fears that if the fighting spreads to the West Bank, it will further weaken Abbas and ultimately stir up trouble for Jordan, said a Jordanian government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the situation’s sensitivity. Roughly half of Jordan’s 5.5 million population is Palestinian.
A Gaza-style civil war in the neighboring West Bank could spark clashes between the factions’ supporters in the kingdom — particularly in refugee camps where many are known to support Hamas.
At this stage all crossings into the Gaza Strip are closed to traffic because of the fighting. IDF forces along the border fence have been instructed to show restraint and avoid being dragged into the Palestinian infighting. Israeli political sources said Friday that the Hamas takeover requires that Israel re-examine its ties with the Gaza Strip, and whether it will continue its economic ties, the infrastructure links – providing of fuel and electricity from Israel.
Legally, Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by Canada, the European Union, Israel, Japan, the USA, banned in Jordan, Australia and the UK both list the military wing Izz ad Din- al Qassam brigades as terrorist organization. In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch stated Hamas’ leaders should be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the 1988 Hamas Covenant (or Charter) states that the organization’s goal is to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine,” in order to establish an Islamic Republic.Hamas rejects “so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences” as incapable of realizing justice or restoring rights to the oppressed, believing “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. In April 2007, Palestinian Media Watch released a video in which “Dr. Ahmad Bahar, acting speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council,” refers to Israel’s Jewish citizens as a “cancerous lump” and prays to Allah to “count them and kill them to the last one, and don’t leave even one.
Under the present circumstances, Israel’s most reasonable response would be that, once Abbas having officially expounded Hamas takeover as “mutiny against the institution” which regards a “Hamastan” in Gaza an illegal formation, Israel should openly declare it as an ‘enemy entity’ with all legal aspects involved. At the same time, Israel should consider Abbas and the PLO partner for continued negotiations including enhanced financial aid. In order to prevent a human catastrophy creating in Hamastan, however, a certain time limit should be extended to Hamas, through Egyptian mediators, to reorganize its relations with potential sponsors, seeking appropriate assistance, wether through the United Nations, or any other international humanitarian institutions. Once the declared time limit expires, Israel should then cease all contacts, with Hamastan, as long as it does not change its official stance against recognizing Israel and ceases all hostile activities against the Jewish State. The entire issue should be referred, by Israel officially to the Quartet, the United Nations, the United States, and Arab nations, with which Israel maintains diplomatic relations.
But not only do Gaza residents face an unclear future. Israel also is being forced to confront some very difficult questions and the answer needs to be more creative than merely deploying international forces on the Egypt-Gaza border. That initiative, which was born in the Foreign Ministry, was appropriate in the days when Fatah controlled the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, when there still was someone to talk to. Ehud Olmert’s recent announcement of his support for the idea proves that the prime minister has not yet internalized the critical developments in the Strip. With Hamas in control, the question is with whom exactly will the international deployment be coordinated? Who in Hamas will agree to a foreign presence on the border? In fact, the Hamas leadership has already declared that it will oppose any establishment of a foreign military power on its borders and even confront such action by force.