As much as any opposition from what is supposed to be a shared enemy, a gang war strangles Palestinian aspirations for an independent state.
So writes former U.S. Treasury Department counterterrorism specialist Schanzer (Al-Qaeda’s Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups & The Next Generation of Terror, 2004), asserting that “the factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah has overshadowed the very voice of the Palestinian people.” Fatah, the armed vanguard of the Palestine Liberation Organization, dates to the 1950s and was strongly identified with former leader Yasir Arafat, so much so that when Arafat died the organization fell into instant disarray. Its chief political rival since the late ’80s has been Hamas, an Islamist group that, Schanzer writes, has strong ties to both Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda (“the jihadist ideologies of the two groups, founded within a year of one another, have the same roots”). Fatah was not shy of violence, though its chief means were at least paramilitary. Hamas has favored raining shells and bullets on Israeli civilians and made a specialty of the car bombs, suicide bombs and IEDs that have become common in the Middle East. With the one controlling Gaza and the other the West Bank, no Palestinian unity has been possible since Arafat’s death. Schanzer suggests that the United States and Israel have been largely correct in not negotiating directly with Hamas—though that position has become less tenable with the “surprising electoral victory” of Hamas in February 2006, when it took control of the Palestinian Authority. In the aftermath, sanctions against the PA have been fruitless, since Iran, by the author’s reckoning, has provided at least $120 million in aid in the meantime. Schanzer might have done more to address the suggestion, advanced in other scholarly sources, that Hamas was encouraged early on by the Israeli state precisely as a foil for Fatah, which would seem a divide-and-conquer ploy that backfired. Nonetheless, this well-argued account helps sort out the two groups’ tangled history of nationalism and terrorism, the latter of which Hamas refuses to give up.
Recommended for students of current events in the Middle East.