Who represents us now? Palestinians have at least three poles of power, tugging them this way and that
OSTENSIBLY Israel’s latest assault on Gaza has brought the fractious Palestinians together in a shared wave of national sentiment. In fact, they are as divided as ever. But the Islamists of Hamas, who have ruled Gaza since 2007, are on the rise, while Fatah, the secular group that was long dominated by Yasser Arafat and has run the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas with Israel’s consent, is once more in decline. To make matters messier still, Hamas itself has an internal power struggle, with Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s prime minister, pitted against Khaled Meshal. Previously considered the overall leader, he has long led the movement in exile, based in Syria, and is now striving to reassert his authority. In the wake of the latest truce, the Palestinian deck may be reshuffled.
In the past week Hamas’s military wing, known as the Qassam Brigades, has won much acclaim across the two Palestinian territories for standing up to Israel by sending rockets into its heartlands near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And in the West Bank Hamas has been enjoying a rise in popularity that may surpass its level in 2006, when it won a general election, with 44% of the vote against 41% for Fatah.
Thousands of Palestinians in the past few days have taken to the streets to call for the two Palestinian governments, the Hamas one in Gaza and the Fatah-dominated one in the West Bank, to settle their differences and unite. But claiming to have won the war, Gaza heavyweights, led by Mr Haniyeh, may be unkeen to share the diplomatic and political spoils of battle. They have long opposed Mr Meshal’s efforts to form a unity government that would include Fatah and had hoped to replace him in internal elections that are still going on.
Unfortunately for them, the war has helped Mr Meshal return to the limelight. After months in isolation since his expulsion from his base in Syria by President Bashar Assad for backing the rebels, Mr Meshal has been embraced as a key mediator by Egypt’s president, Muhammad Morsi. Mr Meshal’s voice has again filled the Arab airwaves, while his Hamas rivals in Gaza sat tight, hidden in their bunkers.