<><>Philadelphia Inquirer Editorials & Commentary Posted on Thu, May. 11, 2006
<><>Why Palestinian strife is escalating
<><> Sam Bahour is a Palestinian American businessman living in the West Bank
<><>Recent Palestinian infighting is a dangerous development, one that has the entire region on edge.
Armed confrontations in the street have been mirrored by escalating disagreements _ between politicians, most notably Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and _ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, over control of security agencies.
Through nearly four decades of continuous Israeli military occupation, which dominates _ every aspect of life, Palestinians have miraculously held together. Today, many are asking _ if they can withstand the unrelenting external pressures, coupled with an increasingly _ complicated domestic political makeup.
The infighting stems from the dramatic change in government following the January _ elections when the Islamic party, Hamas, defeated the historically dominant secular party, _ Fatah. For the first time in modern Arab politics, the political majority and minority traded _ places peacefully. This should be applauded. However, without a sovereign framework to _ grow within, it is unclear whether this episode is a one-time event or a prelude to a full-_ fledged democracy.
Palestinian civil service was built by and for Fatah and is not a nonpartisan bureaucracy _ serving the public interest. This is especially so of the nearly 73,000 members of the _ security forces. Many were former Fatah activists rewarded for their loyalty with their _ current jobs. Corruption and inefficiency were rife in the Palestinian Authority, and _ contributed to Hamas’ electoral victory.
Another cause of the infighting is economic deterioration. Israeli actions – sudden closure of _ the borders to labor and trade, drastic restrictions on movement, and destruction of capital _ and assets – are the main cause of this deterioration, according to Nigel Roberts, former _ World Bank country director for the occupied Palestinian territory.
Roberts says these measures “led to an enormous loss of income… something like 40 _ percent of personal real incomes was lost in the course of [a] two-year period.”
Israel also refuses to turn over $50 million a month in taxes it collects on behalf of the _ Palestinian Authority as required under the Oslo accords.
Increasingly needy Palestinians are demanding that the Palestinian Authority deliver _ government salaries and basic services, regardless of who is in power. The police force _ has demonstrated publicly for its salaries, while other government employees say they are _ unable to afford transportation to work.
Palestinian hospitals are running so low on basic medicines and supplies that some say _ they may have to close their doors. Domestic crime, historically unheard of in Palestinian _ territories, is on the rise. Store owners report customers wanting to pawn their belongings _ to put food on the table. Neighborhood shopkeepers, who regularly provided customers _ with lines of credit, have mostly stopped this age-old practice.
Palestinians recognize that they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They elected _ Hamas to oust a corrupt government and after years of a “peace process” that only made _ their lives worse, with the dramatic expansion of Jewish-only settlements and roads on _ their land. Now, they are being punished by the international community that prefers the old _ corrupt government.
On May 2, Palestinian private sector associations and business leaders met with Abbas _ and Hamas representatives to recommend the formation of a unity government of apolitical _ technocrats. It remains to be seen if this will be pursued. This private sector intervention is _ unprecedented and illustrates the severity of the crisis.
Palestinians, like all people, just want to be able to put food on the table, educate their _ children, and live in security. They cannot do so without repairing these new internal rifts _ and without the support of the international community. They also cannot do so without _ freedom from Israel’s military occupation. When pushed to the wall, they will not sacrifice _ one for the other.
The Hamas government may not survive the international pressure against it. That does _ not mean, however, that support for Hamas will diminish, especially as Palestinians enter _ their 40th year of occupation. In fact, the lesson that Palestinians – and others around the _ world – may draw is that democracy does not bring justice and real peace. That is not a _ conclusion we want anyone to draw.
Sam Bahour (firstname.lastname@example.org) is one of the editors of “Homeland: Oral Histories of _ Palestine and the Palestinians.”
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Sam Bahour serves on the Advisory Board of ¡Cafe Intifada!