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WEST BANK: Fireworks after the feast?

October 1, 2008 |  8:26 am


Things have been quiet on the Palestinian end lately, thanks to Ramadan.

The Muslim holy month of fasting usually means shorter days, lower energy levels, lots of cheap plastic lanterns and a host of nightly social obligations. As a result, most serious  business  simply gets pushed until after the Eid al Fitr celebration.

The Eid started Tuesday, and many are predicting that events will begin to ramp up on the Palestinian end soon after. But just what direction those events will go depends on whom you ask.

Egypt plans to resume its on-and-off efforts to bring the feuding Palestinian factions together. A delegation from the Islamic group Hamas, which defeated its rival Fatah faction in January 2006 parliamentary elections, will travel to Cairo on Oct. 8 for talks expected to continue through the month.

Hamas and Fatah coexisted for several months in a unity government that collapsed last summer, leaving Hamas running a pariah ministate in the Gaza Strip and Fatah controlling the West Bank and Palestinian Authority with U.S. and Israeli backing.

Since then, the prospect of reconciliation has been stalled around a central point: Fatah has refused to sit down with Hamas until it cedes control of Gaza and issues an apology for the July 2007 military rout, which Fatah considers an illegal coup.

But senior Fatah officials have recently indicated a softening of that stance.

"We are not asking anybody to go back to where we were," senior Fatah negotiator Nabil Shaath told Reuters. "We want to go forward, not backward."

Egyptian officials optimistically plan several weeks of discussion capped by a signing of a new reconciliation accord in early November. On Tuesday, both Hamas leader  Ismail Haniya and Fatah chief and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed optimism.

Others, however, are predicting a more dire turn of events.

The Israeli press, which can tend to be alarmist, is envisioning everything from a full-blown Palestinian civil war to a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel .

Columnist Moshe Elad, a former army colonel who served in the occupied Palestinian territories, believes violent Hamas-Fatah clashes will "take place in the coming two to three months and should climax in January 2009."

Mahmoud_abbas_davos_2The reason, Elad writes on the prominent Ynet news site, is a looming dispute over Abbas' right to lead the Palestinian Authority. Abbas' four-year term end in January 2009, and it's widely believed that he'll extend his term an extra year to coincide with the next round of parliamentary elections.

That decision would normally fall to the parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council. But that body hasn't met since Gaza fell to Hamas; Fatah in retaliation for the takeover, jailed dozens of Hamas parliamentarians.

Abbas, if he extends his term, may do it unilaterally or through a ruling by a compliant West Bank-based judicial body. Either way, Hamas has already indicated they won't play along.

After Jan. 9, Hamas will declare Abbas' reign illegitimate, several Hamas officials have recently stated.

"We will remove his pictures from all the public institutions," one official told the Jerusalem Post.

Stay tuned...

— Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem

Photo of Ramadan lanterns courtesy of Bernadette Simpson via Wikipedia Commons
Photo of Abbas courtesy of the World Economic Forum

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