HAMAS, FATAH … Q&A

Last Updated: 2:18am BST 14/06/2007

What is Fatah?

Fatah is the secular party led by the president, Mahmoud Abbas. Meaning “conquest” in Arabic, it is a reverse acronym of Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filistiniya (Palestinian Liberation Movement). Founded among Palestinian refugees in the late 1950s and led by Yasser Arafat, its aim was Palestinian liberation through violence. In the early 1990s, Arafat signed the Oslo peace accords, accepting the right of Israel to exist. A flood of foreign aid saw Arafat and his cronies grow wealthy and corrupt.

What is Hamas?

Hamas is the Islamic party led by the prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. It swears to establish an Islamic state in historical Palestine, which includes Israel. Meaning “zeal”, Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement). Founded in 1987, it pioneered suicide bombings which made no distinction between civilian and military targets. Its leaders were assassinated by Israel. Its popularity, both for its resistance and charitable work, grew among Palestinians, particularly following Arafat’s death in November 2004.

How did Hamas rise to power?

In January 2006, Hamas won a majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections. Resultant international sanctions led to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid critical for meeting the authority’s payroll, including thousands of security service personnel. Despite aid agency efforts, the growing poverty fed Palestinian unrest. Meanwhile, security services loyal to Mr Abbas refused to answer to the new Hamas interior ministry, leading to the creation of a Hamas-loyal executive force. In Gaza, these conflicting security services overlap with powerful family militias to create a volatile cocktail.

What went wrong?

As tensions between rival security forces spilled over, Fatah and Hamas met in Mecca in February to sign a power-sharing deal. The important foreign and finance ministries went to independent politicians while Hamas controlled the social affairs ministries. However, the two groups could not choose an interior minister and their eventual candidate, Hani Qawasmeh, resigned after weeks. Factional fighting broke out again.

What will happen next?

With Hamas trying to take control of the Gaza Strip, Mr Abbas now faces impossible choices: declaring a state of emergency and attempting to rule by decree, dissolving the government for early elections, or negotiating a truce. Observers speculate a permanent division between Gaza and the West Bank, with Hamas and Fatah governments respectively. That would likely drive already conservative Gaza deeper into Islamic zeal and farther from international support. A separation would all but end hopes for a viable Palestinian state.

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