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Palestinian Pinochet Making His Move?
There's something a little misleading in the media reports that routinely describe the fighting in Gaza as pitting Hamas against Fatah forces or security personnel "loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas." That characterization suggests somehow that this catastrophic civil war that has killed approximately 50 Palestinians during the past week is a showdown between Abbas and the Hamas leadership -- which simply isn't true, although such a showdown would certainly conform to the desires of those running the White House Middle East policy.
The Fatah gunmen who are reported to have initiated the breakdown of the Palestinian unity government and provoked the latest fighting may profess fealty to President Abbas, but it's not from him that they get their orders. The leader to whom they answer is Mohammed Dahlan, the Gaza warlord who has long been Washington's anointed favorite to play the role of a Palestinian Pinochet. And while Dahlan is formally subordinate to Abbas, whom he supposedly serves as National Security Adviser, nobody believes that Dahlan answers to Abbas -- in fact, it was suggested at the time that Abbas appointed Dahlan only under pressure from Washington, which was irked by the Palestinian Authority president's decision to join a unity government with Hamas.
If Dahlan takes orders from anyone at all, it's certainly not from Abbas. Abbas has long recognized the democratic legitimacy and popularity of Hamas, and embraced the reality that no peace process is possible unless the Islamists are given the place in the Palestinian power structure that their popular support necessitates. He has always favored negotiation and cooperation with Hamas -- much to the exasperation of the Bush Administration, and also of the Fatah warlords whose power of patronage was threatened by the Hamas election victory -- and could see the logic of the unity government proposed by the Saudis even when Washington couldn't. Indeed, as the indispensable Robert Malley and Hussein Agha note, nothing has hurt Abbas's political standing as much as the misguided efforts of Washington to boost his standing in the hope of undermining the elected Hamas government.
Needless to say, only an Administration as deluded about its ability to reorder Arab political realities in line with its own fantasies -- and also, frankly, as utterly contemptuous of Arab life and of Arab democracy, empty sloganizing notwithstanding -- as the current one has proved to be could imagine that
the Palestinians could be starved, battered and manipulated into choosing a Washington-approved political leadership. Yet, that's exactly what the U.S. has attempted to do ever since Hamas won the last Palestinian election, imposing a financial and economic chokehold on an already distressed population, pouring money and arms into the forces under Dahlan's control, and eventually adapting itself to funnel monies only through Abbas, as if casting in him in the role of a kind of Quisling-provider would somehow burnish his appeal among Palestinian voters. (As I said, their contempt for Arab intelligence knows no bounds.)