Hamas and the new power configuration
in the Palestinian territories
days of ferocious fighting, during the course of which the militiamen of the Executive Force of Hamas overpowered the security forces loyal to Fatah. The spokesman of Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, announced the “Second liberation of the Gaza Strip”, making it explicitly understood that the first liberation came about as a consequence of the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the Palestinian territory, in 2005. During the course of the same day, the military wing of Hamas – the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades – announced the execution of Samih al-Madhun, at that time, leading commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and number One on the Hamas wanted list.
The execution of Madhun had been filmed and, a few days later, exhibited online in Youtube, probably by journalists of the Hamas television network “al-Aqsa TV”. The video showed the Fatah commander being dragged along the street and then shot by masked men. The military victory of Hamas determined the cessation of administrative activities of the Fatah organization in the Gaza Strip, and the division of the Palestinian territories into two distinct political entities, under two distinct power structures. The Gaza Strip is presently under a de facto government of Hamas, guided by Ismail Haniah, and assembled for the first time, on the 19th June, 2007, and is supported by the militiamen of the “Executive Force” of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
The West Bank, instead, is under the Fatah Government, which partially maintains the Palestinian structure of Authority within the limits of the West Bank territory, and up to June, 2007, enjoyed the support of the United States, the European Union and Israel. The fundamental difference between the two “governments” is that the Hamas government represents a new power structure originating from the armed victory of a Palestinian faction: while the West Bank government represents the continuation of the power structure defined “Palestinian Authority”, created following the Oslo Agreements of 1993 between Israel and the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (OLP), and historically dominated by the Fatah movement.
To evaluate the scenarios in the course of 2008, it is necessary to identify and compare intentions and ability of the two power contenders, Fatah and Hamas. To individuate the intentions of the two protagonists, the comportment of the two factions following the victory over Gaza of June, 2007, will be evaluated on the basis of the respective statutes and respective behaviour shown between 1987, (the year of the beginning of the first intifada and of the official creation of Hamas), and 2007. The governing ability of the two factions can be evaluated on the basis of two indicators: the “degree of control of the use of force” obtained on the respective territory and the variation of the economic resources” at the disposal of the power structure considered in the June 2007-February period, 2008.
The intentions of the Fatah leadership
The Fatah strategy before the conquest of Gaza
The Constitution of Fatah of 1964, still unchanged, provides for the “complete liberation of Palestine and the uprooting of the Zionist entity at the economic, political, military and cultural levels (Art. 12), as well as, the “institution of a democratic and independent State with complete sovereignty over the entire Palestinian territory, with the Capital at Jerusalem …” (Art. 13).
In concrete terms, the destruction of Israel. However, it was the then Leader of Fatah and of the OLP, Yasser Arafat, who, in 1993, recognized de facto the right of the existence of Israel, and participated in the Oslo negotiations, showing willingness to offer peace in exchange for territorial concessions and a solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees.
In the same wake, the 14th December, 1998, the Palestinian National Council met at Gaza, verbally confirming the annulment of the clauses in the Palestinian National Charter which provided for the destruction of Israel, without, however, modifying the Charter. From that moment on, Fatah and OLP – which from 1967 is de facto dominated by Fatah, notwithstanding, it comprises another 5 Palestinian groups, among which Hamas does not appear – have never again discussed the right of the existence of Israel, not even during the second intifada (2000-2005).
The same Mahmud Abbas, the present President of the Palestinian Authority, President of OLP and Leader of Fatah, embodies the spirit of the movement disposed to hold dialogue with Israel. Born in 1935 at Zefat (Palestine), entered Fatah in 1965, and after a very few years became an important figure of the OLP, while he lived abroad (re-entered the Palestinian territory in 1995). It was he, who in September, 1993, signed the agreements of Oslo I, in Washington on behalf of the OLP, and is considered one of the authors.
The direction of Abbas and his policy of openness towards Israel were briefly challenged between 2004 and 2006, by another important leader of Fatah, Marwan Barghouti, imprisoned from 2002 in Israel and condemned in 2004, to five life sentences. Barghouti, held to be a leader of the Tanzim militias and of the Martyrs of al-Aqsa Brigades, affiliated to Fatah, had a very important role in the first intifada and expresses what is defined as “the new leadership” of Fatah, in opposition to the ‘old guard’ of the defunct Arafat and of Mahmud Abbas.
The militancy of Barghouti, his intransigence towards Israel and his imprisonment in the Israeli gaols greatly increased his popularity among the Palestinians so much that in 2004, Barghouti presented his independent candidacy to the presidential elections of 2005, in opposition to Abbas. The challenge lasted a very short time, insomuch as Barghouti himself decided, from prison in December 2004, to withdraw his own candidacy, favouring the victory of Abbas. In consequence, in the December of 2005, a new party was founded, al-Mustaqbal (the Future), composed of the “new leadership” of Fatah, and included important commanders of the Security Forces, such as Jibril Rajub and Mohammed Dahlan. At the present time, notwithstanding the internal divisions, Abbas appears to be the most authoritative
The reaction of Fatah after Gaza was taken
After the loss of the Gaza Strip in June, 2007, the Palestinian President, Mahmud Abbas (also named Abu Mazen) took advantage of the conquest of Gaza to break relations with the inconvenient government companion, Hamas, to revitalize the OLP and to, again, set-up relations with Israel, the United States and the European Union. Previous to the taking of Gaza, Mahmud Abbas had no justifications for repudiating the government of Haniah, given the fact that the latter was formed on the basis of the Hamas winning the 2006 elections.These elections were wanted and supported vigorously by the United States and the EU, and were represented by same as a further example of the advancement of democracy in the Middle East (in the wake of the Lebanese elections of 2005, the first in the Country since 1976). For these reasons, the unexpected electoral victory of Hamas could not be repudiated by them, without falling into blatant contradiction. The bloody feud of June, 2007 – ending with the Hamas conquest of Gaza, to the detriment of Fatah – made the dismissal of the Hamas Government, by President Abbas, possible and justifiable.
In support of this evaluation of the intentions of President Abbas, one can cite the decisions adopted by him in the West Bank, immediately after the taking of Gaza.
During the night of the 14th June, he sacked the Government of National Unity, led by Hamas (which came into office 17th March, 2007, consequent to the Agreement of Mecca) and declared a state of emergency – a decision immediately supported by the US administration. According to the Financial Times, Condoleezza Rice telephoned President Abbas shortly after the announcement of the firing of the Palestinian Government. Rice then declared to the journalist present that Abbas had legitimately exercised his authority. The 17th June, at Ramallah, Abbas instituted a new provisory government composed of independent politicians, and led by Salam Fayyad, who had been the Minister of Finance in the previous Hamas Government.
On the 18th June, he dissolved the Council of National Security, which had been instituted during the previous Government of National Unity and was commissioned to decide which parts of the Gaza Strip and the South Bank would be subject, respectively, to the control of the forces of Fatah and of Hamas (Ismail Haniah was the Vice-President of the Council of National Security). On the 20th June, Abbas convened the Central Council of the OLP (composed of 124 members: the Council had not met since 2003) with the aim of substituting the Palestinian Parliament dominated by the Hamas majority.
On the 21st of June, the Central Council of the OLP recommended the dissolution of the militias affiliated with Hamas and Fatah, including the Executive Force and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. On the 26th June, Abbas asked permission of Israel to transfer, from Jordan to the West Bank, the Badr Brigades, which were composed of 1000-2000 well-trained men loyal to President Abbas.
Finally, starting from 14th June, Abbas constantly refused, both to recognize the legitimacy of the conquest of the Gaza Strip, and to hold any dialogue with Hamas (even though on the 2nd November, the first meeting between important exponents of Fata and Hamas was held, on which occasion President Abbas met the former Vice Prime Minister, Nasseredine al-Shaer, in the city of Ramallah).
The ability of the Palestinian West Bank Government
Evolution of the political and security structure
With reference to the indicator of the “degree of control in the use of force” in the Palestinian territories, the conquest of the Gaza Strip by Hamas caused a territorial loss for the Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, and led to a temporary transformation of the institutional structure.
The territorial loss concerns the territory and the population of the Gaza Strip (approximately 1-1.5 million residents) and the loss of their access to the sea.
With regard to the institutional architecture, the most conspicuous modifications concern the government, the parliament and the security apparatus.
The executive function
The new West Bank Provisory Government is composed of 16 independent ministers (1) , among whom Salam Fayyad stands out – he covers, contemporaneously, the offices of Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Finance – and Abd al-Razzaq al-Yahya, Minister of the Interior and Civil Affairs. Fayyad, born in the village of Dair al-Ghusun (Tulkarem) in 1952, is an independent politician who is open to the Western culture, so much that he did his university studies at the American University in Beirut and the Saint Andrews University of Austin, Texas, (USA). He took his doctorate in the United States and subsequently worked for 14 years with the World Bank (1987-2001).
Appreciated in the United States and the EU, Fayyad leads a Palestinian Party called the “Third Way”, which in the 2006 elections won 2 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. He is also appreciated for the Palestinian fiscal system reform, which he implemented in 2002, the year in which Arafat nominated him Minister of the Palestinian Finance (he held this office until 2005).
Major General al-Yahya, instead, was born in 1929, in the village of Tantura, near Haifa. His “military” career began in 1948, in the Salvation Army (until 1949). Subsequently, he enrolled first, in the Syrian Army, and then, in 1965, in the Palestinian Liberation Army, where he also assumed general command. Al-Yahya participated in the Oslo negotiations, as President of the Committee on Security, and subsequently became Minister of the Interior in 2002. As one can see, the important people who stand out in the Government, Fayyad and Al-Yahya, have already cooperated with the Western Countries and have participated in various ways in the negotiations with Israel. From this viewpoint, they consolidate Abbas’ strategy of dialogue with Israel and represent an obvious turning point compared to the preceding stand of the Hamas government.
The legislative function
The Parliament, called the Palestinian Legislative Council – dominated by Hamas – was also temporarily put aside. It possesses 74 parliamentary members against the 45 of Fatah, out of a total of 133 parliamentary seats.
On the 13th January, 2008, the Central Council of the OLP announced the intention to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council and restore the legislative function to the Palestinian National Council. The latter, in 2003, was composed of 669 members, of which 483 representatives of the Palestinian Diaspora, 88 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and 98 representatives of the populations of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The reply of Hamas came on the 19th of February, 2008: Hamas convened the Palestinian Legislative Council, which had furnished unanimous support of the law (adopted in 2007), which prohibited the abandonment of the claim of Jerusalem as capital of Palestine.
The President of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmad Bahar, defined the Fayyad Government as” illegitimate”. In the West Bank, therefore, the Parliament was temporarily substituted by the Central Council of the OLP, composed of 124 members, and the choice was not by coincidence. In the absence of the Palestinian declaration of independence, (which never happened), the OLP, presided over by Abbas, is the political structure that best represents the Palestinians abroad, given that, in 1993, it signed the Oslo Agreements, on behalf of the Palestinian people (through the signature of Abbas) and which, at the present time, has official diplomatic relations with 94 States. During the Rabat Summit of 1974, the League of the Arab States defined the OLP as “the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”. Also the OLP seems, therefore, destined to support the actions of Abbas.
The Police and Security Forces
Lastly, passing to the structures of security, the defeat of June determined the loss of the bases and arms situated in the Gaza Strip. Up till June, 2007, it is held that the Palestinian Police Forces were articulated in 13 different agencies, united under the control of the Direction of the Palestinian Police Force (known also as the Public Security Service). Although the open sources of information on this are scarce and not very reliable, the following agencies can be roughly identified: The Civil Police; the National Security Force; the Preventive Security Service; the General Intelligence Department; the Military Intelligence; the Presidential Security Service; the Special Security Force; the Military Police; the Coastguards; the Local Police, the Air Police, the Customs Police and the University Security Service. Even though the activities and existence of some of these agencies are to be ascertained, changes have been registered in three of them, between June and November, 2007: the Civil Police, the National Security Force and the General Intelligence Department.
The Civil Police, known also as the “Blue Police”, carries out everyday police functions in the City of Palestine, such as maintaining public law and order, traffic management, the pursuit of non-political and terrorist crimes, the latter entrusted to a team of rapid action, comprising around 700 men. In 2006, the EU furnished certain information relative to the workforce of the Civil Police. It is composed of 18,700 units, of which 12,100 deployed in the Gaza Strip (3,000 of which are consigned to public law and order) and 6,600 in the West Bank (1,000 of which are consigned to public law and order).
The Civil Police, at the present time, enjoy support and training given by the European Union COPPS (Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support), instituted in April, 2005 with seat at Ramallah) and of the consequent mission of UE Police for the Palestinian territories (EUPOL-COPPS, started up on the 1st January, 2006), led by Collin Smith, returning to the ambit of the European Policies of Security and Defence (PESD). On the 2nd December, 2007, a first nucleus of 45 female agents concluded a training course, which will join the already 500 women present in the Civil Police. The training of female agents could have a considerable symbolic impact on the population, if one considers that the male violence against the Palestinian women, in particular, the tribally originated ‘crime of honour’, is an exacerbated problem following the conquest of Gaza of 2007, and to the consequent increase of social disorder.
On the 2nd November, 2007, the National Security Force (NSF), commanded by Brigadier General Dab al-Ali (Abu al-Fatah) deployed 308 men in the City of Nablus, armed with assault rifles AK-47, in order to re-establish order and security in a city considered to be a fertile ground for rebel militias (in October, 2007, the Force received a consignment of approximately 800 AK-47s and tens of thousand of rounds of ammunition of Russian and Egyptian provenance). The Force is composed of uniformed personnel with green berets (between 14,000 and 18,000 men, according to pre-intifada estimations of 2000), which carries out security functions in the areas outside of the cities, and, in particular, in the sectors of maintenance of public order (inside the cities, it is the responsibility of the Civil Police) and of the fight against subversion, and of protection against external threats. Among the activities of the Force is the management of road-blocks and combined Israeli-Palestinian patrols outside of the cities and at the borders. On the 5th November, 2007, men of the NSF surrounded the Balata refugee camp (situated near Nablus) and ordered the surrender of a cell of 15 people belonging to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the members of which had paraded with arms in public, challenging the Palestinian Authorities.
At the end of the conflict, in which 10 civilians were injured by stray bullets, 7 of the militiamen of the cell surrendered. The success obtained by the NSF in this case, which would demonstrate the growing control of the territory by the Palestinian security forces, is diminished by two elements. The first is that the 7 surrendered militiamen were seen to be turbulent subjects by the same al-Aqsa Brigades present in the refugee camp, and, consequently, their capture was not impeded by same; the second is that the 308 men of the NSF at Nablus carry out their functions from 6:00 in the morning to mid-night, while from mid-night to 6:00 am, the security responsibility falls on the Israeli Armed Forces (IDF).
The day-time action of the NSF of the 5th November was followed by the nocturnal incursion of the IDF, in search of a militiaman of the al-Asqa Brigades (the 23 year-old, Hani al-Kabi). The Israeli military destroyed the house of Kabi and arrested 11 people. The IDF actions and their night-time role, risks damaging the image and importance of the NSF, in the eyes of the Palestinians.
The last apparatus on which there is information is the General Intelligence Department (GID), which from July has been headed by Major General Tawfiq Tirawi. The GID is the principal intelligence service of the Palestinian Authority, in the past headed by Abu Rajab. According to the Jane’s Information Group, the GID carries out tasks of information gathering outside Palestinian territories; counter-intelligence; connection with the foreign intelligence services, and anti-terrorism. According to Jane’s information, Tirawi is conducting a reform of the GID, with the intention of reducing personnel (at the moment, 2,500 units). In the meantime, also strengthening the training, thanks to the new Palestinian Academy of Studies on the Security of Jericho, which should begin its courses in October, 2008.
It is still too soon to evaluate the effectiveness of the mentioned changes relative to the Civil Police, to the NSF and to the GID. The evaluation that can be made as of February, 2008, is that the security of the West Bank is still strongly dependent on the Israeli IDF, which from July, 2007 to February, 2008, has sustained a campaign of nocturnal incursions and systematic elimination of rebel guerrillas. In particular, of the top management of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, militia affiliated, but not subordinate to Fatah, born during the second intifada (2000-2005) to fight Israel. For example, on the 16th October, 2007, the IDF, in a morning incursion at Nablus, killed the leader of the al-Aqsa Brigades, the 35 year-old, Basil Abu Sirriyya (the said al-Gaddafi). On the 28th February, 2008, the Israeli forces carried out an incursion in the refugee camp of Balata, killing two militants affiliated to the al-Aqsa Brigades, the 28 year-old, Mahir Abu al-Reish and the 35 year-old, Ahmad al-Nadi, also wounding two others, the 30 year-old Ahmad Anu ‘Isha and the 30 year-old, Muhammad Abu Arab (this last was arrested).
The economic resources of the West Bank Government
The internal economic resources
A International Monetary Fund report (IMF) (2) estimates that in 2006, the net revenue at the disposal of the Palestinian Authority, passed from the 2.2 billion dollars of 2005, to the 1.4 billion dollars of 2006, with a consequent public deficit of the Palestinian Authority of circa 800 million dollars, notwithstanding the doubled foreign financial aid in the same period, passing from 349 million US dollars in 2005, to 747 million US dollars in 2006.
According to the IMF, the deficit was caused by the negative effect of several intervening factors during 2006: such as a decline of the GDP of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, equal to 8% in real terms (3) ; the general worsening of security conditions in the Palestinian territories; the Israeli refusal to transfer the indirect taxes (VAT + custom duties) collected on the part of the Palestinians (equal to circa 460 million dollars); the restrictions on the movements of goods and people, applied by the Israeli Government in the West Bank (where more than 500 obstacles remain to restrict movement); the impeded passage of foreign aid, public aid and humanitarian aid; and the growth of the expenditure for public salaries – in 2006, the salaries of approximately 165,000 public employees of the Palestinian Authority amounted to around 1.2 billion dollars, of which only 50-55% were, in fact, paid in 2006. The IMF assessments foresee that in 2007, the deficit will have reached 1.1-1.3 billion dollars (equal to 25-30% of the nominal GDP, or rather, almost 4.4 billion dollars in 2006). A very significant detail is the overall inter-exchange of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 2006, has diminished, and about half of it was had by Israel, as the Country of origin or destination.
Exportation has diminished by 11.6% in real terms (which means that the quota of “fresh money” entering the Palestinian economy has diminished) and the importation from Israel has diminished by 2-3%, as regards to a total decline in importation of 8% in real terms. This means that the dependence of the Palestinian economy on importation from Israel has further increased.
Although, in general, the Palestinian per capita GDP has diminished by 11% in real terms, the IMF maintains that the rate of unemployment only of the West Bank has diminished, passing from 20.3% to 18.6%, indicating an opposite economic trend with respect to the Gaza Strip.
External financial backing
By virtue of the strategy followed and the decisions adopted after June, 2007, President Abbas and the Fatah leadership have lost, at least temporarily, the Gaza Strip, but have gained the support of the International Community. From a political point of view, the United States, the EU, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and, above all, Israel, have condemned the military action of Hamas and have shown support to President Abbas and the new Fayyad Government.
Such strategy has had economically favourable consequences for Abbas and the West Bank Government. Between the 24th and 25th June, the Israeli Government decided to transfer the indirect taxes, due at the end of March 2006, to President Abbas. In fact, after the elections, the Israeli Government decided to punish the Hamas Government (the first in the Palestinian history) through the withholding of the taxes collected on the part of the Palestinians. The Israeli punishment was motivated by the refusal of Hamas to recognize the right of existence of Israel.
According to the assessments of IMF (4) , in the period between March and December, 2006, Israel collected about 730 million dollars of indirect taxes, of which only 270 million were directly, or indirectly available to the Palestinian Authority. This means that Israel should transfer about 460 million of indirect taxes to the Palestinian Authority. According to the Reuters Press agency, Israel transferred to President Abbas, on the 1st of July, 2007, the first of six instalments of indirect taxes, equal to 120 million dollars, due from 2006. Moreover, an official from the Olmert office declared that the Israeli Government was prepared to regularly transfer the new collected taxes, equal to circa 50-60 million dollars each month. Likewise, the EU announced the resumption of the financial aid directed to President Abbas. While on the 16th June, the Bush Administration clarified that the United States embargo would terminate concomitant with the birth of the new Fatah Government.
On the 17th December, 2007, the Conference of Donators assembled in Paris, promised the Palestinian Authority economic aid in the amount of 7.4 billion dollars in support of the three-year plan (2008-2010) of economic reform presented by Prime Minister Fayyad. Of this figure, 500 million dollars have been promised by the United States and 300 million dollars from France. The sum promised has surpassed the Palestinian expectations, given the fact that President Abbas had previously asked for 5.6 billion dollars.
The Hamas Government in the Gaza Strip
The strategy of Hamas between 1987 and 2007
The conquest of the Gaza Strip contradicts, at least for now, the theories according to which the Islamist movement – once it took power – would have demonstrated the typical pragmatism of who assumes the responsibility of government and, in the end, would have recognised the right to the existence of Israel.
Such hypotheses were formulated in June, 2006, when it seemed that a recognition de facto of Israel was possible on the part of the then Prime Minister, Ismail Haniah, executive of Hamas, in a meeting expected for the 28th June, 2006. This possibility, however, was immediately eliminated by the kidnapping of Gilah Shalit (on the 25th June, 2006), and by the consequent exacerbation of the relations between Israel and Hamas. The taking of Gaza confirms, for now, the fighting nature of the movement, which is expressed not so much to the detriment of Israel as foreseen by its Statute, but rather to the detriment of the Palestinian rival faction of Fatah.
From the beginning of its foundation in 1987, Hamas – Sunnite resistance movement, born from a rib of the Moslem Brotherhood – has promoted a radical Islamic agenda. At the moment, available information leads to the conclusion that the openness to dialogue and the conciliatory gestures that Hamas, from time to time, directs towards Israel are to be interpreted as tactical moves intended to obtain a temporary “cease fire” or to consolidate a position which has been gained.
Between 1967 and 1987, Israel dedicated its attention to the Fatah conflict – a circumstance which favoured Hamas. In those years, Hamas was weaker than Fatah and the immediate threat to Israel came from the OLP and the Fatah of Yasser Arafat. Furthermore, the presence of Hamas contributed to the weakening of Fatah in the Palestinian territories, insomuch as it created a potential internal division.
For these reasons, the Israeli Government did not impede the Palestinian rib of the Moslem Brotherhood – which in 1978 was registered by the Israeli authorities as a non-profit religious organization under the name of Al-Mujama al-Islami – to construct its religious, economic, social and relief aid network, and to spread its Islamic concept of the world throughout the Palestinian secular institutions.
In December, 2004, on the eve of the Palestinian presidential elections, the first since 1969, Hamas boycotted the elections and declared that it would have participated in the communal and parliamentary elections (the first took place on the 23rd December, 2004, while the second, initially programmed for July, 2005, was postponed until 25th January, 2006).
One of the possible interpretations is that Hamas decided to participate exclusively in the elections in which it was sure to defeat the Fatah candidates: in other words, the municipal and parliamentary elections, and to boycott those in which Fatah candidates were the favourites (the presidential elections). This interpretation is coherent with the hypothesis that the participation of Hamas in the elections was due to an accurate political calculation. In 2005, after 5 years of armed “revolt” against Israel (the second intifada), Hamas decided to adhere to a temporary “cease fire” in order to favour the carrying out of the unilateral withdrawal plan of Prime Minister Sharon, which would have led – between August and September, 2005 – to the evacuation of the troops and Israeli communities from the entire Gaza Strip and from four cities of the West Bank.
A further example of this behaviour happened in the period immediately preceding the Palestinian elections of January, 2006, the first democratic election in the history of the Palestinian territories.
Hamas ordered its militiamen not to attack Israeli objectives and groups of Palestinian rivals so as not to disturb the normal performance of the elections, in which it would have defeated Fatah. The decision of Hamas to participate in the elections was ferociously criticized by the radical Salaphite ideologists, principally by Doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri – No. 2. of the al-Qaeda – who is convinced that “Combat on the way of God” (the violent Jihad) is the only way to establish the Islamic Caliphate.
Zawahiri sought to draw some advantage from the isolation of Hamas to establish a contact, and to this end mitigated his habitual critical attitude towards the latter, testifying, once again, to the pragmatism of Al-Qaeda and the omnivorous character of its ideology. On the 25th June, 2007, he circulated a message on the Islamist internet, recorded on audio-cassette, produced by the al-Sahab studios (the clouds), and entitled “Forty years from the fall of Jerusalem”, in which Zawahiri incites the Moslems of the world to support Hamas.
The strategy of Hamas after the conquest of Gaza
Immediately after the conquest of Gaza, Hamas adopted decisions characterized by moderation and willingness to dialogue with President Mahmud Abbas and his faction, Fatah. On the 14th June, Hamas gave assurance that it would not impose the Islamic law (Shari’a) in the Gaza Strip. On the 15th June, Hamas conceded the amnesty to the executives of the security forces loyal to Fatah, releasing 10 of them, and ordered all the residents in the Gaza Strip to consign the firearms in their possession, by 21st June. In the course of the same day, Hamas promised the liberation of the BBC journalist Alan Johnson (kidnapped on 12 March, 2007) by the Islam Army – an armed group formed by exponents of the Dughmush Clan – making it understood that the liberation of Johnson had become possible thanks to the defeat of the Fatah militiamen and to the consequent taking of the Gaza Strip, (Johnson was freed on 4th July, 2007).
Starting from the day of the Gaza conquest, the leadership of Hamas has directed to President Abbas, and to the Fatah leadership, several requests for dialogue, which, to date, have been consistently ignored. The demonstration of moderation and clemency by Hamas, with regard to the defeated enemy (Fatah), should not be a surprise, notwithstanding the bloody feud between Palestinian “brothers” of the two previous weeks, in which Hamas always maintained the supremacy. After the violent conquest of Gaza, Hamas needs to consolidate its power; obtain international political recognition of its new de facto Government; obtain the termination of the international political and financial boycott and set in motion, once again, the Gaza Strip economy.
The first step towards the consolidation of power requires the imposition of law and order in the Gaza Strip, in which powerful family clans, tribal confederations and armed military groups are present. To reach the last objective i.e. to restart the economy depends on the achievement of the preceding objectives i.e. the consolidation of power and the end of the international boycott. In fact, the Palestinian economic recovery requires internal security and political stability, and it is strongly dependent on the Israeli attitude and on external help.
The ability of the Hamas Government
The new political and security structure in the Gaza Strip
The first indicator regards “the degree of control in the use of force” by Hamas, in the Gaza Strip.
For decades the Palestinian territories has been the theatre of struggle between the Fatah and Hamas powers (not to mention the other Palestinian groups and Clans). In fact, between 1987 and 2007, there was a duopoly in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The first power structure gravitated around Fatah and the OLP, which Israel and International Community identify with the legitimate spirit of the Palestine Authority. The Palestine Authority functioned as a kind of incomplete public administration with its fiscal system (even though the taxes were collected by Israel), its police and security forces, and its pseudo-armed forces (the Tanzim militia and, from 2000, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades).
The second power structure gravitated around Hamas, which in the 80’s, began to construct its military, scholastic, social, political and relief aid network. Hamas, formally originated in 1987, functioned, over time, as a parallel State within the Palestinian territories, with its militia (the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, formerly instituted in 1992), its police force (the Executive Force, drawn up in 2006) and its system of tax collection, the zaqat (legally imposed charitable taxes collected in support of the causes and of the Islamic foundations, which constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam).
After the Gaza conquest, the duopoly found geographical expression, with the Gaza Strip governed by Hamas, and the West Bank by Fatah, becoming the principal political and military structure of the Gaza Strip, and this is a first indicator of the governing ability of Hamas.
The first challenge that Hamas must face is to bring under control the family Clans (5) , and the Palestinian tribal confederations (6) which possess private armed militias and control various trafficking. The Johnson kidnapping claimed by the Islam Army, an armed group led by Mumtaz Dugmush, allowed a closer observation of the dimensions of the Gaza Clans. Hamas claims to have forced the Dugmush Clan to liberate Johnson and this would be a second indicator of the elevated degree of control that Hamas has reached in Gaza.
There are doubts, however, on this point. The International Crisis Group reports that, in exchange for the liberation of Johnson, Hamas conceded permission to the group to retain their own arsenal. The episode opens a vision on a greater and rooted reality.
Beginning from 2000, three concomitant processes have progressively demolished the governmental structures of the Palestinian Authority of the Gaza Strip:- the clash with Israel during the second intifada, between 2000 and 2005, during which time the IDF had practically demolished the Palestinian Authority structures of the then President Yasser Arafat (who died on the 11th November, 2004); the following feud between Hamas and Fatah, begun in 2005 and still continuing; and finally, the corruption, nepotism and the division of the security forces occupied by Fatah.
The result has been a return to an almost anarchic situation in the Gaza Strip, in which the traditional institutions, and particularly the family Clans, have filled the power void left by the Palestinian institutions. Such Clans have thousands of members, and dispose of armed militias, not only with assault rifles AK-47, but also shoulder rocket launchers (RPG). The Clans deal in arms trafficking and continue to perform the traditional arbiter function in the resolution of conflict between families, exercised by the family head (mukhtar), based on the tribal customs, notwithstanding the existence of a judiciary system instituted by Hamas.
The second testing ground of Hamas’ ability to govern lies in the degree of the control on private firearms in the Gaza Strip, and on this point the indicators as unfavourable to the Islamist organizations. The Associated Press relates that circa 400.000 firearms are in circulation in the Gaza Strip, one every 2-3 residents.
The ratio changes according to the demographic statistics of reference, but, in any case, it is very high: according to the assessment of the Palestinian statistics office (Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 1.4 million residents in the Gaza Strip, while a research made by Israeli Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, published in 2006, conclude that the number of residents is inferior, equal to approximately one million people (7) . According to the account of the Associated Press, it is estimated that in the period subsequent to the conquest of Gaza, Hamas was able to seize around 15,000 firearms from the ammunition dumps of the Fatah security forces (a small quota of the near 400,000 firearms which, according to assessments, are presently in circulation in the Gaza Strip) (8) . The expiry date of the 21st June, 2007, imposed by Hamas for the handing in of private firearms, was not respected by the Clans and by the Palestinian families, who maintain huge arsenals of arms including the RPGs.
The third testing ground is the transformation of their own militias into authentic permanent security and police forces, recognized as such by the Gaza residents. Hamas is only at the beginning on this front. Intelligence Online refers that the Islamist group has been able to expand the Executive Force, led by Jamal al-Jazzah, from 5,600 to around 10,000 members (9) and it has converting it into a real security and police force.
Moreover, Hamas is creating a new Intelligence Service called the “Inner Circle of Security”, composed of 100 or so agents led by Sami Abu Zuhri, and several special units in the ambit of the Executive Force. Lastly, Hamas is seeking to form a small naval unit, under the command of Jamil al-Dahchane (10) .
The fourth testing ground is the constitution of an autonomous public administration, able to exercise the legislative, executive and judicial functions. From a political point of view, on the 19th February, 2008, Hamas convened – for the first time in 2008 – the Palestinian Legislative Council, which should represent the Parliament of the Gaza Strip (even if its functionality is yet to be ascertained).
On the “fiscal” front, Hamas is trying to impose a “charging tax” on merchandise entering Gaza, thereby deceiving the Israeli block: the Christian Science Monitor referred in January, 2008, that the Hamas militants would buy cigarettes in Egypt and would resell them at a higher price in Gaza (the newspaper estimated that a box containing 500 packets of cigarettes can be bought in Egypt for 700 dollars and sold in Gaza at 2,000 dollars).
On the judicial front, following the Gaza conquest, Hamas introduced its own judicial system, separate from the Palestinian Judicial Authority, which has already passed sentences: on the 24th January, 2008, a military tribunal sentenced Palestinian, Yasser Zabun, to death for homicide, while two other Palestinians, Sami Hammuda and Hani Musa, were sentenced to life imprisonment for complicity with Zabun; on the 10th February, 2008, a Hamas tribunal banned one of the main Palestinian daily newspapers close to Fatah, ‘Al-Ayyam’ (‘The Days’), starting from the 12th February, and condemned the director, Akhram Hanieh, to three years imprisonment, for having published an ironic cartoon regarding the Palestinian Legislative Council. The cartoonist, al-Bukhari, was condemned to six months in prison. On 2nd February, 2008, the Press Agency Ma’an, refers the contents of a report by the Minister of the Interior of the Hamas Government, according to which, in the period between June, 2007 and February, 2008, he writes “we have been able to impose control, order and security in the Gaza Strip, without the use of violence”: The Minister sustains that Hamas has put and end to the chaos of the period previous to the conquest; to the conflicts between families; to the kidnapping of journalists and has reduced drug trafficking.
The ability to resist the Israeli siege
Since 2006, and even more following the conquest of Gaza, Israel has carried out an economic boycott against Hamas, threatening also the interruption of electricity and fuels to the Gaza Strip.
However, on the 23rd January, Hamas broke through the barrier with Egypt, permitting a flood of more than 350,000 Palestinians into Egyptian territory with the objective of replenishing the short supply of fuel, food stuffs and other goods, in Gaza, caused by the Israeli embargo.
The Hamas action has had political, economic and military consequences: from the political viewpoint, it has demonstrated Israeli inability to maintain a durable economic embargo against the Gaza Strip and has won the consensus of the Gaza population, thus obtaining a double victory in terms of public relations; from an economic point of view it has eased the effects of the Israeli embargo on the Palestinian population and has probably favoured the entrance of cash capital direct to their own organi
The economic resources of Hamas
According to the estimates of the IMF and the World Bank, the general Palestinian economic crisis is shown in a more acute form in the Gaza Strip, so much that in 2006, the rate of unemployment rose from 30.4% to 34.8% (from 181,000 to 174,000 employed residents, contrary to the West Bank where, in the same period, unemployment decreased).
On the basis of the scarce reliable information available, the conclusion is that the Gaza economy is strongly dependent on the foreign public financial aid, and the entrance of private money flows (including the humanitarian aid and remittances from emigrants).This means that, rebus sic stantibus, in 2007, the internal economic resources of Hamas are decreased and this will have further increased its dependence on foreign financing. The eventual inability of Hamas to pay the salaries of the public dependents present in the Gaza Strip will have a particularly negative effect on the public image of the movement, given that the major part of them is tied in some way or another to the previous administration of Fatah.
According to Globalsecurity.org, “with reference to 2003, the USA intelligence sources estimated that the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, had an annual budget of 50 million dollars, collected, for the major part, thanks to its reputation and to its relief works in the Palestine territories and abroad.
A clarification must be made with regard to the level of foreign financial support that will be enjoyed in the near future by the Hamas new power structure in the Gaza Strip.
The financial support is not automatically associated with political recognition, for two reasons: first, the structure of Hamas can survive without the political recognition of the other States (its existence de facto is an objective fact and does not depend on the recognition of others), but it cannot survive without external financing, given the economic recession in course in its territory: second, the political recognition and the financial support are not necessarily tied by direct relations: a third State can formerly recognize the Hamas de facto Government and not provide financing, in the same way that it may not recognize it, but may finance it.
Keeping in mind this premise, from the quantitative viewpoint we can conclude that if the financial support to Hamas should follow at the same rate as the political recognition conceded to its Government, the sources of financing would be, presently, reduced to two Countries, Syria and Iran. This would mean that, from the qualitative point of view, the Hamas Government would be heavily exposed to the influence of its outside supporters. Israeli officials maintain that Hamas would be able to elude the embargo and introduce millions of dollars every month, into the Gaza Strip, through means of accommodating companies, underground tunnels which cross the frontier with Egypt, and by sea.
The breaking through of the Egyptian barrier, carried out by Hamas on the 23rd January, 2008, could have been a further occasion to introduce cash money into Gaza. Israel is reacting by hardening its financial boycott of the Gaza Strip. At the end of September, 2007, the Hapoalim Bank, the principal commercial bank in Israel, interrupted relations with the Palestinian territories after the Israeli Government declared Gaza an “enemy entity”. During the first days of October, 2007, the Israeli Government sent a verbal solicitation to the Palestine Islamic Bank to not transfer money in favour of Hamas and its Executive Force.
As foretold, the Hamas de facto Government has, to date, been recognized only by Syria and Iran. The Israeli Government, on the 19th September, 2007, declared the Gaza Strip “enemy entity” and is setting up, together with the United States and the European Union, a political and economic boycott against the Hamas Government. Also the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who, after the Palestinian elections of 2006, established high-level contacts with the Hamas leadership, in the end expressed support to the government loyal to President Abbas and downgraded the value of the relations with Hamas (11) .
Egypt and Jordan offered support to the President Abbas and recognized the legitimacy of the Salam Fayyad Government and expressed concomitantly their condemnation of the conquest of Gaza by Hamas: in spite of this, the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, declared, during the course of an interview, that Egypt was, however, willing to mediate between the rival Palestinian factions (12) .
Also the Saudi Government offered support to President Abbas and to the Fatah movement, even though in a more restrained measure compared to Egypt and Jordan. Without condemning Hamas, the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Saud al-Faisal, underlined the necessity of respecting the commitments assumed, both by Hamas and by Fatah, with the Agreement of Mecca (13) .
The different positions of the Arab States are manifested within the League of the Arab States (LAS (14)
. On the 16th June, 2007, the Ministers of the foreign Arabs convened in an emergency session in Cairo to discuss the conquest of Gaza: If, on the one side, they expressed their support to President Abbas and approved his decision to nominate Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister, on the other side, they did not condemn Hamas’ conquest of Gaza. On the contrary, they expressed their support also to the Palestinian Legislative Council (composed, in the majority,of Hamas parliamentarians), limiting their condemnation to the “recent criminal acts committed in Gaza”, in the obvious attempt of not precluding the possibility of eventual dialogue with Hamas (15) . The present international isolation will probably push Hamas to move even closer to Iran and Syria, the only Countries to furnish political support. The spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Hosseini, declared that the Iranian Government supports Hamas “ on a political and spiritual level”, but dismissed the accusations made by the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Abul Gheit, and the Head of Palestinian Intelligence in the West Bank, Tawfik al-Tirawi, past collaborator of Arafat and presently loyal to President Abbas), according to which Iran had contributed militarily to the conquest of Gaza (16) .
According to what was referred by al-Jazeera, al-Tirawi maintained that Iran had played an “important role” in the conquest of Gaza, through the training of dozens of Hamas militiamen on Iranian territory, and the furnishing, via tunnel, of arms and military equipment to Hamas militianmen “directed not as much to the struggle against Israel, as to the fight against the Palestinian Authority” (17) . It was the first time in which a Palestinian official openly accused Iran of meddling in Palestinian affairs. Closer relations with Iran and Syria, in which Hamas becomes strongly dependent on financial aid from the former, could be perceived as too binding by the latter. For this reason it is felt that Hamas will seek reconciliation with Fatah and with the International Community, without, however, interrupting the construction of its State in the Gaza Strip, and without renouncing clashes with Israel anytime the occasion presents itself.
If the evaluations expressed are shown to be correct, the first conclusion is that the conquest of the Gaza Strip and the birth of two Palestinian governments (one in Gaza, the other in the West Bank) dispels, in the medium term, the birth of the Palestinian State, at least, in the form envisaged until today. From the Israeli Government’s point of view, the political and geographical division of the Palestinian territories, which now mirrors the division between Hamas and Fatah, will permit a better control over the Palestinian factions.
The Israeli and US Governments, as well as the EU are already collaborating with Fatah and the OLP, and the nightly incursions that the Israeli soldiers carry out with constant and tenacious rhythm in the West Bank have, until now, been able to forestall the threat of suicide attacks against the Israeli population. Furthermore, the IDF are striking the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades inside the West Bank, without undergoing any condemnation, whatsoever, from President Abbas or from the Fayyad Government.
Israel, the United States and the EU will continue to isolate and boycott Hamas with the intention of inducing it to renounce the aim of destroying Israel, and therefore, the armed fight against the latter. If Hamas insists in attacking Israel, it will concede space and justification to it for retaliation against the Palestinian Islamist group (assisted by the fact that now the Hamas threat will be limited to the Gaza Strip).
With regard to President Abbas, Fatah and the OLP, the loss of Gaza has allowed them to gain the full political and financial support of Israel, even though it concerns a self-interested support, which will implicate certain costs to the Palestinians.
Abbas and the OLP will concentrate on the consolidation of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and will await the solution of the “Hamas problem” – or rather, that Hamas is weakened to such a point as to accept the reabsorption of the Government of Fatah – to be able to finally extend its own government also to the Gaza Strip.
At the present time, Hamas finds itself without real possibility of movement, but its vitality could favour the prolongation of the division of the Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip, the macro-economic indicators are worsening and poverty spreads: the IMF-WB report affirmed that “at the end of 2006, more than 75% of the families in Gaza were considered to be poor”.
Hamas, therefore, must face falling internal economic resources (in other words, fewer resources to sustain its political agenda) and a growing rate of unemployment (in other words, a growing dissatisfaction of the residents of the Gaza Strip). If the international political and financial boycott continues –which is probable – Hamas, very soon, will be forced to make a difficult choice. It can seek reconciliation with Fatah, the OLP, Israel and the international Community, by accepting the authority of Fatah and the OLP; by recognizing the right of existence to Israel, and by abandoning the armed struggle.
Such decisions will probably cost the alienation of the most extremist Palestinian supporters. Furthermore, the Israeli Government and Fatah/OLP are not interested in negotiating with Hamas, at least not at the moment, given that the Islamist group is still too strong within the Palestinian territories. They will probably wait until Hamas is sufficiently weakened – from a political, economic and military point of view – to accept the OLP and the Fatah Government, before beginning the negotiations. The wait could be a long wait, or even come to nothing, given the vitality demonstrated by Hamas on the occasion of breaking through the frontier barrier with Egypt.
Hamas continues to build its bureaucratic structure and its security apparatus, and its militias maintain their capacity to strike Israel, as the continuing rocket attacks against Israeli territory demonstrate.
The Israeli position of strength was manifested also in the negotiations in the Conference on the Middle East, which took place at Annapolis (USA) on the 27th November, 2007. In the course of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which preceded the Summit, Olmert and Abbas were not able to reconcile their divergent positions, so much that the final “common accord” was written in the 30 minutes preceding the reading of same by President George W. Bush.
President Abbas insisted on precise, written Israeli commitment, assumed previously to the Summit, which provided for the solution to each of the six principal points of disagreement of the Arab-Israeli conflict i.e. (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, colonies, water and security) and the birth of an independent Palestinian State in the boundaries of 1967; Olmert, on the contrary, wanted the Annapolis Summit to conclude with declarations of general intentions, without resolving any of the above mentioned fundamental questions.
The objective of both parts was clear. Abbas wanted to discuss the contentious points of the conflict in a multi-lateral seat in order to use to his favour the will of the United Stated to obtain immediate positive results and the international favour for the Palestinian requests.
Olmert, on the other hand, wanted to conduct bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians, given his position of strength, thus avoiding that the international pressures would lead him to concede more than he wanted. The results of the Conference sanctioned the Israeli position of strength. The “common accord” provides for the commitment of both parts to immediately set in motion periodic negotiations which must concluded with the signature of a treaty of peace within 2008 and revitalize the Road Map of 2003.
The signing of the peace treaty will, in fact, be subordinate to the preventive implementation of the Road Map by both parties, and the President of the United States will be the only supervisor of the implementation of same. It should be noted that the role attributed to the United States excludes the other three promoters of the Road Map, i.e. the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, and that such situation corresponds exactly to one of the 14 conditions imposed in 2003, by the then Israeli Prime Minister, Sharon for the Israeli acceptance of the Road Map itself, as is noted by the Financial Times. Furthermore, the commitment to hold periodic talks does not introduce any new element, if one considers that Olmert and Abbas had already begun 15 day consultations.
Given the actual situation, there are different possible scenarios: the first scenario foresees that Hamas will be reabsorbed by the Palestinian Authority within 2008, and the latter will sign and ratify the peace treaty after having declared the birth of the new Palestinian State (given that the international treaties are stipulated only between sovereign States); the second scenario foresees that Hamas will keep its dominion in Gaza during 2008, and that, consequently, the Palestinian Authority will sign the treaty with the reservation of ratifying it only following the reabsorption of Hamas within the Palestinian Authority (and, however, after the expiry of 2008); the third scenario foresees that, due to the continuation of the divisions of the Palestinian territories, a signing of a peace treaty will not be reached within the provided expiry date, that is, by the end of 2008.
At the end of February, 2008, at least four elements indicate the third scenario as the most probable, that is, by the end of 2008, there will be neither the agreement of peace nor the Palestinian State – at least how it was conceived in Oslo in 1994. Such elements are the weakness of the Olmert Government (which, in January, 2008, lost the support of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which is contrary to the negotiations on the fundamental questions. It could also lose the support of the ultra-orthodox Party, Sefardita Shas, the moment in which the negotiations on the destiny of Jerusalem begin); the overall slowness of the negotiations started at Annapolis (which have practically not begun); the unwillingness of President Abbas and of Fatah to legitimize the conquest and the Government of Gaza by Hamas, and the vitality demonstrated by Hamas in controlling Gaza and in resisting the Israeli boycott.
(1) The 26th of February, the daily newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi reported that in March, 2008, the Fayyad Government must undergo some modifications, increasing the number of ministers from 16 to 24.
(2) IMF, West Bank and Gaza: fiscal performance in 2006 , March 2007.
(3) IMF-WB, West Bank and Gaza economic development in 2006. A first assessment, March, 2007 available at the following address: http://www.imf.org/external/np/wbg/2007/eng/032607ed.pdf.
(4) International Monetary Fund, West Bank, and Gaza, Fiscal performance in 2006, March, 2007. available at the address as in footnote 3.
(5) The principal Clans (hamulaat) of the Gaza Strip: Dughmush, Masri, Hillis, Bakr, Abu Tahah, Kafarna, Abu Hassanein, Abu Naja, Abu Samhadana and Abu Sharikh. See International Crisis Group, “Inside Gaza, the challenge of Clans and Families” Middle East report, No. 71, 20th December, 2007.
(6) The six Palestinian Beduin tribal confederations (sufuuf) are Azazma, Hayawat, Ijbara, Jahalin, Tarabin, Tayaha. See ICG, 2007, cited.
(7) Bennet Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael L. Wise The Million Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza, The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, February 2006. Available at the following address:http://www.biu.ac.il/Besa/MSPS65.pdf.
(8) The Hamas arms round-up still leaves plenty of guns in Gaza. International Herald Tribune, June 21st, 2007
(9) See Mohammed Najib “Hamas-led PA expands Executive Force” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 12 Januar, 2007, as well as “Hamas’ New Security Set-Up”, Intelligence Online, 6th September, 2007
(10)See “Hamas’ New Security Set-Up”, Intelligence Online, 6th September, 2007
(11) Russia downgrades ties with Palestine’s Hamas. Reuter, 31st July, 2007.
(12) Mubarak predicts Fatah, Hamas will be reconciled, 26th June, 2007.
(13) “Arab League states split on support for Abbas over Hamas”, Haaretz, 17th June, 2007
(14) In English: League of Arab States. See the official internet site at address: http://www.arableagueonline. Org/las/index.jsp.
(15) “Arab League States split on support for Abbas over Hamas” Haaretz, 17th June, 2007. See as well, “Abbas wins Arab States’ backing”. Al Jazeera, 16th June, 2007
(16) “Iran hand in Gaza power grab alleged”, Gulf Times, 25th June, 2007
(17) “Iran ‘played role’ in Gaza takeover”, Al Jazeera, 24th June, 2007