Factionalised Hamas governance starts to resemble Fatah's

Tue, Jun 8, 2010, 01:00

Most Palestinians urge Hamas and Fatah to seek a unity government. Few see it happening, writes MICHAEL JANSENin Gaza

THE DE facto Hamas government in Gaza will construct popular housing following bitter criticism of last month’s demolition of 20 homes built illegally on public land near Rafah in the south of the Strip, it says.

The government warned it would crack down harshly on traders dealing in public land. Many Palestinians compared the ill-timed demolitions in Gaza to Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Asked why the government had razed the houses, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “It was a mistake, but we are distinguished [from others] because we recognise our mistakes and fix them. We are close to the people because we come from the people.”

The householders “will be compensated”, he added.

When Hamas seized power three years ago, many Gazans expressed relief that Fatah’s corrupt and chaotic rule had come to an end. Gazans felt safe. Violent clans were subdued and order was imposed. However Hamas governance has fractured and factionalised so that it has come, in some respects, to resemble the former Fatah regime.

The Hamas leadership is considered moderate, but some officials and elements in the police and al-Qassam military wing are not and have their own agendas.

While Fatah and Hamas have closed down each other’s party offices in the areas they govern, the Hamas government has also targeted established civil society organisations, including women’s, human rights and cultural groups.

Last week the offices of several such organisations were raided and files and computers taken.

A recent arson attack on a summer camp site established by the UN agency which aids Palestinian refugees is blamed by many on deeply conservative elements in the police who do not like girls and boys mixing at play.

Some suggest the perpetrators seek to undermine the leadership, particularly since they believe its line is too moderate and unprofitable. In spite of a willingness to reach a settlement with Fatah and the West, 1.5 million Gazans continue to suffer isolation and deprivation.

Truly radical elements claiming links to al-Qaeda, some on the fringes of Hamas, have trashed internet cafes and restaurants. The radicals seek confrontation with Israel, mainly by launching home-made rockets into the desert, risking Israeli retaliation which Hamas does not want.

Forces loyal to Hamas have clashed with radicals, but the continuation of the blockade and siege is undermining moderates and strengthening the radicals.

The vast majority of Palestinians urge Hamas and Fatah to reconcile and form a unity government, but few believe this will happen soon, if at all.

“It may be too late,” observed a veteran US observer. “Both sides have consolidated their hold on power in the areas they control, both are become more repressive.

“Although the West Bank is better now than Gaza, a weak Fatah can be expected to become more and more repressive in order to maintain its grip on power . . . Fatah is determined to win most of the seats in next month’s municipal elections.”