Hamas optimism vs. Fatah despair
In Hamas-controlled Gaza, Palestinian militants express a new enthusiasm for the coastal strip, while their Fatah counterparts face growing disillusionment.
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Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to Hamas leader and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh who lived for decades in the US, argues that the "coup" in Gaza, as Fatah calls it, was in fact a preemptive strike against a takeover plan by Fatah members loyal to Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian security chief and notorious Gaza strongman.Skip to next paragraph
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"Our No. 1 priority was, and is, strengthening law and order, and the [Mohammed] Dahlan group know that when that happens their corruption, conspiracies, and abuse of power would be revealed."
Mr. Yousef says Hamas uncovered documents that prove rampant theft by Mr. Dahlan and other Fatah leaders from the movement's sacked offices in Gaza, though he declined to provide them. "We have all the facts for now, and the people expect us to reveal something, but sometimes the wiser course is to make the argument in private."
Indeed, corruption is the accusation you hear leveled at Fatah again and again from talking with Palestinians in the West Bank.
Despite anger among many Palestinians at Hamas for the Gaza takeover, in which some Fatah activists were executed, the Islamist movement is still seen overwhelmingly as the more "clean" faction, the reason that so many Palestinians voted for Hamas in the January 2006 elections.
"We lost our way years ago," says Azzam al-Ahmad, a former deputy prime minister and Fatah member in the Palestinian parliament. "Too much corruption was tolerated in our ranks, and now we have to find a way to rebuild."
Qadura Fares, a member of Fatah's young guard, is more blunt. "Fatah needs radical surgery, but the patient is very frail. If you meet with 200 Fatah representatives, they'll all tell you the same thing. Corruption is our big problem. But, of course, some of those 200 are among the corrupt. Are they going to give up their positions? It doesn't look like it."
And while one adviser to the Bush administration says that when Fatah leaders come to Washington they invariably talk about what the US should do to weaken Hamas, rather than present new initiatives to further the interests of the Palestinian people, Hamas's leaders say they are mostly focused on their responsibilities at home.
Yousef says Hamas has started providing $100 a month to 20,000 of Gaza's poorest from its own coffers (although he still says Hamas is receiving outside financial support) and that the movement has made great strides in getting gunmen off the streets.
Perhaps Hamas's greatest success so far has been in disbanding criminal clans, most visibly the Dugmush clan, which claimed responsibility for kidnapped and holding BBC reporter Alan Johnston for more than three months earlier this year. Today, many shopkeepers say they no longer have to pay the protection money once demanded by criminal clans.
"We've made the consequences very clear to the clans if they don't keep their weapons at home," says Islam Shawan, the spokesman for the Executive Force. "We still have four of the men involved with Johnston's kidnapping in custody and will arrest more if we have to."
As for any movement toward new negotiations between the two rival Palestinian factions on a possible new unity government, "We made some mistakes, we know that, and we're ready and eager to talk," says Hamas's Yousef.
Mr. Ahmad of Fatah holds a very different position: "Until all the results of the coup are overturned, no discussions will be possible."