The infighting between Fatah and Hamas makes the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit extremely difficult, said Lt. Colonel Moshe Marzouk, an advisor on Arab affairs for the liaison and coordination unit in the territories, and a senior research fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism, affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
"Hamas considers Shalit to be an important bargaining chip. They want to demand more from Israel in exchange for Shalit, and they want Fatah to join a unity government without rewarding it for this. But due to the disagreements between the two sides, the soldier's release is not in sight," Marzouk claimed.
According to Marzouk, the escalation in the situation between Fatah and Hamas was predictable. The two sides now hold steadfastly to their stances: Fatah is attempting to get Hamas to comply with the international demands – recognize Israel and accept previously signed treaties with the Jewish state. Meanwhile Hamas, which considers itself not only a political party, but also an Islamic movement – cannot accept Israel's existence, as it would contradict its fundamental claim that Israel was founded on holy Muslim soil.
Marzouk said that the deterioration in the Palestinian Authority commenced on the day Hamas won the elections. "Two entities were created in the Authority that are in complete opposition regarding their views and ideology, and since Gilad Shalit's abduction – the situation has only worsened," he stated. "As for now, due to Hamas' firm rejection of the international community's conditions, there is no chance that a Palestinian unity government will be established at this stage," he added.
Mashaal in controlThe man pulling the strings is Khaled Mashaal who resides in Damascus, Marzouk said. Mashaal does everything in his power to torpedo any attempt to reach reconciliation between the two sides or to alleviate tensions by releasing Shalit.
"In recent days, Hamas has been running a campaign against President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, accusing them of collaborating with the West and the Arab states and inciting them against the Hamas government, in order to get them to halt fund transfers… against the backdrop of this campaign we witness an escalation and assassination attempts on both sides, including threats to target Hamas officials – as illustrated in the leaflet published by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades on their plan to take out Mashaal," Marzouk explained.
"It isn't likely that this situation calms down or resolved in the coming days. This is a fraternal war that may escalate even further. We are likely to see attempts to calm the riots, but this is bound to fail so long as Hamas denies Fatah's and the international community's demands," he said.
Support for Hama decliningAs far as Hamas’ status in the PA is concerned, Marzouk said that polls in the territories showed that support for the movement is declining. According to him, Palestinians thought the situation would get better in the Hamas era, but their expectations went down the drain as the situation continually got worse.
“We are seeing a phenomenon of corruption within the Hamas government. They take care of their relatives, and remove senior Fatah officials from central positions or kill them. The economic situation is deteriorating, and the Palestinian people feel they are being punished as a result of the elections,” Marzouk explained.
However, he added that Hamas was still very strong, particularly in the Gaza Strip, mostly because of the weapons it smuggles. He said that Hamas oppressed every attempt made by the Fatah and other organizations to express their stance.
Marzouk continued to say that the dire economic situation brought on a reality where many families depended on Hamas’ charity organizations because the ‘country’ wasn’t providing for their needs.
Marzouk said the solution had to come from the Palestinian president. “Abbas has a huge and historical responsibility, but the problem is that he is weak. Sooner or later he will have to declare either the dispersal of the government, or the removal of several ministers known for their extreme stances,” Marzouk concluded.