Anarchy or stability? In Gaza, it could go either way

Will transition from Fatah to Hamas complete the anarchy that the disengagement sparked?

hamas flags 88 (photo credit: )
hamas flags 88
(photo credit: )
The last time an entrenched power vacated the Gaza Strip, the vacuum that was left in its wake brought with it a steady deterioration in the security situation to the point where "anarchy" was the prevailing description of conditions on the street. To avoid a fate similar to what happened following the IDF's withdrawal in September, Gaza leaders on all sides of the political spectrum are holding talks to ensure a smooth transition between outgoing Fatah and Hamas.
Analysis on the strip's prospects for stability largely run along an Israeli-Palestinian divide, with Israelis saying the violence could escalate and Palestinians insisting that a civil war is not in the cards, and the transition of power will be handled smoothly. "It's a transitional period where everybody is testing the muscles of everyone else," said Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Shalom Harari, an expert in Palestinian affairs at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya. "We haven't seen the end of the clashes yet. But whether they fight all-out or remain at a low level there is no way to tell." The weekend's events - eight wounded in clashes between Hamas and Fatah loyalists in Gaza - represented an early test for the new leaders of Gaza, and so far they have not escalated to a serious pitch. Despite the clashes on Saturday, Ahmed Hales, a Fatah leader in Gaza, paid a courtesy call on Ishmael Haniya, Hamas's No. 1 who will likely be the next Palestinian prime minister, to congratulate him on Hamas's victory. According to Palestinian news agencies, Hales was received warmly by Haniya, and the two parted cordially. However, Fatah-Hamas violence may not be the greatest threat to Gaza's stability. Rather, internal clashes between separate arms of Fatah - which has failed to exert discipline among its ranks - is a far more likely threat to Gaza's stability, said Dan Schueftan, the deputy director of the Internal Security Department at the University of Haifa and a senior fellow at the Shalem Center. "Fatah is not an entity, it is a loose congregation of hooligans," Schueftan said. "Extended families and militias [allied with Fatah] will all be trying to find their niche in the new reality." That would likely lead to intensifying violence in the near future, he said. From within Gaza, though, a more hopeful vision emerged. Reached by telephone in Gaza City, Ziyyad Abu Amr, an independent who won a PLC seat on the Gaza City local list and is tipped as a possible foreign minister in the next government, said Fatah would listen to the will of the Palestinian people and realize the time for fighting "was long over." Fatah would "lose the little support it has left on the street if it resorts to acts of violence," Abu Amr said. As a trusted intermediary between the two factions, Abu Amr helped mediate the calm declared by many of the militant groups last year and also obtained promises from them in advance of the elections to keep the peace on voting day. "Gaza is headed in the right direction. You have a party assuming power that is very strong politically and militarily, that has a wide power base and enjoys political and legal legitimacy," he said. "Once Hamas forms a government the violence on the ground will [subside] because their people will have their credibility at stake." Hamas will work with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to rein in any violence that threatens to disrupt Gaza, Abu Amr said - a task that Fatah leadership was unwilling or unable to accomplish. "Abu Mazen will be happy to work with Hamas to find the appropriate tools to impose law and order," he said. However, Abbas's control over the security forces could become a friction point, Harari said, if Hamas decided it needed to act against Fatah elements who were disturbing the peace. With an army of 60,000 compared to around 10,000 for Hamas, Abbas would still be able to act from a position of power. Additionally, there was no guarantee that Fatah would, in the end, let go of the power elections have stripped from it, Harari said. "Right now, everyone is taking things slow, and seeing what moves the other is going to make." Ayas Thabet contributed reporting for this article from Gaza City.