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WEST BANK: Palestinians not allowed to show solidarity with Egyptians

February 1, 2011 | 12:31 pm

For the mainstream Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and its archrival the Islamist Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, the turmoil in Egypt is a source of concern.

In the West Bank, the pro-West Palestinian Authority refused to give permission for Palestinians wishing to hold protests in support of the Egyptian uprising.

In Gaza, Hamas authorities broke up with force a sit-in by few people attempting to show solidarity with Egyptians calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. The journalists who attempted to cover the sit-in were also beaten by armed Hamas forces.

Both regimes see in Mubarak and Egypt in general an important ally.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas relies heavily on support from Mubarak in his efforts to get a negotiated peace settlement with Israel. Mubarak’s good relations with Israel and the West, mainly the U.S., help Abbas withstand pressure to give in on important negotiating issues.

The Gaza Strip has borders only with Israel and Egypt. As Israel does not allow Hamas leaders and most of the 1.5 million residents of the coastal enclave to leave the strip through its borders or even to use Gaza airspace or the sea, Egypt remains their only way to reach the outside world.

So far, both Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders have not made any public comment on the situation in Egypt. Recalling how former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared to side with Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Kuwait, thus losing support and sympathy from the Persian Gulf countries, the current leaders have preferred not to get involved.

Neither party can afford to lose Egyptian support and sympathy if they make the wrong statement or take the wrong position, particularly since it is not yet clear where the popular uprising going to lead.

Ghassan Shaka’a, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, which is headed by Abbas, expressed in a cautiously written statement the Palestinian Authority’s “deep concern for the developments” in Egypt. He was more interested in the safety and preservation of Egypt’s historical heritage than the demands of millions of Egyptians for the removal of Mubarak from office.

The Palestinian public, on the other hand, had a totally different perspective on the situation.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, president of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian think-tank PASSIA (the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs), said he was proud of the “true, passionate and national young Egyptians.”

He said that “the current people’s intifada [uprising] from Tunisia to Cairo is the second Arab awakening in the making.”

Hazem Qawasmi, a Palestinian activist, criticized the ban on demonstrations in the Palestinian territories, wondering “how long are the repression of freedoms and preventing the Palestinian people from exercising their right for peaceful assembly and freedom of expression going to continue?”

The General Union of Palestinian Writers saluted the Egyptian people, declaring support for their “legitimate demands.”

Though Fatah and Hamas have agreed on suppressing any public expression of support for the removal of Mubarak from office, both took this opportunity to call on their supporters to rise against the other’s rule.

Learning from the effect of the social networks in mobilizing the masses behind a national cause, Fatah, which lost the Gaza Strip to Hamas in a humiliating short battle, opened a Facebook account and used it to call for a popular upheaval in the Gaza Strip against Hamas rule. It declared Feb. 11 as the date for this proposed uprising.

“Come from everywhere, from every home and corner in our occupied homeland. Join the people and declare it an ongoing intifada” against the Hamas rule, said the Facebook site, which claimed that more than 2,800 people have immediately joined it.

Hamas also believes that an uprising against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is only a matter of time.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

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