Palestinians in race against time for political gains
Hamas and Fatah know that outrage at the destruction in Gaza will soon wane
A Palestinian Hamas supporter attends a rally in Gaza City yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Khalil Hamra
The Palestinian front, aware that the 72-hour ceasefire between Hamas and Israel is set to expire this morning, is stiffening its military and political positions to secure political gains that could rescue both Fatah and Hamas from domestic loss of support.
In response to an Israeli announcement that it was prepared to extend the ceasefire unconditionally without mentioning a timeframe, Hamas deputy politburo chief Mousa Abu Marzouk said yesterday there had been no deal. Fatah veteran Azzam al-Ahmed, leader of the Palestinian delegation, agreed there had been “no agreement” on the truce issue.
In a bid to put crunch-time pressure on Israel and Egypt’s team of mediators, another Hamas spokesman, Ezzat al-Rasheq, argued that the truce depended on progress in the Cairo proximity negotiations on a long-term solution for Gaza.
Palestinians are determined that the negotiations will not be strung out because international outrage over the heavy death toll and widespread destruction in Gaza is certain to wane in the coming days. This would ease pressure on Israel to cede to Palestinian demands for an end to its siege and blockade of Gaza, and for the release of prisoners.
Weapons cache and tunnelOn the military front, Hamas’s armed wing, al-Qassam brigades, issued a challenge to Israel, via al-Jazeera’s Arabic satellite channel, by revealing a cache of weapons and claiming there was at least one major tunnel through which fighters could infiltrate Israel and attack troops deployed along Gaza’s northern and eastern borders. Hamas also reiterated its rejection of the Israeli demand that it disarm or be disarmed, and for the demilitarisation of Gaza. This is a non-starter for Fatah as well – for the time being.
Hamas’s challenge drew a prompt response from Israel chief-of-staff Lieut Gen Benny Gantz, who warned: “We will not hesitate to continue to use our force [to ensure] the security of Israeli citizens.”
On the political front, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said the Ramallah- based Palestinian Authority will sign, on behalf of Palestine, the charter of the International Criminal Court to lodge cases against Israel over its alleged commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Gaza conflict.
Many influential Palestinians have been calling on the authority to take the step, and over the past month Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also urged this recourse.
The authority has hesitated to sign because of the vehement opposition of Israel and the US.
Financial aid threatIsrael, fearing the prosecution of its politicians and military figures, has threatened unspecified punitive measures, while Israeli ally Washington has vowed to cut off financial aid to the cash-strapped authority.
There is also opposition from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who fear their commanders and fighters could be hauled before the court.
However, Erekat made a distinction between the devastation wreaked by Israel’s campaign in Gaza, which killed 1,875 people, 72 per cent of whom were civilians, and the random rockets fired into Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which killed three civilians and 64 Israeli soldiers.
So far the Cairo Palestinian delegation, comprising the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation and non-members Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has held together. However, Fatah and Hamas have been rivals since the latter emerged as a competitor in 1987-1988 at the start of the first intifada, or uprising.
RivalryThis rivalry sharpened in 2006 when Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislative election and became deadly in 2007 when Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza.
In June, Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a consensus government under prime minister Rami Hamdallah because both sides had lost credibility with Palestinian citizens.
Fatah head and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had renounced the armed struggle but failed to achieve an end to the Israeli occupation through negotiations.
Hamas, too, had been unable to secure one inch of Palestinian territory with its firing of rockets into Israel.
Israel’s latest devastating attack on Gaza has solidified Palestinian ranks because Hamas and Fatah need each other to survive.