What’s happening in Gaza?

This is another proxy-post by Rich, written for CPTnet and copied here with permission:

North American media have again found one of their favorite stories in the fighting between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza — Palestinians bent on killing, incapable of arranging their political lives without massacres. Without claiming to have the complete story, I can at least interject some additional perspectives that call for deeper interpretation. For example, I saw Fatah and Hamas legislators in Hebron walk arm-in-arm down Ain Sara Street, on a day when five of their colleagues died in a gun-battle in Gaza. OK, at least that says that Hebron is not Gaza. But what is behind the fighting in Gaza?

Last week in Gaza, Hamas fighters finally drove Fatah fighters out of the Office of Preventive Security — that’s a police headquarter building, basically. Maybe North American reporters have forgotten that there was an election in Gaza and the West Bank early in 2006 — by all accounts a free, fair, multiparty democratic election. The voters chose new government, Hamas, by an overwhelming majority. Now, another way to describe this result would be to say that the electorate “sent the Fatah incumbents packing.” At least, in most places, it would mean that. But in this case the United States government objected to the choice of the Palestinian voting public, and acted in a variety of ways to stop the incumbent party from handing over the institutions of government to the winning party. So the Fatah legislators, bureaucrats and officials did not pack up — they stayed. That’s why they were still there in control of this police station more than a year later.

The US government convinced the Fatah party that just because they lost the election didn’t mean they had to hand over power. We convinced them that maybe losing the election meant they should offer to share power, or form a “unity” government, but in any case, they could stay in their offices. Hamas agreed, for a time, to try some of these creative alternatives to actually implementing the election results, no doubt in part because it seemed the only way to avoid suffering the full effect of embargoes and sanctions imposed by the US and Europe.

What happened last week was that finally the election results of last year took effect. After considerable US-imposed delay, Fatah was removed from offices of power, and Hamas took over. It is a tragedy that twenty-five more people were killed in this stage of the transfer of power — that isn’t supposed to be how it works in the hand-over after an election. But when the US imposes an artificial governing regime (here as in Iraq) then the US needs to accept some of the blame for the resulting mayhem.

What about the differences between Gaza and Hebron? There are a lot of differences. One difference is that Israeli troops continue to patrol and control the roads, streets and intersections throughout the West Bank with constant military presence — Israel is still in control, holding power over daily life, determining who can travel, build, buy or sell. There are not that many scraps of power for Palestinian politicians to fight over. Unlike in Gaza, in Hebron district Fatah didn’t “hold onto” much — they never had that much to begin with. And perhaps in Hebron, they didn’t have much reason to follow the American suggestion that they should frustrate the will of the people.

Fatah needs to do what any political party does after a drubbing at the polls — accept the judgment of the voters, regroup and reform, clean up their act and prepare for the next elections. Instead, by cooperating with the US (and Israel) in attempting to hang onto power, Fatah is being further discredited. After the many who died in this fighting, the big loser is Fatah, especially Fatah leadership.

The interparty killings of the last months should be seen for what they are — another consequence of bungled US policies, of preventing democratic processes when they don’t fit our distorted picture of how we want the world to look. The US decision to punish Palestinians for voting has claimed enough victims — it’s time for the US to change policy directions. As a next step, how about trying to see if Palestinians would respond better to offers of respect, hope and opportunity instead of disrespect and denial of hope or opportunity?