11/11. Will the popular uprisings that brought down Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and
Hosni Mubarak, and which are threatening to topple other Arab dictators, arrive
one day in the Palestinian territories? This is the question that many
Palestinians have been asking in wake of the antigovernment tsunami sweeping the
Arab world in recent weeks.
When and if the Palestinians
revolt, they will be shooting in all directions: against Fatah, Hamas, Israel,
the UN, the US and many Western powers and Arab regimes that allegedly turned
their backs on them all these years.
Signs of the impending intifada
are already evident on a number of Facebook campaigns launched by disgruntled
USA!” shouted a posting by one
of the youth groups in the Gaza Strip.
“We, the youth in Gaza, are so
fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and
the indifference of the international community. We want to scream and break
this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F-16s breaking
the wall of sound.”
Inspired by the uprisings in the
Arab world, young Palestinian men and women are now using the Internet to stage
similar campaigns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
One group wants to launch an
intifada against Israel, while a second wants to organize a mass protest next
week to demand that Hamas and Fatah end their power struggle.
Even Hamas and Fatah have
discovered the power of Facebook. Each one of the two rival parties has in
recent weeks been inciting Palestinians to revolt against the other.
Fatah and Hamas are obviously
not happy with the Facebook campaigns that are urging Palestinians to take to
the streets to achieve their goals.
Fatah is worried that mass
demonstrations in the West Bank would undermine the Western-backed Palestinian
Authority which, in the eyes of its enemies, had aligned itself with US
“puppets” in the Arab world. As far as some Palestinians are concerned, Mahmoud
Abbas is not much different than other corrupt dictators in the Arab world.
WHEN SOME Palestinians tried to
organize a small demonstration in the center of Ramallah in support of the
Egyptian revolution, Abbas sent his policemen to disperse them by force. He
later banned a popular political satire program from mocking Libyan tyrant
on Palestine TV.
Earlier, Abbas had issued an
order banning criticism of the emir of Qatar,
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani,
in the Palestinian media. The decision came after Fatah supporters chanted
anti-Qatar slogans during protests against Al Jazeera’s
which claim that Abbas and his negotiators had mad far-reaching concessions to
Israel on the issues of Jerusalem and refugees.
Similarly, Hamas has been giving
the Facebook youth a hard time. In the past two weeks, its leaders sent
policemen in civilian clothes to break up a gathering of Internet activists who
called for an end to the Hamas-Fatah crisis. Hamas has also summoned dozens of
activists for questioning over their role in organizing demonstrations through
Yet the clampdown on the
Facebook youth in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has also been accompanied by a
number of measures by Hamas and Fatah to avoid popular uprisings.
Abbas was the first to respond
to the events in Tunisia and Egypt. One day after Hosni Mubarak was forced to
resign, he called new elections for president, parliament and municipalities.
The power struggle between Hamas
and Fatah, which began after the Islamist movement won the January 2006
parliamentary vote, has prevented agreement on new elections. Presidential and
local elections were supposed to be held in early 2009, while Palestinians were
supposed to vote for a new Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2010.
In addition to the decision to
call new elections by September (which seems unlikely to happen in light of
Hamas’s refusal to allow the vote to take place in the Gaza Strip), Abbas also
did what other Arab leaders have already done: reshuffle the cabinet.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad,
whose government had never been approved by parliament, has been asked to form a
new cabinet that would consist of representatives of as many factions as
In keeping with the spirit of
the current Arab uprisings, Fayyad chose to go on Facebook to “consult” with
Palestinian youths about the makeup of his new cabinet and to listen to the
their demands and grievances.
However, his efforts to persuade
factions to join his cabinet have thus far run into obstacles. First, Hamas said
it would never join any cabinet headed by Fayyad. Second, Fatah has also come
out against Fayyad for offering to include Hamas in his cabinet unconditionally
and for “marginalizing” the secular faction, which is headed by Abbas.
Fatah fears that Fayyad’s latest
initiative to invite Hamas into his cabinet would perpetuate the political split
between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially after reports suggesting that
the prime minister was prepared to allow the Islamist movement to retain
security control over the Strip.
Hamas leaders have also not
remained indifferent to the tsunami sweeping the Arab world. They too have
announced plans to reshuffle the cabinet of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in the
near future. Moreover, the tone of many Hamas leaders has suddenly changed, with
many talking about the significance of reforms and democracy.
To avoid being held responsible
for thwarting national unity, Hamas and Fatah have separately come out with
initiative aimed at ending the power struggle between them.
Many Palestinians are convinced
that, under the current circumstances, achieving unity between Hamas and Fatah
has become an impossible mission. “All the Facebook revolutions in the world
won’t solve the crisis, because the gap between the two parties is too wide,”
said political analyst Ghassan Shehadeh. “Palestinians will have to live with
the two regimes until a new leadership emerges one day.”
Another analyst, Suhail Kiwan,
believes that it’s not the Palestinians who are divided, but their leaders.
“Unity can’t be achieved under the two leaderships [of Hamas and Fatah],” he
concluded. “The two sides have been hurting each other very badly. Hamas
supporters in the West Bank are oppressed, just like their Fatah rivals in the
Gaza Strip. The motto of unity would never be achieved unless new leaderships
emerge on both sides and put the interests of Palestinians and freedom above
factional and ideological considerations.”