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The “Other” Palestinian Conflict

Shari Hillman

Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine
By Jonathan Schanzer
Palgrave Macmillan (November 2008)

For the last twenty years, the deeply-rooted conflict between Hamas and Fatah has caused death, misery, economic upheaval, and political repression for Palestinians. Today, it stands as one of the greatest impediment to solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet until the “Palestinian Civil War” in June 2007 – when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip – few observers gave consideration to this underlying struggle.

In his new book, Jewish Policy Center Policy Director Jonathan Schanzer tells the story of this “other” Palestinian conflict, examining the ideology and development of Hamas and Fatah, their interactions with Israel and with each other.

As Schanzer notes in his introduction: “The battle between Fatah and Hamas [in June 2007] was not simply a territorial conflict. It was not a misunderstanding. It was a bitter battle in a wider power struggle between two rival Palestinian factions known to hold two diametrically different ideological positions with regard to the role of religion and politics in what is commonly referred to as the struggle for Palestine.”
Schanzer provides an insightful review of the history involved, taking the reader through the political developments, terrorist attacks, changing alliances, and diplomatic stalemates of the period from the first Intifada in 1987 to the spring of 2008.

With painful directness, he catalogs the suffering this conflict has caused the Palestinian people. In one chapter, Schanzer traces the dismal similarities between the Palestinian uprisings in 1936-1939, the first Intifada in 1987, and the second Intifada in 2000. Each featured intra-Palestinian violence against “collaborators” and rival clans (under the cover of the uprising), the recruitment of young children to fight on the front lines of battle, economic devastation, and the reinforcement of a culture of violence in Palestinian society. None of the flimsy political institutions put up by Hamas or the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) have been able to deal adequately with this legacy.

Palestinian history has repeated itself with depressing regularity over the years.The Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” as Abba Eban said. And they may have lost altogether the opportunity for peace in the near future. Schanzer notes that the lack of alternative leadership in the Palestinian community, the continued internecine violence, and the dangerous ideologies of Hamas and Fatah make a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict nearly unimaginable today.

With the perspective afforded by Schanzer’s analysis of Palestinian reality, it is difficult to be content with the diplomatic platitudes already being offered by the incoming Obama administration. The same personalities, policies, and initiatives that failed in the past will clearly find no greater success going forward, since the key to the Palestinians’ problems, the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, is not even on the radar of the incoming administration. “Hope” and “Change” may be the slogans of the Obama administration, but without change from the inside, Palestinians have little reason to hope for peace.