Palestine: Fatah-Hamas talks /FRFI! 239 Jun/Jul 2014

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

Reconciliation talks that are taking place between Hamas and Fatah follow months of ‘peace’ negotiations between Israel, the US and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Throughout, Israel has maintained the Gaza blockade, violently invaded the West Bank, killed civilians and activists, increased arrests, bulldozed hundreds of homes and continued to build settlements. In talks opposed by many Palestinians, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has offered more concessions to Israel, proposing a three-year ‘transition’ period to keep Israeli troops in the West Bank after the announcement of a Palestinian state. For Abbas, the reconciliation talks are an attempt to recover some credibility and support from the Palestinian people; for Hamas, they offer a way out of its isolation in Gaza. LOUIS BREHONY reports.

The unity proposal would integrate Hamas into the PLO. Yet there are obvious contradictions. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told crowds on 25 April: ‘We will not leave any centimetre of Palestine, and we will not recognise Israel and the occupation.’ A day later Abbas told the PLO Central Council: ‘The upcoming government will obey my policy... I recognise Israel and reject violence and terrorism, and recognise international commitments.’ The failure of negotiations has accelerated the political crisis for Fatah, facing as it does ongoing anti-occupation protests and the refusal of West Bank youth to submit to Israeli terror.

Hamas played a leading role in the Second Intifada and is seen as a party of resistance to Zionism. This militancy is clearly attractive to sections of Fatah seeking legitimacy in the eyes of Palestinians. Yet Hamas now occupies a compromised position as a government force in Gaza, where the total Zionist blockade from Israel is bringing intolerable conditions for the Palestinian population. The blockade has brought growing resentment of Hamas for its social conservatism and an apparently weakening commitment to resistance: co-founder Mahmoud Al Zahhar suggests Hamas could now recognise a Palestinian state ‘on any part of Palestine.’

Between 2008 and 2013, the US provided an average of over $100m a year in security assistance to Abbas’s PA, and overall an annual $440m in ‘assistance’. A condition of this funding was that Hamas remain excluded from the PA. Up to 32% of the PA budget is spent on security and 41% of all public-sector workers are in the security sector. The issue has been central to Hamas-Fatah discussions. Haniyeh says the intention is a ‘partnership’ to ‘build security forces in the West Bank and Gaza.’ It is not evident what happens to anti-occupation resistance in the meantime. Leading Palestinian playwright and poet Samah Sabawi points to a ‘reliance on the generosity of the imperial powers and the weak leadership of the Arab elites [as] the principle cause of failure in Palestinian resistance’ and calls for a new strategy of resistance:

‘Our top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat proudly admits he has resigned eight times, yet he continues the tradition of failed negotiations. The Palestinian leaderships, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the Hamas government in Gaza, and the aging Palestine Liberation Organisation, all continue to ignore the immense power and strength of the Palestinian people and the goodwill of an ever growing international Palestinian solidarity movement across the world.’

Peace talks heading nowhere

The ‘talks about talks’ were launched by US Secretary of State John Kerry in July 2013 with a nine-month deadline for an agreement. With no US opposition, Israel expanded its settlement building and demanded Abbas go beyond his 1998 recognition of Israel and publicly accept Israel ‘as a Jewish state.’ Abbas attempted to negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners sentenced before 1993 but, when the time came, Israel refused their release. Palestinian opposition to the negotiations took the form of protests in the West Bank and Gaza. There had been no Israeli ceasefires, no troop withdrawals, no pause in settlement building. The talks were dead in the water long before the 23 April announcement from Fatah and Hamas.

Following the revelations about negotiations between Hamas and Fatah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the BBC that Abbas can ‘have peace with Israel or a pact with Hamas’ and declared the peace talks over, planning sanctions against the PA, including withholding tax and customs revenues that Israel collects on the authority’s behalf and deducting the ‘debt’ owed by the PA for the West Bank electricity supply, which Israel controls. Zionist construction minister Uri Ariel announced that there could be a 50% increase in West Bank settlements by 2019. Israel’s international backers are clear in their opposition to a Hamas-Fatah agreement. US president Obama said the move for unity was ‘unhelpful’ to the ‘peace process’.

Occupation targets Palestinian children

2014 has seen an intensification of violent arrests of Palestinians by the Israeli army, including a significant rise in child arrests. By 19 May, the number of children from Jerusalem imprisoned this year had risen to 120, often accompanied by violent raids, house demolitions and settler attacks. Newly released statistics on the imprisonment of Palestinian children in 2013 show a rise in children forced into solitary confinement after arrest by the Israeli military. Last year 21.4% of all children arrested were put in solitary confinement for up to 28 days of interrogation, according to the report by Defence for Children International Palestine. In 85% of the cases studied, the children are detained ‘during the middle of the night by heavily armed soldiers’.

Interrogations involve mental and physical traumas, including ‘intimidation, threats and physical violence with a clear purpose of obtaining a confession… and/or gathering intelligence or information on other individuals’. In 95% of cases, neither the child nor parents were told of the reasons for arrest. The majority are accused of throwing stones, carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. According to Dimitri Dilani, the head of the Christian National Coalition in the Holy Land, ‘Such crimes against Jerusalem’s youth make part of the malevolent scenarios of mass-ethnic cleansing systematically weaved and executed by IOF so as to stamp out the historically deep-rooted Jerusalemite communities.’