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Hamas vs. Fatah: The Palestinian Civil War

December 2012

  • In June 2007, the Palestinian terrorist organization launched a surprise coup in the Gaza Strip, wresting control of the territory from the Fatah faction, which controls the Palestinian Authority (PA).
  • In that battle, 161 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 were wounded.  To make sure that the wounded did not return to the battlefield, Hamas shot dozens of their enemies in the legs and arms at point blank range to ensure permanent disabilities.
  • When the dust settled, the Palestinian people were divided.  Gaza (1.5 million people) remained in Hamas’ hands, and Fatah clung to the West Bank (2.5 million people).
  • Since then, the two largest Palestinian factions – Hamas and Fatah – continue to be in a state of conflict.  They round up their political foes in these two territories.  They shut down newspapers.  Reports of torture are commonplace in both territories.
  • Numerous attempts to reconcile the two factions have failed. Egypt, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania have all come up short.
  • This is a story that the mainstream media ignores.  The State Department rarely mentions it.
  • However, the Palestinian civil war makes peacemaking exceeding difficult.   There is not universally-recognized interlocutor on the Palestinian side.
  • Today, if Israel ceded all of the West Bank, removed security checkpoints, and gave in to all Palestinian claims on Jerusalem, there would no legitimate Palestinian representative to ratify an agreement.
  • The factions have been at odds over ideology since Hamas was founded in 1987.  Hamas is an Islamist group, and Fatah is largely secular.  The groups challenged each other politically during the 1990s.
  • In the aftermath of the “al-Aqsa Intifada” of 2000, the two factions began to fight each other, even as the Palestinians fought a war against Israel.
  • When Yassir Arafat died in 2004, a leadership vacuum opened.   The Palestinian Authority had already been weakened by war with Israel.  Hamas had grown to roughly equal strength with Fatah.
  • In January 2006, Palestinians elected Hamas to power.  Fatah, with backing from the United States, refused to allow Hamas to govern.
  • A stalemate ensued, leading to the aforementioned 2007 civil war in Gaza.
  • After the November 2012 conflict between Israel and Hamas and the subsequent upgrade of the Palestinian mission at the United Nations, Hamas and Fatah have re-engaged in reconciliation talks.
  • However, two Palestinian mini-states are still growing in two different directions. The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is funded by Qatar, Turkey and other Muslim Brotherhood factions.  It also received weaponry from Iran. The Fatah-controlled West Bank enjoys diminished support from the West and Arab states.
  • The continuing rift between these two factions has major consequences for the peace process. Any solution that does not first solve the Palestinian internecine conflict could permanently divide the Palestinians.