The question on the Palestinian street is no longer when civil war will break out, but when will it end.
Armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters have been taking place every day since the deployment of the new Hamas security forces in various parts of the Gaza Strip. But these clashes did not start after the 3,000-strong Hamas force showed up on the streets.
Many Palestinians don’t believe that civil war is just around the corner. However, they do see Hamas and Fatah headed toward a major confrontation. As far as they are concerned, this is a war between Hamas and Fatah – between those who won last January’s parliamentary election of and those who are refusing to concede defeat.
Tensions have been mounting between the two parties since the election. Buoyed by their success, Hamas officials have been openly challenging Fatah and its leaders over the past four months.
Fatah, for its part, has done almost everything to provoke Hamas. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas was the first to alienate Hamas through a series of “presidential decrees” designed to undermine the powers of the Hamas cabinet. The result was that Hamas was left without control over money and security.
The tensions between the political leaders of Hamas and Fatah have since triggered a miniwar between their followers in various refugee camps and towns in the Gaza Strip. This is a war in which both sides have resorted to different types of weapons, including rockets, bombs and assassination attempts.
Over the past two weeks alone, the homes and cars of at least seven security officers loyal to Abbas have been targeted by Hamas militiamen. Hamas militiamen have also been targeted, with two of them killed in separate attacks by Fatah.
This week’s assassination attempt against Tarek Abu Rajab, commander of the General Intelligence Force, as well as the foiling of another attempt on the life of Rashid Abu Shabak, overall commander of three security forces, are seen as part of the Hamas-Fatah war.
The unprecedented violence has also been accompanied by a dirty war of words that has been raging in recent weeks. This is a war that is being fought in the mosques and on television and radio stations, as well as leaflets distributed in various parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Both Fatah and Hamas have recruited their best spin doctors for the mission.
The killing of the Jordanian driver in Gaza City on Monday has only exacerbated tensions between the two sides. At this stage, it’s not clear how Abbas will succeed in convening the much-awaited “national dialogue” conference in Ramallah later this week. The parley is aimed at easing tensions between Hamas and Fatah and discussing the possibility of forming a national unity government.
Even if the conference does take place, many Fatah and Hamas officials are skeptical about its chances of ending the standoff. Hamas seems more determined than ever to hold on to its new security force, while Fatah appears determined to bring down the Hamas cabinet and call new elections. Leaders of the two parties may continue to talk about reconciliation and unity, but their forces on the ground are showing no signs that they are working toward ending the new war.