Palestinian Affairs: Will the Palestinians rise up too?

If they do, they will be shooting in all directions.

PA PM Fayyad speaking (R) 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
PA PM Fayyad speaking (R) 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Will the popular uprisings that brought down Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, and which are threatening to topple other Arab dictators, arrive one day in the Palestinian territories? This is the question that many Palestinians have been asking in wake of the antigovernment tsunami sweeping the Arab world in recent weeks.
When and if the Palestinians revolt, they will be shooting in all directions: against Fatah, Hamas, Israel, the UN, the US and many Western powers and Arab regimes that allegedly turned their backs on them all these years.
Signs of the impending intifada are already evident on a number of Facebook campaigns launched by disgruntled Palestinian youths.
“F... Hamas. F... Israel. F... Fatah. F...UNRWA. F... USA!” shouted a posting by one of the youth groups in the Gaza Strip.
“We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community. We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F-16s breaking the wall of sound.”
Inspired by the uprisings in the Arab world, young Palestinian men and women are now using the Internet to stage similar campaigns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
One group wants to launch an intifada against Israel, while a second wants to organize a mass protest next week to demand that Hamas and Fatah end their power struggle.
Even Hamas and Fatah have discovered the power of Facebook. Each one of the two rival parties has in recent weeks been inciting Palestinians to revolt against the other.
Fatah and Hamas are obviously not happy with the Facebook campaigns that are urging Palestinians to take to the streets to achieve their goals.
Fatah is worried that mass demonstrations in the West Bank would undermine the Western-backed Palestinian Authority which, in the eyes of its enemies, had aligned itself with US “puppets” in the Arab world. As far as some Palestinians are concerned, Mahmoud Abbas is not much different than other corrupt dictators in the Arab world.
WHEN SOME Palestinians tried to organize a small demonstration in the center of Ramallah in support of the Egyptian revolution, Abbas sent his policemen to disperse them by force. He later banned a popular political satire program from mocking Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi on Palestine TV.
Earlier, Abbas had issued an order banning criticism of the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in the Palestinian media. The decision came after Fatah supporters chanted anti-Qatar slogans during protests against Al Jazeera’s Palestine Papers, which claim that Abbas and his negotiators had mad far-reaching concessions to Israel on the issues of Jerusalem and refugees.
Similarly, Hamas has been giving the Facebook youth a hard time. In the past two weeks, its leaders sent policemen in civilian clothes to break up a gathering of Internet activists who called for an end to the Hamas-Fatah crisis. Hamas has also summoned dozens of activists for questioning over their role in organizing demonstrations through Facebook.
Yet the clampdown on the Facebook youth in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has also been accompanied by a number of measures by Hamas and Fatah to avoid popular uprisings.
Abbas was the first to respond to the events in Tunisia and Egypt. One day after Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign, he called new elections for president, parliament and municipalities.
The power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, which began after the Islamist movement won the January 2006 parliamentary vote, has prevented agreement on new elections. Presidential and local elections were supposed to be held in early 2009, while Palestinians were supposed to vote for a new Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2010.
In addition to the decision to call new elections by September (which seems unlikely to happen in light of Hamas’s refusal to allow the vote to take place in the Gaza Strip), Abbas also did what other Arab leaders have already done: reshuffle the cabinet.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whose government had never been approved by parliament, has been asked to form a new cabinet that would consist of representatives of as many factions as possible.
In keeping with the spirit of the current Arab uprisings, Fayyad chose to go on Facebook to “consult” with Palestinian youths about the makeup of his new cabinet and to listen to the their demands and grievances.
However, his efforts to persuade factions to join his cabinet have thus far run into obstacles. First, Hamas said it would never join any cabinet headed by Fayyad. Second, Fatah has also come out against Fayyad for offering to include Hamas in his cabinet unconditionally and for “marginalizing” the secular faction, which is headed by Abbas.
Fatah fears that Fayyad’s latest initiative to invite Hamas into his cabinet would perpetuate the political split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially after reports suggesting that the prime minister was prepared to allow the Islamist movement to retain security control over the Strip.
Hamas leaders have also not remained indifferent to the tsunami sweeping the Arab world. They too have announced plans to reshuffle the cabinet of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in the near future. Moreover, the tone of many Hamas leaders has suddenly changed, with many talking about the significance of reforms and democracy.
To avoid being held responsible for thwarting national unity, Hamas and Fatah have separately come out with initiative aimed at ending the power struggle between them.
Many Palestinians are convinced that, under the current circumstances, achieving unity between Hamas and Fatah has become an impossible mission. “All the Facebook revolutions in the world won’t solve the crisis, because the gap between the two parties is too wide,” said political analyst Ghassan Shehadeh. “Palestinians will have to live with the two regimes until a new leadership emerges one day.”
Another analyst, Suhail Kiwan, believes that it’s not the Palestinians who are divided, but their leaders. “Unity can’t be achieved under the two leaderships [of Hamas and Fatah],” he concluded. “The two sides have been hurting each other very badly. Hamas supporters in the West Bank are oppressed, just like their Fatah rivals in the Gaza Strip. The motto of unity would never be achieved unless new leaderships emerge on both sides and put the interests of Palestinians and freedom above factional and ideological considerations.”