The "Other" Palestinian Conflict

by Shari Hillman
RJC Bulletin
December 15, 2008

Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine
By Jonathan Schanzer
Palgrave Macmillan (November 2008)

For the last twenty years, the deeply-rooted conflict between Hamas and Fatah has caused death, misery, economic upheaval, and political repression for Palestinians. Today, it stands as one of the greatest impediment to solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet until the "Palestinian Civil War" in June 2007 - when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip - few observers gave consideration to this underlying struggle.

In his new book, Jewish Policy Center Policy Director Jonathan Schanzer tells the story of this "other" Palestinian conflict, examining the ideology and development of Hamas and Fatah, their interactions with Israel and with each other.

As Schanzer notes in his introduction: "The battle between Fatah and Hamas [in June 2007] was not simply a territorial conflict. It was not a misunderstanding. It was a bitter battle in a wider power struggle between two rival Palestinian factions known to hold two diametrically different ideological positions with regard to the role of religion and politics in what is commonly referred to as the struggle for Palestine."
Schanzer provides an insightful review of the history involved, taking the reader through the political developments, terrorist attacks, changing alliances, and diplomatic stalemates of the period from the first Intifada in 1987 to the spring of 2008.

With painful directness, he catalogs the suffering this conflict has caused the Palestinian people. In one chapter, Schanzer traces the dismal similarities between the Palestinian uprisings in 1936-1939, the first Intifada in 1987, and the second Intifada in 2000. Each featured intra-Palestinian violence against "collaborators" and rival clans (under the cover of the uprising), the recruitment of young children to fight on the front lines of battle, economic devastation, and the reinforcement of a culture of violence in Palestinian society. None of the flimsy political institutions put up by Hamas or the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) have been able to deal adequately with this legacy.

Palestinian history has repeated itself with depressing regularity over the years.The Palestinians "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity," as Abba Eban said. And they may have lost altogether the opportunity for peace in the near future. Schanzer notes that the lack of alternative leadership in the Palestinian community, the continued internecine violence, and the dangerous ideologies of Hamas and Fatah make a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict nearly unimaginable today.

With the perspective afforded by Schanzer's analysis of Palestinian reality, it is difficult to be content with the diplomatic platitudes already being offered by the incoming Obama administration. The same personalities, policies, and initiatives that failed in the past will clearly find no greater success going forward, since the key to the Palestinians' problems, the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, is not even on the radar of the incoming administration. "Hope" and "Change" may be the slogans of the Obama administration, but without change from the inside, Palestinians have little reason to hope for peace.


How Hamas Governs Gaza: A Frontpage Interview

by Jamie Glazov
December 11, 2008

Frontpage Interview's guest today is Jonathan Schanzer, director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center. He has served as a counterterrorism analyst at the U.S. Department of Treasury and as a research fellow at Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author of the new book, Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine. Daniel Pipes wrote the foreword to the book and some of the research was undertaken at Pipes' Middle East Forum.

FP: Jonathan Schanzer, thank you for joining us again.

Schanzer: My pleasure, Jamie.

FP: Today, I'd like to talk about the way Hamas has governed Gaza since taking it over by force in 2007. But first, please briefly review the thesis of your new book Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine.

Schanzer: My new book documents the ongoing political and military struggle between the two largest Palestinian factions – Hamas and Fatah – dating back to 1988. Today, as a civil war rages in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel, the international community cannot even identify a legitimate Palestinian interlocutor. The book looks at how we arrived at this difficult place.

FP: Please tell our readers about the June 2007 war between Hamas and Fatah.

Schanzer: In a word, it was brutal. The battle for Gaza lasted a mere six days. Fatah's forces, trained and armed by the United States and other western nations, failed miserably. Some left the field of battle. Others joined the Hamas fighters. Those who stood their ground were likely not prepared for their brutal enemy. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Hamas violence was indiscriminate, demonstrating a willful disregard for the conventions of war. Hamas fighters pushed Fatah members from the roofs of tall buildings. Hamas even killed people who were already injured, or shot their enemies at point-blank range to ensure permanent disabilities. Hamas also attacked private homes and apartment buildings, hospitals, ambulances, and medical crews. All told, the June fighting claimed the lives of at least 161 Palestinians, including 7 children and 11 women. Some 700 Palestinians were wounded.

FP: What happened when the guns fell silent?

Schanzer: Hamas began to govern through a combination of violence, authoritarianism, and Islamism. Ismael Haniyeh, the ascendant ruler of Gaza, officially denied accusations that Hamas intended to establish an Islamic emirate. However, by November, the British press reported that "only believers feel safe" in Gaza and that "un-Islamic" dress sometimes resulted in beatings. According to a UN report, women "felt coerced to cover their heads not out of religious conviction but out of fear."

The new Hamas government attacked the media and peaceful demonstrations, and engaged in the "destruction, seizure, and robbery of governmental and non-governmental institutions," according to one human rights report.

In short, the few reluctant steps toward liberalization that the PA had taken during its 13-year rule in Gaza—small advances in press and political freedoms, for example—were wiped out in days.

FP: There were reports of torture. Were these accurate?

Schanzer: Yes. Some 1,000 people, almost all members of Fatah and the PA, were illegally arrested in the first months of Hamas rule by the new Hamas police, the Executive Force. The leader of the Executive Force actually admitted to the use of torture and violence against Hamas's political enemies. He stated in August that torture occurred in Hamas prisons but that the EF was trying "to minimize violations and avoid them through the training of our members."

The allegations of torture continued, however. In September, Hamas abducted five Fatah men who were later transferred for treatment to a Gaza hospital, where evidence of torture was reported. Rights groups reported that other Fatah prisoners "sustained fractures to the feet" as a result of beatings with sticks. In other instances, Fatah men were "handcuffed and blindfolded" and had pieces of cloth stuffed in their mouths to stifle their screams.

FP: How did Gaza's Christian population fare?

Schanzer: They probably suffered the most. Hamas grossly mistreated the minority Christian community, mostly Greek Orthodox, which had lived in relative peace for centuries amid Gaza's predominantly Sunni Muslim population.

In June 2007, masked gunmen attacked the Rosary Sisters School and the Latin Church in Gaza City. Hamas gunmen used rocket-propelled grenades to storm the main entrances of the school and church. Then they destroyed almost everything inside. That same month, Hamas kidnapped Professor Sana al-Sayegh, a teacher at Palestine University in Gaza City, and forced her to convert to Islam against her will. Her family's attempts to meet with Hamas leaders to find her repeatedly failed. Requests by community leaders to meet with Hamas were also turned down.

In October, the body of 30-year-old Rami Ayyad, the owner of the Holy Bible Association, was found in an eastern suburb of Gaza City. Ayyad's organization had been the target of a grenade attack during protests stemming from the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005.

In February 2008, unidentified gunmen blew up the YMCA library in the Gaza Strip. Two guards were kidnapped, offices were looted, and vehicles were stolen, and more than 8,000 books were destroyed. That attack came only days after a Hamas "modesty patrol" attacked a Christian youth's car after he was seen driving a female classmate to her home. Both were injured in that attack.

By one count, more than 50 attacks had taken place in the first few months following the June coup. Targets included barbershops, music stores, and even a UN school where boys and girls played sports together.

FP: Did the Gaza population fight back?

Schanzer: Some tried non-violent resistance. However, those who held demonstrations against the lack of law in Gaza also suffered. According to al-Jazeera, the Executive Force beat peaceful Fatah demonstrators after the coup. By August, Hamas banned unlicensed demonstrations by the Fatah party. According to Hamas, the demonstrations were "being used to create chaos and terrorism."

Hamas's apprehension over the demonstrations was understandable. They sometimes turned violent, particularly when Hamas security forces began forcefully dispersing the crowd. Associated Press television aired images of Hamas men beating an unarmed protester with sticks. In some cases, according to Amnesty International, Hamas deliberately shot unarmed demonstrators. In two cases, Palestinians were shot and killed while trying to help other demonstrators who were injured.

It is interesting to note that when Hamas threw rocks at Israelis during the 1987 and 2000 uprisings, the group called this "resistance." When Palestinian protestors threw stones at Hamas, the new rulers of Gaza called them "outlaws" and arrested them.

FP: So, why did most people not hear about this in the West?

Schanzer: Hamas worked assiduously to cover its own tracks. To control the reporting out of Gaza, Hamas began to issue government press cards to journalists. Predictably, journalists whom Hamas did not like did not receive credentials. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate protested that the tactic threatened journalists and prevented them from doing their jobs. The syndicate alleged that under the Hamas government's draconian rules, phrases such as "Hamas militias" and "ousted government" were banned. Hamas also announced it would ban stories that did not support "national responsibilities" or those that would "cause harm to national unity."

The more journalists complained, the more difficult Hamas made it for them. The Union of Palestinian Journalists reported that after a series of threats, Hamas forces raided the home of one journalist. The union further noted that its ranks had been threatened and blackmailed by Hamas on a daily basis. The Foreign Press Association confirmed these reports, claiming Hamas had engaged in "harassment of Palestinian journalists in Gaza." Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog group, noted that Hamas "failed to investigate" these incidents.

FP: How did Hamas manage the Gaza economy?

Schanzer: Rather horribly. Due to Israel's sanctions against the Hamas government, stores in Gaza were out of many products, and hospitals ran low on crucial supplies, including anesthetics and antibiotics. Seeking to avert a humanitarian crisis, the Israelis eventually allowed certain medical supplies into Gaza but vowed to withhold other nonessentials. However, Hamas ensured that goods and supplies would be cut off every time they launched rockets into Israel. Indeed, they had a choice. They could either fire rockets and ensure continued suffering for their people, or cease the violence and make sure the population was provided for. For nearly a year, Hamas chose violence.

Hamas also neglected Gaza's infrastructure. As a result of Hamas mismanagement, several Gaza sewer pipes burst, which flooded homes and businesses with a foul river of waste that was several yards high. Gazans were infuriated when it was learned that the Israeli-made pipes that were intended to repair Gaza's decrepit sewage system had been sold to Hamas but used to assemble Qassam missiles and bunkers.

The most anger, however, likely stemmed from the Hamas government's decision to raise taxes on cigarettes. Lucky Strikes used to cost 10 shekels ($2.50) per pack. After Hamas came to power, the same pack of cigarettes cost 16 or 17 ($4.00 or $4.25) shekels. Other American cigarettes could cost Gazans upward of 40 shekels per pack ($10.00). The Gazans who could not afford to smoke were said to be "fuming."

FP: Some people say that there were positive aspects of Hamas rule. How is that possible?

Schanzer: Hamas, of course, attempted to highlight the positives. Within weeks of the takeover, the Islamists boasted that crime, tribal clashes, and kidnapping had all dropped precipitously in the Gaza Strip. But, this drop in crime was more than likely the result of fear on the part of Gaza residents rather than a sign of increased or improved law enforcement.

Hamas proved once again that terrorist groups, much like their Fatah predecessors, were unfit to govern. The Islamist group exhibited an almost criminal indifference to the suffering of Gaza citizens impacted by the violence, lack of services, deepening poverty, collateral damage from the battles, and the predictable Israeli reprisals that resulted from Hamas attacks.

FP: Jonathan Schanzer, thank you for joining us.

Schanzer: You're quite welcome, Jamie. Always a pleasure.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz's Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev's Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


It's The Civil War, Stupid

by Daniel Halper
December 10, 2008

Many friends of Israel have long been concerned about the prospect of a Barack Obama presidency. Despite Obama's moderate campaign rhetoric, he had been rumored to support the aspirations of radical Palestinians, and a Los Angeles Times article published on April 10, 2008 seemed to confirm the charges. The article describes a reception held in 2003 in honor of Rashid Khalidi, a former spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization who was about to take up a position as professor at Columbia University. Obama, then just an Illinois state senator, praised his "many talks with the Khalidis" as "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases." He said he hoped "for that reason…for many years to come, [that] we continue that conversation—a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid's dinner table."

Of the many outrageous beliefs Khalidi has espoused—from defending a legal right to "resist" (read: terrorist activity under a faux-legal guise) the so-called Israeli occupation to arguing that Israel stole its land from Arab inhabitants—one in particular catches the attention of Jonathan Schanzer, director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, DC: Khalidi's notion that there is a "uniform Palestinian identity." Schanzer has devoted his recent book, Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine, to dispelling this idea.

What has ravaged the region and erected the main obstacle to peace, says Schanzer, is twenty years of "internecine violence," "interfactional tensions," and the "internal... power struggle" between the ruling Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah. Indeed, the deadly Palestinian political situation has arguably damaged the Palestinian people much more than it has their sworn enemy, the Israelis.

In Schanzer's own words, "Hamas is a violent totalitarian organization that has taken the lives of hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians over the years and vows to continue down that same path." In short, "The driving ideological force behind Hamas... is radical Islam." To Americans, Hamas is perhaps most famous for its terrorist activities—homicide bombings, car bombings, kidnappings, rocket attacks, etc.—and its pledge to destroy the Jewish state in the land of Israel.

So what, then, does Hamas's primary political foe, Fatah, stand for? Foremost, it supports "Palestinian nationalism." That's why Khalidi's views about national identity are merely one-sided political propaganda. But this ideology has been altered to adapt to the varied sentiments of the Palestinians—all in an attempt to maintain power over its people. It maintains a "dream... to one day defeat Israel by force and raise a Palestinian flag over the land that had been conquered in 1948." Additionally, Fatah also "was undoubtedly influenced by Islamism," but, unlike Hamas, it "stood for the establishment of a secular state after the destruction of Israel."

Ideology, therefore, cannot be considered the primary source for the entrenched division between Hamas and Fatah. Considered independently, their missions are not necessarily antithetical to one another. Rather, "Both groups are engaged in a struggle whereby neither is ashamed to adopt the rhetoric or tactics of the other to gain an edge. Both factions know that Palestinian nationalism and Islamism are equally useful tools that can be wielded to generate support from the Palestinian street, depending on the political circumstances."

Schanzer, at one point, invokes a Lincolnian consideration of political governance when he suggests that "the outbreak of the [first] intifada [in 1987]" signified "a house divided." However, unlike Lincoln's divided America, in which the victorious North was able to reunite the splintered Union, a tenable peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians requires both sides to lose. A "house divided against itself cannot stand," is the Lincolnian phrase Schanzer alludes to, but he also argues that a unified Palestinian house ruled by either Hamas or Fatah would be yet another obstacle to lasting peace.

In an attempt to inject stylistic flare into his writing, Schanzer integrates current events with detailed, descriptive accounts of activities ranging from terrorist bombings to secretive meetings between agents of Hamas or Fatah. Such episodes could have provided appropriate lead-ins to the complexities of the history Schanzer is considering, but the similarities between Hamas and Fatah—the overlapping yet diverging ideologies and histories—at times become muddled.

Thus, Schanzer's work lacks the clarity he could have achieved with separate chronological accounts of the subjects and historical events. The primary message of the book was to make the case that those who associate with Hamas and Fatah are members of separate Palestinian factions; clarity, not style, should have been the author's primary focus.

In terms of the quality of his analysis, however, Schanzer has done his readers a great service. His claim that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been blocked by in-fighting between Fatah and Hamas rings true. Although it is perhaps not a radical revelation to those who have closely followed the events in Israel over the last twenty years, it is a useful corrective to the typical analysis of the issue: Academics and journalists, especially, tend to overlook the Hamas vs. Fatah civil war, choosing instead to over-report violence and rancor between Israelis and Palestinians. One hopes that Schanzer's corrective analysis will serve as a starting point, not the final word, for the next wave of thinking on this issue, for it explains the utter failure of the Oslo peace accords (America and Israel negotiated with the Fatah-infused Palestinian Authority without fully considering the powerful Hamas), the failure of Israel's responses to the Palestinian intifadas, and the utter disarray that the region has been in for at least the last twenty years.

The Obama for America website "Fight the Smears" attempted to trivialize Obama's associations with Khalidi by saying, "Smears, insults, and innuendo about the nature of Barack's relationship with Khalidi are completely unfounded. Guilt-by-association is always a questionable tactic." And with the election now completed, Obama's harshest opponents have begun to relax. Most are rejoicing about the announcements of his intended cabinet appointments and staff—a Clinton presidency redux. But will President Obama be able to comprehend fully the enormous complexities facing the warring Palestinian factions, a finer point that was undoubtedly overlooked during the conservations that took place at "Mona and Rashid's dinner table"? Serious scholars of Israel's history like Jonathan Schanzer are no doubt eagerly awaiting the answer.

Daniel Halper regularly writes on politics, foreign policy, and the Middle East at Commentary's blog Contentions.


The Hamas-Fatah War & Israeli Security

by Eric Bergel
MEF Wire
December 9, 2008

Jonathan Schanzer is the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, a Washington think-tank. Prior to joining JPC, he was a counterterrorism analyst for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Mr. Schanzer also has held positions at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Middle East Forum. It was during his tenure with the Forum that he undertook initial research into the subject of his new book, Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), which was also the topic of Mr. Schanzer's address to members of the Middle East Forum and the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia on November 3, 2008.

In Hamas vs. Fatah, Schanzer rejects the "constant narrative that the Palestinians are waiting for their state," an account that depicts the Palestinians as a passive factor in the state formation process. Instead, Schanzer argues that the Palestinians' troubled path to statehood is a product of their own political divisions. Schanzer believes that the problem had its roots in the outbreak of the first intifada in 1988. At that time, Arafat was exiled from the territories and living in Tunisia, so he and Fatah were unable to take credit for the Palestinian uprising.

Instead, it was Arafat's rival, Hamas, which "quickly eclipsed Fatah in terms of popularity with Islamists and refugees." Seeing his political relevance eroding, Arafat announced that he would accept in theory the state of Israel. Schanzer dismissed Arafat's declaration as merely "a ploy to get him back on the world stage. By simply recognizing the state of Israel," Schanzer explained, "the entire world [came] rushing to him thinking that perhaps he [could] end the uprising and bring Palestinian-Israeli peace."

The next seven years were the "Oslo Period." Although others saw the Accords as offering hope for a sustained peace, Schanzer believes that Arafat came to regret his involvement. By seeking the mantle of a statesman, Arafat found that he created a vacuum in the arena of "military struggle" that Hamas was able to exploit - as evidenced by the fact that during the 1990's, most terror attacks on Israel were perpetrated by Hamas.

For Hamas, attacks on Israel served a dual purpose. Every act of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas made Fatah look feckless to the outside world and undermined Arafat's overall strategy. On the other hand, terrorist attacks against Israel further cemented Hamas' popularity with the Palestinians, who increasingly looked to it as assertive, while Fatah was seen as submissive to the West.

This state of affairs lasted until 2000, when Arafat, seeing the damage that his reconciliation attempt had caused to the political relevance of Fatah, launched the second intifada. Schanzer said that Arafat's motivation behind this action was to "out-Hamas Hamas." Arafat promoted the conflict in a much more Islamist way than the first intifada; for example, calling the war the "Al-Aqsa intifada," after the historic mosque in Islam situated in Jerusalem.

In 2004, Arafat died and Mahmoud Abbas succeeded him as the leader of Fatah. In 2006, however, "in an absolute landslide…of the freest and fairest elections that we have probably seen ever in the Arab world," the Palestinians rejected Abbas and Fatah, and elected Hamas.

Along with the Hamas victory came what Schanzer declared the "Second Six-Day­-War," this one between Hamas and Fatah. In it, Palestinians fought each other and engaged in acts of violence such as "we've never seen in the Arab-Israeli conflict." With the election of Hamas - a terrorist organization – and the in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah, diplomacy with Israel came to virtual standstill.

The continued intervention of outside powers, which provide monetary and military support to one side or the other, further complicates the Fatah-Hamas split. Schanzer estimates that Iran provides Hamas with $35 million in annual support. The U.S. government supports Fatah mainly "so [Tehran does not] take over the Palestinian Authority as well."

Schanzer described the very separate nature of the two Palestinian territories today. The West Bank is "flourishing," due to the economic influence of Jordan. Meanwhile, Gaza, in which the Egyptians had failed to invest, is "the exact opposite" with people living in "squalor." Because of the geographic, economic and political differences between the two territories, Schanzer questions the potential for realizing a single Palestinian state.

But there are limits to the conflict between Fatah and Hamas. After all, both of their charters still call for the destruction of the State of Israel. However the conflict between Fatah and Hamas concludes, Schanzer asks, "With whom will the Israelis be able to make peace?"

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