Palestinian Affairs: The Palestinian Winograd

A Fatah commission of inquiry reports on how Hamas was able to take over Gaza.

abbas 298 (photo credit: AP)
abbas 298
(photo credit: AP)
At last, the Palestinians now know why Hamas managed to capture the entire Gaza Strip so easily and without facing tough resistance, if any. It's all because of 60 Fatah security officers and political operatives who freaked out and fled to the West Bank and Egypt instead of remaining in their positions to thwart the Hamas "coup." The 60 "culprits" were implicated in a 200-page report that was delivered to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last weekend by members of a special commission of inquiry that spent a whole month probing the reasons behind Fatah's humiliating defeat. Headed by Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a top Abbas aide and veteran Fatah operative, the commission has become known among Palestinians as the Tayebograd Commission - along the lines of the Winograd Committee that investigated last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah. But unlike the Winograd Report, the Palestinian commission chose to lay most of the blame on some of Fatah's security commanders and low-level political activists. Although 99 percent of the findings of the report have yet to be made public, it's already clear that Abbas and the highest echelon of the PA have emerged unscratched. The members of the Palestinian commission chose to focus on the security aspects of the Hamas takeover by taking a close look at the role of the Fatah security forces in the power struggle with Hamas. That's why all the Fatah security commanders in the Gaza Strip have either been fired or forced to submit their resignations to Abbas, who has clearly been exonerated of any wrongdoing. By failing to point a blaming finger at Abbas and his entourage, the report has drawn sharp criticism from many Palestinians, including dozens of disgruntled Fatah activists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Critics point out that the commission should have examined the political and security developments in the Gaza Strip that preceded the Hamas takeover. The main argument made by the critics is that those who in the first place allowed Hamas to participate in the January 2006 parliamentary elections bear responsibility for the final takeover. The committee should have blamed Abbas for permitting Hamas to take part in the elections without demanding that it recognize the Oslo Accords and the PA as the legitimate authority in the Palestinian territories, the critics maintain. But what is perhaps most disturbing - as far the critics are concerned - is the fact that Abbas had embarked on a policy of appeasing Hamas ever since the Islamist movement came to power in 2006, ignoring warnings by his Fatah security chiefs and representatives that Hamas leaders were working hard to undermine the PA. For instance, Abbas never did anything to prevent Hamas from establishing and operating its paramilitary Executive Force, whose members played a major role in the fighting against Fatah. Although Abbas did issue a number of "presidential" decrees outlawing the Hamas force, he never ordered his security forces to crack down on its members. "We kept warning President Abbas that Hamas was planning a coup in the Gaza Strip and that it was training its men and smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, but he did not take us seriously," said a senior PA security commander who fled from the Gaza Strip to Ramallah. "Our president chose to negotiate with Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh about political partnership even while it was obvious that Hamas was planning to stage a bloody coup in the Gaza Strip." Abbas, added another former Fatah security commander, did not want to see the writing on the wall. "We had at least three major rounds of fighting before the final coup in mid-June," he noted. "But instead of ordering the Palestinian security forces to crush Hamas, Abbas preferred to reach cease-fire agreements with Haniyeh and Mashaal." Abbas's decision early this year to form a unity government with Hamas was interpreted by Hamas leaders as a sign of weakness on the part of the PA chairman and Fatah. By joining forces with Hamas, Abbas actually followed the saying, "If you can't beat them, join them." The unity agreement that was signed in Mecca under the auspices (and pressure) of the Saudi royal family marked the beginning of the countdown for the collapse of Abbas's security forces in the Gaza Strip, because it allowed Hamas more time to pursue its plan to take control over the entire Gaza Strip. "We never received clear instructions from the president to wipe out Hamas," said a senior Fatah political operative who has moved to Ramallah with his family. "If anyone is to blame for our defeat, it's the president and the whole Palestinian leadership in Ramallah who left us alone to face Hamas. They were sitting in their air-conditioned offices and hotel rooms in Ramallah and Cairo and expecting the soldiers on the ground to sacrifice their lives." The major challenge facing Abbas's West Bank authority these days is not coming from Hamas as much as from disillusioned Fatah activists who are openly blaming him and the "old guard" Fatah leadership for the Hamas takeover. "All these guys sitting in the Ramallah presidential compound should pay the price for the Hamas coup," said a Fatah legislator. "They are trying to put the blame on the soldiers on the ground for not fighting against Hamas. But where were they when everyone warned them about Hamas's schemes? It's only a matter of time before the Fatah grassroots revolt against Abbas and the old-timers."