Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Half-Baked Palestinian Leadership Fries the Palestinians

Ever since Hamas won the 2006 election, the Palestinians have witnessed one of the greatest political divisions in their modern history. Upon my visit to Gaza a year ago, I have heard of many stories and countless accounts of divisions among Palestinians. While most of these divisions and political differences enrich the debate in the Palestinian society, those divisions can also undermine the cause. Throughout the conflict many Palestinian homes had siblings who supported different political factions without breaking up the family. But now things look different. Two recent events raise alarm;

• Two weeks ago Hamas came out and declared in order for Abbas to visit Gaza he needs to get the green light from them. Needless to say President Abbas got furious with this response, and reported to have said, “I am the President and can go where I want to see my people,” to which Hamas said, “Sorry, your term has expired!” neglecting of course that their own term has also expired.

• The latest round of accusations and pointing fingers is blaming each other for the electricity outage. Instead of providing services both sides are leaving the people of Gaza in the dark −literary and figuratively. Thousands of Palestine homes do not have power because the two parties are bickering over whose responsibility to pick up the bill for needed fuel to keep the Gaza power plant running. The PA has been paying the bill; but Hamas does not want to collect from Gaza’s consumers out of fear of being deemed the bad guy by collecting money from Gaza’s poor.

The war of words is a political zoo where those leaders spend most of time squabbling over the littlest of trivial details and find themselves engaged in political posturing after another just to prove a point that one part or the other has the legitimacy while the other lacks it. This is however is never about Palestinian people but rather about influence and power. The people seem to be the only causalities of this political gridlock.

As of now it seems that both parties are interested in preserving the status quo where Hamas gets to keep Gaza and run a government (it does not matter if this government is actually providing any services) and the Ramallah politicians get to keep the West Bank where many parts thrives and tell those who disagree with them, “If you do not like it here, try Gaza”

In Gaza Hamas dominates the great majority of mosques. Just about every neighborhood has one and as you all know, each one has a microphone for announcing prayer times. Hamas sure does make good use of those Mosque microphones and broadcasting systems to announce their messages, recently received news items, and demonstration times and dates. Due to the fact that most people live near a Mosque, Hamas is able to effectively reach all those who live near a mosque. Mosques billboards are another territory Hamas controls, using the advertising space for their activities.

Hamas is now in the movie-making business and not just in it to make cheap, lame movies either. For a long time, Palestinian movie fans have been watching American actions flicks and until Hamas got in the game, no Palestinian movie had been made about a local figure. Hamas established a movie and production studio house called Asda’a,? located on the grounds of one of the liberated settlements in the Gaza Strip. Hamas has a better TV broadcast, In the meantime Fatah has a stronger presence in the internet and the new media; Fatah is more popular on college campuses. Hamas has better relation with the common man in the Arab street; Fatah has better access to Arab and foreign politicians and media outlets.

To understand the complexity of the political gridlock, look at the recent spat over the Palestinian unity pact. The government of Egypt has mediated a reconciliation deal between the two movements since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in 2007, but now Hamas is picking a fight with the Egyptian mediators after Hamas failed to get them to accept Hamas’ suggestions on the unity government pact. The Egyptian government said they will not be making any modifications to the unity document since Fatah signed is late last year and Hamas has yet to. Hamas politicians have accused Egypt of not being fair and placing themselves as the sole and only broker between the two factions. Hamas has nominated other brokers like Qatar and Turkey, but Egypt and Fatah both maintaining that Egypt is the only broker for the unity government. Early this week Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud El-Zahar criticized in an Egyptian newspaper interview Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit for not wanting to listen. This Sunday Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossam Zaki dismissed Hamas’ reactions as “emotional and confused.” Speaking of Hamas leaders, “some of them don’t want to understand, while others are filled with joy over what is happening and possibly want to make matters even worse”.

While there is plenty of blame to go around the Palestinians people sees that their two leadership fail to see what is at stake here. The Arab street is a tricky one, many Arabs and Muslims are sympathetic to Hamas and that is largely due to a better media strategy and sharp honed talking points Hamas puts out. The other reason for this support is an awkward one. All the popular Arab and Muslim Dictators’ support Hamas; the unpopular ones seem to root for Fatah. So when an unpopular dictators take a shot at Hamas, they are only making them more popular.

Many respectable Palestinians figures dismiss those inner divisions as trivial and call on those leaders not to forget about the bigger fish they have to fry in dealing with Israeli policies that has negative impact on the people of Palestine and their future state. I find myself in agreement with those voices, but if we do not the current Palestinian leadership does not learn to compromise, and stop regional players from fiddling in internal Palestinians politics, I and many Palestinians can hardly see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I think both Fatah and Hamas need to open up dialogue with the people and not just let few elite tell the people to shut up, claiming they know what’s good for them. They both need to listen to the pulse of the people, they rarely do, they have TV stations that spits out talking points after another, but not a single line to take feedback or comments from the people. It’s not coincident that Palestinians are fed up with both parties and looking for a third way. I am convinced that those divisions are political and reflect little of the reality of the unity of Palestinians who remain united, their politicians not so much.




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