TIMELINE THE BLOODY HAMAS-FATAH POWER STRUGGLE THAT THREATENS TO RETURN FOLLOWING GAZA ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
June 2007: Fighting between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in Gaza escalates into a systematic and bloody assault by Hamas on Fatah headquarters Ha’aretz and DPA, May 13 2018
Palestinian prime minister survives Gaza assassination attempt
Who is Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who just escaped an attempt on his life?
Rami Hamdallah is a good man on a suicide mission
An explosion damaged and wounded members of a convoy carrying Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, while he was visiting the Gaza Strip Tuesday morning. The Palestinian Authority immediately blamed Hamas for the explosion, which it said targeted Hamdallah's convoy. The assassination attempt of Hamdallah threatens to end the October 2017 reconciliation deal signed between Hamas and Fatah and to reignite the deadly violence that plagued the two factions for much of the past decade.
Following are highlights leading up to and consolidating the power struggle:
January 2005: Abbas wins presidential elections, held some two months after the death of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
January 2006: Separate parliamentary elections see the radical Islamist Hamas unexpectedly beating Abbas' secular, mainstream Fatah, ending years of traditional Fatah domination over Palestinian politics.
Hamas wins mainly on an anti-corruption ticket, but its political platform conflicts with that of Abbas, chosen on a pro-peace program calling for a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel.
March 2006: Hamas forms government headed by Ismail Haniya. Fatah refuses calls to join. International community boycotts the government over its refusal to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and accept past interim peace agreements.
June 2007: Fighting between Fatah and Hamas gunmen in Gaza escalates into a systematic and bloody assault by Hamas on Fatah headquarters throughout the strip of Fatah-dominated security forces answering to Abbas. Abbas loses control of Gaza and responds by sacking Haniya, who ignores the dismissal. Abbas appoints Fayyad, an independent and internationally respected economist, to head an emergency government based in Ramallah. The result is a de-facto split between Gaza and the West Bank.
Wikileaks later revealed that Fatah asked for Israel's help in both fleeing Hamas and retaliating against Hamas during the coup.
January 2009: Abbas' term as president ends, but he vows to stay in power until parliamentary and presidential elections can be held simultaneously as per Palestinian law. His supporters argue the presidential elections in which he was chosen were held early due to Arafat's death. Critics, not least Hamas, deny Abbas' legitimacy.
February 2009: The severing of contacts is all but complete. Egypt pushes the parties to hold reconciliation talks, the first round of which starts in February. The aim is to create a unity government that would pave the way for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections before the term of term of the current Hamas-dominated parliament in January 2010.
March 2009: Fayyad resigns, hoping this will add pressure to the unity talks, but the stalemate remains.
May 2009: A fifth round of talks in Cairo ends without a breakthrough. A new round is set for July.
Abbas appoints Fayyad at the head of a broader government, believing he cannot hold on without a functioning cabinet until then. About half the seats are given to Fatah, but its parliamentary bloc, angry that not one of its own but rather Fayyad was chosen as prime minister, calls for a boycott.
In previous deals, including one brokered by Egypt in 2011, both sides professed willingness to reconcile, but ultimately balked at giving up power in their respective territories.
They agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but Hamas’s shadow government has effectively continued ruling Gaza since.
But conditions have changed in recent years. Hamas has been weakened by years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, international isolation and three devastating wars with Israel. Gaza today is mired in poverty, with unemployment approaching 50 percent and receiving just a few hours of electricity each day.
Abbas has also stepped up the pressure, saying he will no longer pay for electricity shipments to Gaza and cutting the salaries of tens of thousands of former civil servants and policemen who have sat idle since the Hamas takeover.
With the election of a new leader, Yehiyeh Sinwar, early this year and Egypt offering to ease its blockade, which has largely shuttered the border crossing that serves as Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world, Hamas now appeared ready to deal.
On October 12, 2017, Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas reached a reconciliation agreement, which was announced by Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas commented that the deal constituted "a declaration of the end to division and a return to national Palestinian unity."
The agreement, which followed two days of intensive negotiations at the headquarters of Egyptian intelligence in Cairo, focused on the integration of Hamas officials into the Palestinian Authority's relevant ministries, the rebuilding of Gaza's police system, and the joint management of the strip's crossings.
HAMAS TAKES CONTROL OF GAZA, 2007
The Guardian,Conal Urquart in Ramallah, Ian Black and Mark Tran, 19 Jan 2008
Hamas fighters today basked in triumph after taking complete control in Gaza as the west scrambled for a response to the arrival of Islamist power on Israel's doorstep.
In a stark demonstration of the new facts on the ground, a masked Hamas fighter sat down at the desk of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and declared an end to the western-backed authority in the Gaza strip.
In an imaginary telephone call to the US, a fighter from the Islamist movement's armed wing, Izz el-Deen al-Qassam, joked: "Hello Condoleezza Rice. You have to deal with me now, there is no Abu Mazen anymore."
In one of its first assertions of authority, Hamas called for the immediate release of the BBC Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, who was seized in March.
"He is a guest of the Palestinian people," a masked Hamas official said at a news conference.
Amid scenes of disorder, the deposed Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, called for an end to looting of abandoned Fatah properties and proposed reconciliation talks with Mr Abbas.
"I demand that all our people show calm and self-restraint and not take any action against those houses and compounds that contradicts the morals of our people," Mr Haniyeh told reporters before weekly prayers.
In scenes reminiscent of Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, hundreds of people swarmed through the unoccupied house of Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, after his neighbourhood fell to Hamas, stripping everything, including windows, doors and flowerpots.
"The scenes of Iraq were repeated in every single detail here in Gaza," Hamad Jad told the Associated Press news agency.
Hamas said it would grant an amnesty to a number of senior Fatah officials it had detained.
Among them were Musbah al-Bhaisi, the head of Abbas's presidential guard, Jamal Kayed, chief of the national security forces, Majed abu Shammala, Fatah's senior Gaza political official and the group's spokesman, and old Hamas foe Tawfiq abu Khoussa.
As Gaza fell to Hamas control, the European commission threw its full support behind Mr Abbas and called for dialogue to end Palestinian infighting. "We fully support president Abbas," a spokeswoman for the EU executive told a news conference. "We call on president Abbas, the legitimate president of all Palestinians, to make his utmost to resolve the situation through dialogue and to work towards national unity and reconciliation."
She said foreign ministers of the quartet of international peace mediators - the US, the EU, Russia and the UN - would hold a telephone conference during the day to discuss developments in the Palestinian territories.
Britain's foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, took an uncompromising line towards Hamas.
"The notion that somehow mounting a coup d'etat is something that should be rewarded by the international community seems to me to be completely bizarre," she told the BBC's World At One programme. But she also acknowledged the complexities of the new situation, with the effective creation of two separate Palestinian authorities.
"There is no doubt that what will happen over the coming days is that people will have to consider what can be done, how we can work with the legitimate and legal Palestinian Authority to improve the position on the ground," she said.
"Certainly, finding a way through will not be easy, I accept that, but for the sake of the people of Palestine, we have to try to find it."
The west has boycotted Hamas since it swept to a surprise parliamentary election in January last year, as it considers the Islamist group a terrorist organisation that refuses to recognise Israel or renounce violence.
Israel and the US are expected to ease an embargo on the Palestinian Authority in order to boost Mr Abbas and his secular Fatah group, now that there are two warring Palestinian entities.
The Bush administration is expected to ask Israel to unfreeze tax funds it has been holding back from the Palestinian Authority and to consider loosening its military grip on the West Bank, home to most of the Palestinian population and dominated by Fatah.
Israeli and western officials said the US president, George Bush, and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, could agree to send money to the West Bank when they meet in Washington next week.
"If there will be an emergency government without participation of Hamas, then the funds can flow," said a senior Israeli official. "From our point of view, there isn't a Hamas government any more."
While Hamas is in control of Gaza and declaring Islamist rule on Israel's doorstep, the Palestinian quest for an independent state is on the verge of collapse.
Fourteen years after the Oslo accords opened up the prospect of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, its putative territory was in danger of breaking into two warring entities. The week of violence between Hamas and Fatah has left almost 100 people, both gunmen and civilians, dead.
Last night Mr Abbas, declared a state of emergency from Ramallah in the West Bank and dissolved the three-month-old "national unity" government as he grasped for a strategy to undermine the "coup d'état".
But Mr Haniyeh of Hamas, said Mr Abbas's decision to dismiss him and his government was "hasty", and he pledged to stay in power.
Mr Haniyeh told a late night Gaza news conference that Mr Abbas and his advisers had not considered "the consequences [of the decision] and its effects on the situation on the ground".
It was unclear how the president could impose his authority in Gaza where the green flag of the Islamic resistance movement was fluttering on many government buildings in the crowded coastal strip.
"We are telling our people that the past era has ended and will not return," Islam Shahawan, a Hamas spokesman, told the movement's radio station. "The era of justice and Islamic rule have arrived."
Qais Abu Leila, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee, said there was determination to take action to stop the "insurrection". "This is a fight to preserve everything that we have built over the last 14 years."
In Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, Mr Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad as his new prime minister. Mr Fayyad, who twice served as Palestinian finance minister, worked for the World Bank from 1987 to 1995 and was the International Monetary Fund representative to the Palestinian Authority from 1995 to 2001.
The Bush administration described the Gaza events as "a source of profound concern", accusing Hamas of committing acts of terror. The EU suspended what few aid projects it still maintained there.
The Arab League warned of a "disastrous outcome" to internecine fighting that has been waged on and off for more than six months.
The Hamas victory is widely seen as a boost for Iran and Syria, which have supported the militants, and a painful reversal for the pro-western regimes in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which worry about the Iranian government's meddling in Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Palestine.
Jordan also fears intra-Palestinian fighting could spread from the West Bank and across the river into the kingdom, where at least half the population is of Palestinian origin. "Things have never been so bad," said one senior Arab diplomat.
The Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority's security and military intelligence headquarters came after a three-day siege.
Sources close to the Palestinian president said Israel had ignored repeated requests to allow deliveries of ammunition to Palestinian Authority forces, leaving them outgunned by Hamas who have relied on smuggled munitions.
Last night, Hamas said it had executed the top Fatah militant in Gaza, Samih al-Madhoun.
Witnesses said the conquest of the security headquarters was followed by many executions.
The civil war is rooted in a long-standing power struggle between Hamas
PALESTINIAN FACTIONS HAMAS AND FATAH END SPLIT ON GAZA, 2017
Hamas and Fatah have signed a landmark reconciliation deal in Cairo in a key step towards ending a decade-long rift between the two Palestinian factions. BBC News 12 October 2017
The deal will see administrative control of the Gaza Strip handed to a Fatah-backed unity government.
Egypt has been brokering the reconciliation talks in Cairo.
Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have been ruled separately since deadly clashes between the two groups broke out in 2007.
Hamas won parliamentary elections in the occupied territories the previous year, and reinforced its power in Gaza after ousting Fatah from the enclave.
On Thursday, negotiators said the new deal included the handing over of control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to the Fatah-backed government, which will be handed administrative responsibilities by December.
The Palestinian Accord Government said it will also station forces in the Gaza Strip by December "at the latest".
A Hamas spokesman, Salah al-Bardawil, said it was "a new chapter in Palestinian history".
Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah (right) holds hands with Hamas's leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh
Fatah's lead negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmad, said the plan was to "carry on implementing all the clauses of the agreement, especially those related to solving the crisis of the [Gaza] employees".
Tens of thousands of civil servants employed by the Palestinian Authority have been out of work since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2006.
Both sides called the agreement a major breakthrough.
In response to Thursday's announcement, an Israeli government official said that any unity deal "must include a commitment to international agreements", adding that Hamas must disarm and recognise Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that the talks had led to a "final agreement" to end the rival split.
"I welcome the agreement," he told the AFP news agency, adding: "I received a detailed report from the Fatah delegation about what was agreed and I considered it the final agreement to end the division."
Mr Abbas is reportedly planning to travel to the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks in what would be his first visit to the territory in a decade.
Full details of the agreement are due to be announced later on Thursday.
WHAT CAUSED THE RIFT?
Fatah, once the cornerstone of the Palestinian national cause, lost power in 2006 when Hamas won a stunning victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections.
Tensions between the two rivals caused numerous violent clashes in the Gaza Strip.
In early 2007, Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a coalition to end the growing factional violence.
But in June of that year, Hamas seized Gaza by force after Mahmoud Abbas ordered the dissolution of the Hamas-led government and set up a rival government, leaving Fatah and the PA running parts of the West Bank not under Israeli control.
Mr Abbas later ruled out reconciliation with Hamas unless it gave up the Gaza Strip and submitted to his authority.
In April 2014, Hamas agreed a reconciliation deal with Fatah that led to the formation of a national unity government, but this has never been fully implemented.
Who controls what?
Hamas has largely controlled Gaza since it took power in 2006, while Fatah governs the Palestinian territory of the West Bank.
As a result of the militant group's rule in the Gaza Strip, the territory has become the subject of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions with much of the population dependent on food aid.
Since 2006, the two countries have maintained a land and sea blockade on Gaza in an attempt to prevent attacks by Gaza-based militants. The measures have also aggravated electricity and fuel shortages.
The announcement of a deal, which includes the control of Gaza's borders, has raised hopes among the territory's two million residents that humanitarian conditions in will improve.
Earlier this month, Hamas allowed the Ramallah-based Palestinian government to take over public institutions in Gaza as part of a reconciliation process between the two rival administrations.
The move had been a key demand of Mr Abbas.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah then made a rare trip to Gaza. He said the Palestinian Authority would begin taking control of Gaza's administrative affairs and "security responsibilities".
However, the fate of Hamas' security forces and 25,000-strong military wing, has been one of the thorniest issues preventing reconciliation and remains to be resolved.
Fatah's Azam al-Ahmed (right) and Hamas deputy head of the politburo Saleh al-Aruri sign the agreement
The agreement on Thursday was announced by the pro-Hamas Palestinian Information Centre.
On Wednesday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the talks in Cairo had been "serious and deep".
"The talks are positive and the Egyptian side is even-handed," he said, according to the Palestinian Information Centre.
Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction, has fought three wars with the Jewish state.
Israel resolutely opposes any involvement by Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. It considers Hamas a terrorist group and has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government that contains Hamas members.
Hamas as a whole, or in some cases its military wing, is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU, UK and other powers.
HAMAS CHIEF IN GAZA SAYS PALESTINIAN UNITY DEAL IS COLLAPSING, 2017 Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’s leader in Gaza said on Thursday a reconciliation deal with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction was collapsing, just 10 weeks after the agreement was reached. Reuters, Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Hugh Lawson, December 21, 2017
The rivals signed a deal brokered by Cairo on Oct. 12 after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of the Gaza Strip, including its border crossings with Egypt and Israel, a decade after seizing control of the enclave in a civil war.
The deal bridged a deep gulf between Abbas’s Western-backed mainstream Fatah and Hamas, an Islamist movement designated a terrorist group by Western countries and Israel. But continued disputes have delayed its implementation.
Yehya Al-Sinwar, Hamas’s chief in Gaza and a key architect of the unity agreement, offered a bleak outlook on Thursday, suggesting the deal could suffer a similar fate to numerous reconciliation attempts over the past decade.
“The reconciliation project is falling apart. Only a blind man can’t see that,” Sinwar said in comments published by pro-Hamas media.
One of the latest disputes came earlier this month when Hamas, according to Fatah officials, missed a milestone to complete the handover of Gaza to Abbas’s West Bank-based government.
Hamas says it has given up all administrative control in Gaza.
Rami Al-Hamdallah, the prime minister, said Hamas had not transferred moneys as agreed, while Hamas said Hamdallah’s government had not paid salaries in Gaza as agreed.
Sinwar in the past has said his group would not go back to governing Gaza and that he was committed to making the deal succeed.
Fatah officials declined immediate comment.
“Reconciliation is collapsing because some people want to get from it the relinquishing of arms and the closing of tunnels,” said Sinwar without elaborating, but in apparent reference to Fatah.
During the last Gaza war, in 2014, Hamas fighters used dozens of tunnels to blindside Israel’s superior forces and threaten civilian communities near the frontier.
Israel and the United States have called for Hamas to be disarmed as part of the pact between it and the Palestinian Authority, so that Israeli peace efforts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which collapsed in 2014, can proceed. Hamas has rejected the demand.
HOW MANY PALESTINIANS LIVE IN GAZA AND THE WEST BANK? IT'S COMPLICATED According to Palestinian statistics, by 2020 there will be 7.12 million Arabs and 6.96 million Jews living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. But some in Israel consider the data unreliable Haaretz, Yotam Berger and Jack Khoury Mar 28, 2018
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Determining how many Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip may seem like a relatively simple matter to resolve, but no reliable figures seem to exist. The Israeli Civil Administration in the territories makes use of Palestinian Authority data, which other officials in Israel consider problematic.
Research institutes identified with the right wing contend that the data are wrong. The disparity between the smallest and largest estimate of the Palestinian population in the territories is a difference of a million people.
Knesset members on the right immediately took exception to remarks by the deputy head of the Israeli Civil Administration, Col. Haim Mendes, on Tuesday when he claimed that more than five million Palestinians live in the combined area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some on the right-wing who support Jewish settlement in the West Bank say time and demography are working in Israel's favor rather than that of the Palestinians, and they conclude that if the number of Palestinians in the West Bank is relatively low, and the demographic demon is nonexistent, there is no need to enter negotiations about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Instead the time has come to discuss how to annex the territories to Israel.
In attempting to resolve the conundrum, one place to start is with the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, which says there are 1.8 million Arabs living in Israel proper, including East Jerusalem but excluding the West Bank and Gaza. Yet there is a dispute over the number of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Municipality has said that 316,000 Palestinians had "resident" status in the city in 2016. They are not Israeli citizens but have the right to vote in municipal elections.
That same year, the Jerusalem mayor's adviser on Arab affairs, David Koren, told a subcommittee of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that, at the time, there were several tens of thousands of Palestinians in addition who were living in the city but not registered as residents. For its part, Jerusalem's municipal water corporation, Gihon, has said that at least 370,000 Palestinian live in East Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority's Central Bureau of Statistics released its own figures on the number of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza – in other words, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. They show that as of 2016, 4.88 million Palestinians lived in the territories – 2.97 million in the West Bank and 1.91 million in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians also claim that 1.53 million Arabs live in Israel proper, while Israeli authorities say there are 1.8 million.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics projects that in 2020, there will be an Arab majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, with 6.96 million Jews – 49.3 percent of the total – and 7.12 million Arabs.
The Israeli Civil Administration in the territories has additional information, based on data from the Palestinian Authority's Population Registry, that shows that there are currently about 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and 2 million in Gaza. Although the Civil Administration makes use of the Palestinian figures, it relates to them with skepticism, saying that the Palestinians include people in their figures who have never lived in the West Bank. The Civil Administration believes that the Palestinian Authority issues passports to children born abroad to Palestinian parents and counts them as Palestinian citizens living in the Palestinian Authority.
On the political right-wing in Israel, the objection is even stronger. The Yesha Council of Jewish settlements produced documents on Tuesday from the Palestinian Population Registry that included individuals born in the 19th century among those who were purportedly still alive.
The real population figures are apparently somewhere in the middle of the range of data. According to Prof. Sergio Della Pergolla, a demographer at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, there were 2.4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank in 2015. Jews are in the majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, but the majority is slim, he says, estimating it at just 52%.
Della Pergolla claims that Palestinian figures overstate the number of Palestinians by 600,000 – half because they don't exist and half because they are East Jerusalem residents who have already been counted by Israel. That, the Hebrew University demographer says, reduces the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to 4.7 million. Cautioning against the error of counting East Jerusalem residents twice, he says the mistake is the strong argument that the right wing has.
The Israeli military does not automatically resort to using the Palestinian data, Della Pergola says, and there are also numbers that the Palestinians themselves "don’t like to make public so much, but I saw them once and they also point to a negative migration balance," meaning that more Palestinians are leaving the region than are arriving.
For his part, however, Shaul Arieli, a researcher of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who follows developments in the territories, said: "I have no reason to doubt the reliability of either the figures from the [Israeli] Civil Administration or the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, which are also consistent with data from other researchers, including those of Professor Della Pergolla." Major importance should be attached to the data rather than "the few studies meant primarily to serve the right wing," he adds.
The figures force Israel to confront questions relating to the continuation of the occupation, Arieli claims. "If this trend continues, without a political agreement and separation from the Palestinians based on two states, a state will develop with an Arab majority that Jews don't control or an apartheid state that will be a leper country where the Jewish minority controls the Arab majority and that can't continue for many years," he adds.
Among Palestinians, the issue is being followed closely following reports in Israel on the data. There are those who claim that the demographic issue should be used as leverage to exert pressure for a diplomatic solution. Others say the demographic situation is not sufficient to lead to a resolution of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians.
Prof. Asad Ghanem of the political science department at the University of Haifa, said: "The Jews were a minority [in Palestine] in 1948, but following proper organizing and a lack of organization on the part of the Palestinian and the Arab world in general, the State of Israel managed to overcome the Arabs at every major juncture." Ghanem said in light of the absence of a diplomatic horizon and what he said was the collapse of the two-state solution, Palestinian are preoccupied with where things are headed. He called the two-state solution "an illusion that the Palestinian leadership, particularly the Palestinian Authority continues, to hold onto."
"The evidence that through the demographic presence a diplomatic solution can be achieved is misleading," Ghanem concluded.