Stuck in the middle

A new reality offers new opportunities along with new dangers.

Hizbullahland, Fatahland and Hamastan. Many a right-leaning politician is willing to be credited with coming up with the names. No one, of course, wants to take credit for their actual existence. Probably half the Israeli population believes that Hamastan aka the Gaza Strip or Gush Katif depending on your leanings was created as a result of the Israeli disengagement of 2005. The other half believes that the withdrawal or "expulsion" as those who lost their homes and way of life call it fortuitously removed the settlers from an area where today it would be impossible to protect them from hotheaded Hamas terrorists. The good thing about this split is that it allows just about everyone in Israel to go about saying: "Told you so!" There has to be something positive in the situation, after all, especially with the images of the Palestinian fighting are so harrowing. (And you just know who's going to be blamed in the end.) The term for civil war in Hebrew is milhemet ahim, literally a war of brothers, which certainly conveys the terrible chasm created by such fighting. There is, after all, nothing civil about civil war. Nor is there anything brotherly in the conduct of Hamas and Fatah. This is not a case of sibling rivalry. This is something far more primeval. Think Cain and Abel. But the told-you-so approach has its limitations. There's no point in gloating over the woes of foes when those same enemies are busy building a heavily armed Islamic state just south of Ashkelon. Not that having Fatah over the Green Line is a cause for celebration either. And just in case anybody had forgotten last summer's war, two Katyushas launched from Hizbullahland shot us out of our pre-summer reverie and shook Kiryat Shmona and the North literally and figuratively on June 17. Our enemies might be busy killing each other but they are still preoccupied by the "occupation" i.e. us, wherever we might be. A standard part of Hamas rhetoric is to accuse Fatah of being collaborators with Israel (aka the Zionist entity). Hamas militiamen who looted the home of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat in Gaza City "stole almost everything inside the house, including Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize medal," Ramallah-based Fatah spokesman Ahmed Abdel Rahman told The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh. Fatah members, on the other hand, have accused Hamas of "being worse than the Jews." Each is terrified of what the other could do to them. Fatah members have been seen shooting suspected Hamas members starting between the legs and only slowly working up. Hamas has thrown Fatah men out of hospitals via the high-story windows rather than the doors. In case you were wondering how low our enemies can get, this should give some idea: The Shin Bet (Israel's Security Agency) last month arrested two women who admitted they had planned to blow themselves up in Netanya and Tel Aviv, respectively, in a restaurant or a wedding hall (a la the al-Qaida-linked triple attack in Amman, the Jordanian capital, in which 60 people were killed in 2005.) One woman Fatma Zak, 39, a mother of eight was in her ninth month of pregnancy, adding a whole new dimension to the phrase "from womb to tomb." The other was Zak's 30-year-old niece, Ruda Habib, a mother of four. They said they had used Israel's humanitarian policy to acquire entrance permits on a false medical pretext, which redefines hutzpa in a deadly way. Their arrests made me think of that caricature that did the e-mail rounds a few years ago which showed two Muslim women with a child and the text saying something like: "They blow up so quickly." The Situation as it is known is obviously troubling more than Israel. Egypt has not been overactive in stopping the arms flow into Gaza across its border or more often, under its border via tunnels but that was when the weapons were being used against Israel. (Even amid last week's mayhem, Kassams were launched on Sderot.) It is something else when the armed gunmen want to set up an Islamic state on Egypt's front doorstep. Jordan for a long time has been keeping a watchful eye on the situation, particularly in view of its troubled history with Arafat's militias. It's hard not to be moved by the pictures of Palestinian "refugees" fleeing from other Palestinians. Fatah-affiliated families are understandably desperate to escape from Hamas-controlled Gaza. But these are not like the members of the South Lebanon Army who struggled to cross The Good Fence as Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000. The proud soldiers of the SLA tied their fates with Israel and fought against a common enemy. Hamas and Fatah complemented not complimented each other in their fight against Israel. In a civil war, a war among brothers, the term "moderates" is relative. Israel is talking of supporting Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as are Jordan and Egypt, the latter openly blaming Iran as being behind the Hamas takeover in Gaza. Clearly there is a new reality. But this is also causing a whole new set of moral dilemmas. Among the most obvious is the ethics of simply cutting Gaza's water and electricity, which unlike the arms, mainly come courtesy of Israel. While this would have the benefit of taking disengagement to its logical conclusion, it would inevitably result in a humanitarian disaster. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, following his cordial meeting with US President George W. Bush on June 19, maintained that the developments in Gaza provided a "new opportunity." One door closes, another one opens. Or in Middle Eastern terms as one door slams shut, catching your fingers, the "window of opportunity" is blown open. Israel is prepared to talk seriously "about the political horizon for what will eventually become the basis for a permanent agreement between us and the Palestinians," Olmert told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations during his US trip. Just who the Palestinians are, however, is hard to define with, in effect, two Palestinian entities. Talking to Abbas who controls the West Bank (some might say for now) could solve some problems but it could possibly exacerbate the situation with Hamas, firmly entrenched in Gaza. Hamas might choose to stick to its guns in the most literal sense, with continued attacks against Israel and Fatah. Unknown factors are just that unknown. We don't even know their numbers. One thing is for sure: The concept of two states for two peoples is turning into a reality of three states for three peoples. Guess who's caught in the middle? The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.