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MENS: Escalation In The Palestinian Authority

Escalation In The Palestinian Authority

Middle East News Service

[ Middle East News Service comments: The Australian Broadcasting Service’s website is reporting clashes between various Palestinian factions. It is a situation that has been brewing for a while now. I have been hoping to circulate an a analytical piece by an Israeli journalist with some good knowledge of the situation. But as yet neither Danny Rubinstein, Zvi Bar’el or Amira Hass (or anyone else whose knowledge and views I respect) has published anything worthwhile. So in the meantime here is the view of a key Palestinian leader, Hanan Ashrawi. It is not as if Dr Ashrawi is not well informed or lacks objectivity (she has certainly kept here distance from the protagonists) but Haaretz reporters do not have to take into consideration the consequences for themselves or even their own safety and Ashrawi most certainly does.

Please note that this interview may not have been conducted in English. Ashrawi is of course a professor of English Literature who is an excellent spokesperson for her people but this may have been conducted in Arabic and then translated into German and then English. This may have some affect on her comments – Sol Salbe.]


"The Situation is Extremely Tense"
SPIEGEL ONLINE - December 15, 2006, 06:02 PM

One day after the attempted assassination of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Fatah and Hamas are shooting at each other. In an exclusive interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, veteran Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi warns of possible civil war and calls on all sides to lay down their arms.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Ashrawi, as we are talking reports are coming in from the news agencies about shootings in Gaza, in Ramallah and in other places between Hamas supporters and Fatah supporters. You are in Ramallah right now. What is the situation like?

Ashrawi: The situation is extremely tense, very volatile. There are security forces everywhere and of course there were attempts at carrying out Hamas rallies. But right now we just hear sporadic shots and sirens and alarms going off. But I think it's calming down. However, the streets are empty, the people are all inside.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Could this be the start of a Palestinian civil war?

Ashrawi: It certainly has all the indications of internal confrontations and clashes among different militias and among different factions. So I'd hate to think of this as a civil war but clearly it has the elements of an internal confrontation which is extremely dangerous and very lethal. And of course Palestinian weapons are being used against other Palestinians and it threatens to spiral out of control.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Just a few weeks ago, the Palestinian factions were still negotiating to create a national unity government. Now they are shooting at each other, and there has been an attempt on the life of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Why are Palestinians shooting at each other instead of trying to foster unity?

Ashrawi: This has been some time in the making. First of all, the Palestinians are living in a very abnormal situation, in a pressure cooker, in a situation in Gaza where it's entirely besieged and cut off from the rest of the world and the economy is in shambles, totally destroyed. The situation is one of utter deprivation. There is tremendous anger, there is such resentment and vulnerability and for some time now there has been the external siege and the sanctions have created this situation in which people feel there is no way out. There is a sense of despair. Generally people cooped up like this with no way out tend to take out their anger against each other. And besides there has been a political rivalry, let's put it that way, between the two major factions Fatah and Hamas that has not resolved itself in ways that are peaceful. At the same time other people have not played a constructive role in trying to resolve these differences in a democratic way. And I'm afraid the situation is going to extend beyond the confines of Gaza and into different areas of the West Bank.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are there elements inside the Palestinian factions who are interested in a civil war?

Ashrawi: Well, I'm sure there are people who are pushing towards a civil war because there certainly are statements that can be construed as being very provocative and statements of incitement and accusations and this has been ongoing. We have seen a sort of verbal escalation in the public discourse even before this escalation in confrontations. But for some time now Palestinians have been cautioning against an outright outbreak of violence because we saw killings and assassinations, we saw, let's say, more controlled clashes, and we kept saying these must be stopped. Now we don't know who is interested in fuelling the flames but clearly there are those who are doing so and the situation is escalating.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is the way out?

Ashrawi: I think there has to be immediate intervention. Sanity has to prevail. We need to first of all call on all sides to lay down their arms. We need to pass a bill in order to outlaw the use of arms except by the security forces. We need to be able to start a process of dialogue. We need the rule of law as well, we need due process, we need an investigation as to who is involved in committing these acts and provoking them. And at the same time we need to resolve our political differences in democratic and peaceful means, whether through the formation of a national unity government or through early elections and referenda. But I've always maintained we need a new dynamic, we need positive engagement and intervention in the prevailing dynamic. Otherwise it will continue to degenerate and really could spin out of control.

Interview conducted by Yassin Musharbash.

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the Palestinian parliament for the progressive Al Mubadara movement and general secretary of the pro- democracy organization Miftah. From 1996 to 1998 she was the Palestinian Authority's minister of higher education and research under Yasser Arafat, of whom she was also often critical. She became known internationally in 1991 as official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process.


The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements

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