Tuesday, December 19, 2006

why this civil war?

The threat of a civil war needs to be put into the context of the makeup of Palestinian society in order to be understood. Palestinians are tribal and thus look to their greater family or their political party in times of need. Today Palestinians are in need. 70% are either unemployed or not being paid for their government positions, 60% are living under the poverty line. Since we are addressing civil war, an internal Palestinian issue, let us try to assess this matter strictly from a Palestinian perspective.

In February Palestinians held unprecedented democratic elections. Following the selection of the new government in March, the wider international community implemented an embargo. This meant cutting all international aid, making up 90% of the PA’s budget. Israel, who collects all taxes on behalf of the Palestinian people, has withheld $600 million of taxes so far.

Hamas’ victory margin in February’s elections was actually not that drastic. The party won a majority by just a few percentage points. Furthermore, many traditional Fateh supporters voted for Hamas because they wanted a balance in parliament between the two main parties due to the corruption of Fateh. Few, likely including even Hamas itself, expected the victory. Palestinian society is very divided with close to half supporting either Fateh or Hamas.

Concerning lawlessness, both parties patrol the streets without either being in full control, thus criminals and gangs are often left unchecked. These are the makings of civil war. Each party takes care of its own and since Fateh was ousted from government their funding sources have been increasingly reduced. Government employees, most of whom are Fateh supporters, have not been paid a full months wage in nine months. Most Hamas backers are financially supported while being ideologically represented by the Hamas government. The outcome of these realities is an extremely divided society. Fateh backers are living in dire straits and want change, even if change will only come by force. The camps representing either of these positions are willing to back them with their lives.

Civil War is a catastrophe for all, but with a failing economy, ongoing Israeli closure and repression and a bleak outlook for the future, no one can afford to lose power.

Internal power may be the last thing Palestinian factions have to hold on to.