Hamas, Fatah Launch Separate Governments

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 16, 2007

JERUSALEM, June 15 -- Leaders of the Hamas and Fatah parties began operating parallel Palestinian governments Friday after days of intense factional fighting that have sharply defined the political and geographic divisions undermining the Palestinian drive for statehood.

As street battles in the Gaza Strip gave way to calm, Palestinian analysts and Israeli officials said Hamas's swift military conquest of the strip has badly fractured the Palestinian territories and the government established 13 years ago to run them.

The hardening differences could be seen in both Gaza and the West Bank, the two increasingly separate pieces of a future Palestinian state now administered by rival armed parties whose leaders each claimed Friday to be conducting official government business.

The division has broad humanitarian and security implications for the Palestinians, for Israel and for foreign donor nations, which are weighing whether to end economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority now that it no longer includes Hamas.

"Two governments -- one in Gaza, one in the West Bank -- is what we will have now," said Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. "The international embargo will be lifted against the government in the West Bank, and Gaza will be left to starve."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah named Salam Fayyad, an independent lawmaker admired by the Bush administration, as prime minister in his new emergency government. Fayyad, a former World Bank official, was finance minister in the Hamas-led unity government formed in March, which neither Israel nor the United States recognized.

But Hamas officials in Gaza have refused to recognize the order Abbas gave Thursday disbanding the Hamas-led cabinet. Abbas fired Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who on Friday met with Hamas-affiliated security forces and carried out other official business in his Gaza office.

"I don't know how these new people will go about doing their jobs," said Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. "This emergency government has no legitimacy on the ground, and where is the army that is supposed to support it? We have one here."

Hamas's military seizure of the strip followed fighting that killed more than 100 Palestinians this week. The armed Islamic movement's victory culminated 18 months of periodic conflict with Fatah, whose monopoly on Palestinian political power ended with Hamas's victory in January 2006 parliamentary elections. The parties have been battling for control of the various security services, their rivalry fueled by stark ideological differences over how to achieve a Palestinian state.

Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist and is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union. Fatah, the secular party of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, supports peace talks with Israel.

After Hamas's election victory, Israel suspended the monthly transfer of $55 million in tax revenue that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, an amount equal to roughly half the government's monthly payroll.

The Quartet of Middle East peace interlocutors -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- also cut off financial aid until Hamas recognized Israel and renounced violence. On Friday, the Quartet endorsed Abbas's decision to dissolve the unity government.

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