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U.S. and Israel support Abbas' Fatah
Behind the violence in Palestine

By Eric Ruder | February 9, 2007 | Page 12

ANOTHER IN a series of ceasefires between rival Palestinian factions was announced February 5 in an effort to end the cycle of killings, kidnappings and ambushes that left at least 28 dead and dozens more wounded in the previous week.

The clashes between members of Hamas, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, and Fatah, the previous ruling party led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have sharply escalated in number and intensity during recent months, sparking concerns that a Palestinian civil war is on the horizon.

Though Hamas beat Fatah in elections held more than a year ago, several key Fatah officials--most prominently, Gaza strongman Mohammad Dahlan--refused to relinquish control of the armed security forces they command, including Abbas' presidential guard known as Force 17.

In response, Hamas was forced to build its own security apparatus--the Executive Force. Much of the fighting has taken place between Force 17 and the Executive Force, but other smaller skirmishes are part of the conflict.

"This fighting affects everyone's morale," Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian professor at Al Quds University in Jerusalem, told the New York Times. "We always felt we had this one big asset, our social unity as Palestinians, but to see it shredding, with lives being shed without much concern, is horrible."

But calls for "unity" don't point a way out of the conflict. That's because one side--Fatah--is being bolstered by the U.S. and Israel.

Ever since Hamas took office, Israel--with backing from the U.S. and the European Union--has attempted to impose an economic and political blockade in an effort drive Hamas out of government. Because Hamas stands for continued resistance to Israel's war on Palestine and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to land and homes taken from them by Israel, Israel and the U.S. label Hamas a "terrorist organization."

To their shame, Abbas and Fatah have become willing accomplices in the U.S.-Israel assault on Hamas. After decades spent trying to render Fatah a toothless shell of a resistance organization, Israel and the U.S. have reversed course.

George W. Bush announced in late January a plan to send $86 million to bolster Abbas, and U.S. allies Jordan and Egypt, with Israeli approval, have sent truckloads of AK-47 machine guns and several million rounds of ammunition to Abbas' Force 17 in Gaza.

So far, the plan to enlist Fatah in the U.S.-Israeli war against Hamas has succeeded in pitting the factions against one another and diverting resources from the struggle against Israel's occupation.

In fact, after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three Israelis in the resort town of Eilat on January 29--the first such bombing in nine months--Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper explained the lack of a military response from Israel with a rhetorical question: "When Fatah and Hamas are so good at killing each other, why should Israel intervene and spur them to close ranks against the common enemy?"

Abbas and his Fatah faction lost control of the PA to Hamas because Palestinian voters concluded that Fatah had made too many concessions to Israel--in terms of both land and national rights--at the bargaining table. In response, the U.S. and Israel tried to punish the Palestinian electorate and force Hamas to resign from government by strangling the Palestinian economy.

Though they succeeded in forcing Palestinians to endure even more desperate poverty, new elections to the Palestinian legislature would likely return the same results as before--which is why Abbas has done nothing more than make empty threats that he will call new elections.

Ominously, in his newest drive against Hamas, Abbas appears to welcome the spillover of sectarian tensions whipped up by the U.S. in Iraq.

After Abbas' presidential guard attacked Hamas militants at the Islamic University in Gaza, "Abbas' officials claimed that their forces had arrested seven Iranian weapons experts working for Hamas, and labeled Hamas leaders 'extremists' and 'putschists,'" according to a report from Ali Abunimah of ElectronicIntifada.net. "The allegations about Iranians were universally dismissed, but they revealed the extent to which Abbas officials have adopted the Israeli and American paradigm as their own.

"In several recent demonstrations, Dahlan loyalists have shouted 'Shia, Shia,' at Hamas supporters. This was perhaps supposed to draw attention to Iranian support for Hamas (the movement, like the rest of the Palestinian Muslim community, is Sunni), but this hateful sectarian incitement, hitherto unknown in Palestinian society, serves (for now) the wider strategic agenda of Abbas' and Dahlan's sponsors."

U.S. meddling in the Middle East has already plunged Iraq into a bloody civil war. Now, the U.S.--along with Israel--is encouraging civil strife in Palestine.

There could be no clearer argument for why activists in the U.S. should oppose both Israel's occupation of Palestine and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

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