Palestinian Civil War
"I like Germany so much that I want two of them"
"I like Germany so much, I want two of her"
"I like Germany so much, I am glad there are two of them"
"I like Germany so much that I am happy to have two of them"
attr André Malraux
"I like Germany so much... that I prefer to have two of them"
attr Francois Mitterrand
Hamas was formed in late 1987 as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was a loosely structured organization, with some elements working openly through mosques and social service institutions to recruit members, raise money, organize activities, and distribute propaganda. It also engaged in peaceful political activity, such as running candidates in West Bank Chamber of Commerce elections. The group's strength was concentrated in the Gaza Strip and in a few areas of the West Bank.
Various elements of the organization used both political and violent means, including terrorism, to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel. Hamas couched the Palestinian national struggle in religious terms and refused to recognize the right of Israel to exist. In the Hamas covenant that was published in August 1988, the organization emphasized its ambition to serve as an alternative to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In effect, it posed a challenge to the PLO in its opposition to the peace process and its call for the destruction of the State of Israel.
For years, Hamas was a fringe organization, popular mainly for its social and educational work, especially in poor neighborhoods. That changed in the 3 decades following the formation of the group. Hamas had risen to prominence, in part due to its well-organized network that provided Palestinians with social services and charity, and augmented civil society. It was increasingly seen as a rival to Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement, a member of the PLO. A Palestinian public-opinion poll in the early 2000s indicated Hamas had the support of 30 percent of the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank.
Fatah's Political Problems
In 1964, in partial response to the wider trend of militant radicalism, the Arab League founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Fatah joined the PLO in 1968 and won the leadership role in 1969. Formerly headed by Yasser Arafat, Fatah subsequently became dominant in the PLO and between 1968-2004 the organization monopolized nearly all aspects of factional politics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Following the death of Yasir Arafat in 2004, however, Fatah became plagued by allegations of corruption and cronyism, a weak economy and astronomical unemployment, ineffective preventive security forces, and rising crime. Fatah displayed an inability to speak with one voice, develop a coherent political strategy, or effectively extend the rule of law to all Palestinians. Public confidence in Palestinian Authority (PA) institutions, which were also identified with Fatah, plummeted to an all time low by the 2006 elections, and many Palestinians saw Fatah and the PA as ineffectual.
Israel's unilateral decision to disengage from Gaza and portions of the West Bank was another domestic concern for Palestinians. The apparent inability of the PA to effectively govern Gaza, end warlordism, and begin to improve the day-to-day lives of Palestinians increased the popularity of Hamas in the run-up to municipal and parliamentary elections. In addition, Hamas was seen as largely untouched by corruption and exploited this image during the pre-election campaigns.
2006 Parliamentary Elections
On 26 January 2006, Hamas won a stunning victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections that gave it a decisive majority in the legislature. Election officials said Hamas won 76 of the 132 seats in parliament. Fatah gained only 45 parliamentary seats (out of 132), but still managed to capture 42 percent of the popular vote. This led many to conclude that Fatah remained the face of Palestinian nationalism, even among Hamas supporters.
Nevertheless, Fatah was out of power for the first time in its history, and many experts claimed it would have to alter its political outlook in order to regain popularity. Hamas, in the meantime, which had been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States and European Union (EU), prepared to lead the Palestinian parliament. The group had never entered the political realm prior to its 2006 victory, and in the view of many, Hamas had to be more politically accommodating if it intended to retain its governing authority.
Immediately after the election, the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations) indicated that assistance to the PA would only continue if Hamas renounced violence, recognized Israel, and accepted previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, which Hamas refused to do. On 7 April 2006, the United States and the EU, which had been the Palestinian Authority's (PA) largest donor since it was created in 1996 under the Oslo peace accords, announced they were halting assistance to the Hamas-led PA government. At the same time, Israel began withholding about $50 million in monthly tax and customs receipts that it collected for the PA. In addition, the PA lost access to banking services and loans as banks around the world refused to deal with Hamas for fear of running afoul of US anti-terrorism laws and being cut off from the US banking system. In 2005, international assistance and the Israeli-collected revenues together accounted for about two-thirds of PA revenues.
The resulting fiscal crisis left the Hamas-led government unable to pay wages regularly and deepened poverty levels in the Palestinian territories. By the end of 2006, tensions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were rising as living conditions deteriorated and PA employees, including members of the security forces, went unpaid for weeks or months. Armed supporters of Fatah and Hamas clashed repeatedly, trading accusations of blame, settling scores, and drifting into lawlessness. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in the violence.
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