Saturday, June 16, 2007

It's busy here in the Middle East

Well, since I got here on Wednesday afternoon Ehud Barak was elected chairman of the Labor Party, and will be taking over the Defense Ministry on Monday from the incompetent Amir Peretz. And Shimon Peres has finally been elected to something - he will be the new president of Israel, replacing the disgraced Moshe Katzav.

Hamas has taken over Gaza in spectacularly bloody battles against Fatah, and over in the West Bank, Fatah gunmen (Al Aksa Brigades) have in turn taken over various government ministries that were in the hands of Hamas. It sounds like the only thing preventing running gun battles between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank is the presence there of Israeli forces. For a good roundup of coverage and analyses, see Noah Pollak in Fatahland & Hamastan. Although he is a bit right wing for my taste, his analysis seems much more realistic than the New York Times idiotic editorial from yesterday, which calls for strengthening Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas):
It should also include an offer of regular, substantive talks with Mr. Abbas on issues related to a final peace settlement, like borders and provisions assuring the economic viability of an eventual Palestinian state. Obviously, there can be no final peace agreement until Hamas either changes its policies or is chased from power. But excluding Palestinian statehood from the negotiating agenda can only help Hamas.
Isn't it obvious that Abu Mazen has no power to negotiate anything? Gaza is completely out of his hands, and probably a good many West Bank Palestinians also support Hamas. I don't see the point in negotiating with someone who has no, or very little power. One signal sign of his weakness in Gaza before it fell to Hamas was that he waited to the last minute to order his Presidential Guard to fight against Hamas. Why did he wait so long? Honestly, it seems that he didn't take seriously the possibility that Hamas would defeat Fatah in Gaza. Or maybe it's simply that he wasn't in control of the Fatah forces either. (Some of the articles I've read in the Israeli press suggest that the Fatah forces in Gaza were so divided among themselves that they couldn't defend themselves effectively against Hamas).

It's unnerving to be here with Hamas taking over Gaza. It doesn't affect my life personally, but it does give me a sense of increased insecurity - and I'm sure that the residents of Sderot, an Israeli city very close to Gaza which has been repeatedly hit by Qassam rockets for the last several years have an even more increased sense of danger.

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