By Liam Bailey
Saturday, July 14, 2007
We all know what “divide and conquer” is all about. It is a strategy Israel has deployed over the last couple of decades, if not to exactly conquer, but to effectively pacify the people they conquered in 1967–allowing them to continue pursuing their strategic, expansionist and cultural interests.
But the responsibility must also be divided, because if the Palestinians’ so-called government forgot about power and control of their non-state and had realized that their cause is so fragile that only a united front has any chance of success, then Israel’s tactics of exacerbating rivalries would never have gotten off the ground.
Not only did it did get off the ground; it has proved to be an exceptionally successful tactic for ensuring Israel’s continued control, not only of the Palestinian territory and its sham Authority, but over the day-to-day life of every Palestinian.
Israel began to grow scared and pondered a new strategy when the Palestine Liberation Organization and its movement seemed to be gaining too much support among Palestinians and as a movement was getting too powerful. A new strategy was needed. A new group was emerging, a religious extremist group called Hamas. From slow beginnings Hamas is now extremely well armed and perhaps the most powerful Palestinian militant group, certainly the most powerful in Gaza.
Hamas’ power grew with Israeli support, weapons and funds-the same kind of support they are now giving to Fatah. When the Islamic movement began to emerge in the late 1970’s Israeli leaders sought to strengthen the movement. Believing that if the Palestinians were immersed in their religion they would pose less of a problem, and at any rate, their support for one group would automatically exacerbate the rift ceding from the Palestine Liberation organization fear of holding onto their control. Israeli leaders believed two groups, rivalling each other and working from a different mandate, would be a whole easier monster to control.
Also, many people believe former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not want peace. Sharon saw bolstering Hamas as a good way of ensuring the violence would continue and talks would be doomed to failure.
It is not clear when this support for Hamas ended, The arrest in 1989 of the main benefactor of their supporting policy, Sheikh Deir Yassin, suggests around that time, but there has been too much political turmoil and cross manipulation to really be sure. When Hamas won democratic elections early last year, things really changed for Israel. Hamas’ turn towards democracy suggested they were becoming more moderate, and with the widespread support of the Palestinian people, Israel feared they may be forced to find an agreement with a moderate but still credible Hamas.
Now, Hamas was too big for its boots and Israel began a policy of weakening the monster they had created and strengthening the PLO’s now controlling faction, Fatah, against the now powerful Hamas. They began by attempting to strip Hamas of their support base by starving the already impoverished Palestinian people with the internationally supported financial blockade.
To strengthen Fatah, Israel has done many things, from making concessions, such as releasing a fraction of the Palestinian tax revenues held by Israel under the blockade and promising to make other concessions, like removing check-points to make life easier for Palestinians. But the worst leg of the policy has been the massive campaign by Israel and their U.S. backers of arming Fatah gunmen. Even after Fatah and Hamas agreed the Palestinian National Unity government, still the arms continued to flow. Still Hamas’ anger continued to grow at Israel’s attempts to provide Fatah with the means to defeat them. Abbas’ lack of control over his armed factions, as seen in recent news of Fatah gunmen ruining a new exam system Abbas tried to implement-thus prevented the Hamas-Abbas security plan being implemented, particularly in Gaza; and fighting between the two factions, concentrated in the coastal strip, began anew.
This led to the crowning achievement of Israel’s divisionary tactics. Hamas eventually routed Fatah’s forces and sent them fleeing to the West Bank, where they still have a sizeable power-base, thus bringing about a completely divided Palestinian cause: Fatah ruling the West bank, if only on paper, and Hamas controlling Gaza. There were fears that Hamas would begin trying to take control of the West Bank, but they haven’t materialized yet.
The divisionary tactics continue, with the Israeli cabinet approving the release of 250 Fatah prisoners Jun. 9, suggesting that Israel would like the fighting to continue in the West Bank and is increasing Fatah forces to make it more likely, and probably more drawn-out.
In the latest rhetoric, Abbas has said that Hamas is allowing Al Qaeda members into Gaza – a claim which Hamas have denied, saying Abbas is attempting to stoke resentment against them. And Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has said he doesn’t think there can be any kind of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah leader Abbas. Olmert said Abbas had told him he would never make peace with Hamas and would always combat them.
Olmert’s government is predominantly right-wing, the Israeli right wing is the flip-side of Hamas’ charter, where Hamas’ charter calls for taking back all of Palestine, wiping Israel out as it goes, Israel’s right wing’s greater Israel beliefs want all the land to be Israel. Whereas lately Hamas has moderated its agenda, now falling in line with the most widely sought after two-state solution, Israel’s right-wing’s biggest fear is having to negotiate and eventually give back land for the two-state solution. It is clear from Israel’s constant interference and antagonizing one group by supporting the other, that they fear a united Palestinian resistance.
A united Fatah-Hamas, with a moderate Hamas, might just force Israel’s hand. So Israel is keen to maintain Palestinian violence–too busy fighting each other to fight for what’s theirs. I just hope the. It’s time to unite in the face of a common enemy and with the sole aim of achieving the Palestinian dream. Which is Israel’s greatest nightmare.
Liam Bailey is a U.K. freelance journalist. He writes regularly for the Palestine Chronicle, Arabic Media Internet Network and is an advanced blogger on the Washington Post’s Post Global. He runs the War Pages blog and you can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Liam is on Myspace, too.