Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas And Fatah: A House Divided – OpEd

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Al-Qaeda is at daggers drawn with Hezbollah. As Zvi Bar’el, Ha’aretz columnist, puts it, a new ally has joined Israel in the struggle against Hezbollah.

Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organisation. Taking over as commander of the Syrian branch earlier this year, Majd al-Majd controls some 6,000 militants supporting the rebellion against the Assad régime.

Hezbollah, on the other hand, is essentially Shi’ite, and has been sending militants to Syria to support government forces. Majd al-Majd is flaming mad. In a recent broadcast he said:

“sending your sons from Lebanon so that they fight on the side of the criminal régime in Syria, kill our sons and frighten our wives, is considered support for the oppressor against the oppressed, and fully participating in a crime… Hezbollah’s existence is a threat to Lebanon’s security.”

Once launched on his condemnation of Hezbollah, Majd al-Majd let fly with all barrels.

When Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah secretary-general, realised that the UN special tribunal on Lebanon would be indicting certain senior Hezbollah figures for the assassination of Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Al-Hariri, he counter-accused Israel of having fomented the assassination. Now Majd al-Majd, exemplifying the old saying: “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, flung an uncharacteristic bucket of whitewash over Israel – and ensured that some covered the United States as well:

“The claim of the Shiite leaders that Israel and the United States are responsible for the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri … are baseless. The ones behind the murder were the leaders of Hezbollah…”

This latest example of fraternal relations between Islamist terrorist militants serves to remind us of another long-running feud in that fierce and bloody world − the continuing struggle between Hamas and Fatah.

Following Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip in September 2005, the Palestinian Authority held elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The Islamist organisation, Hamas, won 74 seats; the ruling Fatah 45. Lacking an overall majority, President Mahmoud Abbas accordingly formed a national unity government led by prime minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

But sharing power with the Fatah nationalists did not suit Hamas. In four days in mid-June 2007 their ‘Executive Force’ seized control of the entire Gaza Strip in a bloody coup d’état. President Abbas responded by dissolving the national unity government and forming an emergency government led by former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.

Forlorn efforts at reconciliation between the two power blocs within the Palestinian body politic began as early as 2008 – forlorn, because all such efforts are attempts at reconciling the irreconcilable. Insofar as Mahmoud Abbas has embraced the concept of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has consistently engaged with Israel – even if to no obvious effect, as yet – and went so far in September 2010 as to sit down at the same table with Israel’s prime minister and talk peace, the PA has placed itself beyond the pale in Hamas’s eyes. For Hamas remains what it has always been – an extreme Islamist and terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel.

Nevertheless, in February 2012 these irreconcilable differences appeared to have been overcome. After several rounds of discussion, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and the leader-in-exile of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, formally signed the Doha Declaration. which called for the formation of a national consensus Palestinian government whose main mission would be to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections and rebuild the Gaza Strip. Abbas was appointed interim prime minister of the new joint Hamas-Fatah unity government.

The reaction of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was instant. “You can’t have it both ways,” he said, addressing Mahmoud Abbas. “It’s either a pact with Hamas, or it’s peace with Israel.”

Of course he was quite correct, and in little more than three months the Doha declaration was revealed as a slap-dash papering over of cracks, and incapable of providing a lasting accommodation. Gazan Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, criticised the agreement from the start. By swearing in a new Palestinian government in the West Bank last May, Mahmoud Abbas and the PA openly declared their intention to continue their struggle against Hamas.

But the internal struggle has turned against the Palestinian Authority (PA) itself. With the rising cost of living in the West Bank as the catalyst, riots have been reported in Hebron, with dozens of police officers and protesters injured in clashes with several thousand protesters. There have also been protests in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem and Jericho, with roads blocked by burning tyres and rubbish bins. Strikes by taxi and bus drivers have paralysed the West Bank’s public transport system. More than 24,000 union members are estimated to have undertaken strike action.

Originally PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, categorised the unrest as the “Palestinian spring.” More recently, however, protesters have begun calling for Abbas to go, and attacking corruption within the PA. Palestinian security forces, who kept a low profile during the first days of demonstrations, but began using teargas and stun grenades in an attempt to disperse demonstrators. President Obama’s visit to Ramallah during his recent tour of the Middle East was preceded by anti-USA demonstrations, and − that ultimate Arab insult − the throwing of shoes at posters of the US President.

Division and dissension − not a happy state of affairs as far as the PA, the Palestinian camp in general, or the Islamist entity are concerned. For some, comfort from the situation can be found – perhaps inappropriately − in the New Testament. For was it not Matthew who reported the aphorism: “If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand”?

Neville Teller

Neville Teller is the author of the recent book, The Search for Détente: Israel and Palestine 2012-2014”.

Besides maintaining the blog A Mid-East Journal, Teller is also the author of One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine” (2011).

Teller is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. Born in London and educated at Owen's School and St Edmund Hall, Oxford, he is a past chairman of the Society of Authors' Broadcasting Committee, and of the Contributors' Committee of the Audiobook Publishing Association. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."

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