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.
The Palestinian economy has plummeted, and the government has been unable to fully pay salaries for months. The crisis has squeezed Hamas's power base in Gaza hardest because a far larger portion of the strip's 1.4 million residents rely on government paychecks than in the West Bank.
"We're evaluating what this new reality will mean," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. "This is not just a challenge for Israel, but also for the international community as a whole."
The Bush administration has pressed Israel to work with Abbas and might ask Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a White House meeting next week to release hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen Palestinian tax revenue so Abbas could make up back salaries.
That would help him consolidate support in the West Bank, where on Friday gunmen from Fatah kidnapped at least nine Hamas supporters and ransacked the party's local legislative offices and social service centers in several major cities. The split between Hamas and Fatah in the government, Regev said, "may open options for us to work with moderate Palestinians."
For the first time in days, Gaza residents emerged from their homes to buy food, walk in streets free of roadblocks and celebrate Hamas's victory in raucous demonstrations. Gazans visited some of the battered former Fatah security posts and Abbas's seaside presidential compound, which Hamas gunmen had vandalized after seizing control of it Thursday.
Early Friday, Hamas gunmen rounded up senior Fatah leaders in Gaza, including the heads of the presidential guard and the Palestinian National Forces and the party's general secretary in the strip. Raising fears that they would begin dispensing victor's justice, Hamas officials called the prisoners "treacherous collaborators," a label suggesting a person had worked with Israel. The label often means a death sentence in the Palestinian territories.
But a few hours after seizing at least four senior Fatah officials and six others from the party, Hamas gunmen announced a general amnesty for all Fatah forces. The spokesman for Hamas's military wing, who is known as Abu Obeida, said in Gaza, "The spirit of Islam imposes upon us the amnesty of all those whom we arrested successfully."
Hamas supporters also ransacked the Gaza home of Mohammed Dahlan, Abbas's national security adviser, who led a crackdown against the radical Islamic movement in the 1990s. Witnesses said looters overran the house and hauled away many items.
Although the Fatah-run security forces in Gaza outnumbered Hamas's paramilitary force and military wing, they crumbled quickly in fighting that reached from one end of the strip to the other. Some Fatah units ran out of ammunition, and others fled after blowing up their bases rather than hand them over to Hamas.
Israeli officials said Abbas did not seek permission to send weapons and ammunition into Gaza during the fighting. Such a request would probably have met with resistance from Israeli military leaders fearful that the equipment would eventually fall into Hamas's hands.
Israel kept all crossings into Gaza closed, citing security concerns and the fact that Fatah officials who used to coordinate pedestrian and cargo crossings are no longer at their posts. Relief groups and diplomats warned of an impending humanitarian crisis in Gaza unless supplies could be brought in soon.
Israeli officials are particularly concerned about the Gaza-Egypt border, a sandy frontier and smuggling route patrolled by Israeli forces before they evacuated the strip in the fall of 2005. Hamas uses tunnels beneath the border to bring in weapons, ammunition and explosives, Israeli military officials say.
The E.U. observer mission at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt left its post Thursday, and Hamas officials said Friday they would begin patrolling the frontier. Israeli officials have called for an international force along the border, but Hamas officials have dismissed the idea.
"If you have militants on one side there, how do you control what goes in and out?" Regev said.
Special correspondent Islam Abdelkareem in Gaza contributed to this report.