Abbas Shaken Up as Dissent Grows

Signs are increasing that attempts to legitimate an orderly transfer of power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Mahmoud Abbas’ collaborationist regime are failing. Last Friday, clashes rocked Nablus as members of the Al-Awda Brigades clashed with Palestinian police and ‘army’ units brought in from Jericho after one of the resistance groups’ fighters was beaten by police. According to eyewitnesses the only people firing for most of the day were the newly assertive Palestinian ‘security’ forces. “I’ve never seen this police or so-called army during this Intifada. Four years they are invisible and now they come to fight those who sacrificed for the people?” “I’ve never seen something like this, the police is out of control” “The Police think they control everything,” were some commonly heard refrains from friends. Others – more established Fathawis in Nablus that I spoke with – claimed that the measures were important in order to bring ‘order’ to the chaos of multiple armed militias.

The clashes in Nablus came on the heels of similar incidents in Jenin, where Palestinian security officials were forced to back down on a statement that they wanted to arrest popular local Brigade leader Zacharia Zubeidi. This week in Ramallah, Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades gunmen stormed a meeting of Fatah officials, stating that the mandate of the people will not allow a small and corrupt elite to compromise on the Intifada’s goals. “The incident which took place today by our military wing was aimed at preserving this movement, which we inherited from Yasser Arafat, and was also a final message to those who are corrupt because they don’t have any legitimacy” said a leader in Fatah’s military wing. The latest incidents highlight the growing tensions within the dominant Fatah movement that pit younger and more militant activists against the older guard of the Palestinian national liberation movement.

Class antagonisms are also sharpening, with many perceiving the current re-assertion of central PA authority as an attempt to disarm the armed resistance groups whose recruitment base is largely centered in poorer areas and refugee camps. On Saturday, roughly 2500 unemployed workers in GazaCity demonstrated in front of the Parliament – banging pots and pans and waving bread – demanding jobs and unemployment benefits. They were met with a line of riot police, highlighting the projected role of the new Palestinian ‘security’ forces. A friend recently confided in me that most of those recruited from the security forces were people with criminal pasts or that were mistrusted in the community (mirroring the Canadian government’s practice of recruiting similar elements within the native community in order to police Canada’s own apartheid system on indigenous reservations).

And while tensions within Fatah are percolating, there are signs that the broader antagonism between the Islamic resistance movement in Palestine and Fatah is also on the rise. In fact, much of the pressure from the younger wing of Fatah on the movement’s leadership is coming from those who see the recent gains of Hamas – in local municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza – as a clear rejection of Mahmoud Abbas’ pliant line with respect to American and Israeli foreign policy prerogatives. The recent decision of Hamas to contest the upcoming Parliamentary elections highlights this point. The recent sizeable Islamic Jihad rally in Gaza against US and Israeli attempts to “create cracks in the solid rock of Palestinian unity” and today’s clashes at Hebron University between Fatah and Hamas students underscored the growing tensions in the region and Abbas’ tenuous grasp on the situation.