HistoricalMullet: Palestinian Civil War? Some Analysis

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Cut for those uninterested in power politics

There’s a lesson I’ve learned many times, never negotiate with someone who’s not in control. Given that lesson I’ve noticed some interesting trends in the past week and a half in Palestine v. Israeli.

For those not familiar with what’s going on in Palestine beyond what the headlines scream there are really two powers within Palestine. The Palestinian Authority is the globally recognized leadership organization of Palestine but has very little power to actually do anything within Palestine itself, especially after a year and a half of Israel dismantling its infrastructure in retaliation for Arafat’s playing both sides of the fence (claiming peace but supporting terrorists).

Within Palestine, the real power is in fact Hamas. They are heroes to the people for standing up to Israeli, and beyond its more well-known side of military attacks, civilian bombings, and “throw Israel back into the sea” rhetoric Hamas has a very large and well-supported infrastructure that delivers health care, education, law enforcement and welfare to the Palestinian people; something the Authority has not been able to do. If a truly democratic election were to be held in Palestine today Hamas would probably come out on top as it is enormously popular. However Hamas has never held the reigns of leadership becuase no outside power is willing to recognize them as a legitimate authority becuase doing so would be to sanction terrorism.

So that brings us to the last week and a half. After Bush’s presentation of the roadmap Hamas indicated it was willing to discuss a ceasefire with Abdu Abas, the current Palestinian Authority PM. However, they broke off talks indicating Abas was trying to dictate terms. In power politics, it may have been the turning point wherein the weaker organization currently in power makes a demand upon a stronger organization not in power that exposes its weakness, and perhaps the stronger organization decides it’s time to change the landscape.

Now the following is pure speculation, but here are my thoughts right now on how Hamas may actually be starting the long expected civil war for control of Palestine with the Palestinian Authority, changing the “landscape”. They orgniaze a coordinated military atack of Hamas-Hezzbollah-Islamic Jihad soldiers against an Israeli military outpost (indicating Hamas’s leadership influence over those groups), they send in suicide bombers knowing Israeli’s response will be one of retaliation. What you get is a week of bloodshed with civilian casualties on both sides. Abas’s credibility is seriously weakened, the roadmap of Bush is in jeopardy, and Israeli is back to a deadly game of quid pro quo; attack us we’ll attack you. Civilian casualties abound and populations on both sides are calling for blood.

Here’s the kicker. Hamas is now signaling it is willing to discuss cease-fire terms with Israelis directly. Not through the Palestinian Authority nor through any roadmap structure of an outside power. “You have to deal with us directly, we have the power, look at this last week.” It puts Israeli in a tough position. Negotiate with Hamas who has the actual power in Palestine to stop the attacks and enforce a cease fire, or ignore them and continue working through the Authority. It’s dangerous for Hamas too, Arafat is unlikely to sit on the sidelines and watch a power grab go unchecked and Israeli may not ever be willing to negotiate with Hamas. However, the gains might be worth it from Hamas’s standpoint.

If Israeli does negotiate with Hamas, and Hamas can enforce a cease fire it will have irrevocably altered the landscape of Palestinian diplomacy. It already has the popular support, the civil infrastructure, and the military power to step in and replace the Palestinian Authority. The sticking point will remain their terrorist actions of the past and whether they can distance themselves from civilian attacks in the future.

The next few weeks will be interesting. Look for a Palestinian Authority crackdown on Hamas engineered by Arafat and Abas claiming “we’re cracking down” when really they’re trying to put Hamas back in place. Whether that leads to Palestinian on Palestinian bloodshed is hard to wager, will the civil war go from cold to hot, don’t know. Also look for Israeli to at least consider Hamas’s overtures of cease fire and direct negotiations, that alone may be a sufficient win for Hamas to risk the gamble. The wildcard in this would be the US’s and Israeli’s reaction, which is worse? A deal with the proverbial devil (Hamas) or continued bloodshed in a cycle of violence?

I don’t know the end game here, Israeli will only negotiate with Hamas long term if they drop their “push ’em into the sea” rhetoric, and Hamas doesn’t have a stellar history in respecting Israeli’s security interests. However iff Hamas succeeds in replacing the Palestinian Authority as the “legitimate” power in Palestine by dint of their ability to implement and enforce a true cease-fire, enter into direct negotiations with Israeli, and limit American influence in the process (which is heavily mistrusted by Palestinians) they may be willing to moderate those calls as part of a final settlement package. In the end, Hamas wants to rule a new Palestinian state, and they have the civil and military power to make a solid claim to that end goal, more so than the Palestinian Authority at this point. Stranger bedfellows have been made in the past.


Tim C.

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