The two political factions, Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads for years. After hijacking the Palestinian political scene and setting up their autocratic rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively, the Palestinians— constituents under expired ruling who have become desensitized to whatever false demoralizing so-called national endeavor at liberation undertaken by the two factions— are aware more than ever of what the true agendas of Fatah and Hamas are.
One popular game which I’ve witnessed more often than I cared to at university was how each faction would publicly deride and openly insult the other in a game of “I’m Better Than You’ll Ever Be”. It seems like the recent prisoner deal between Hamas and Israel which will see the release of 1027 prisoners in return for Corporal Gilad Shalit is really grating Fatah. How dare Hamas take the spotlight away from the Palestinian Authority’s UN statehood bid! (Does anyone even remember that anymore?) At a time when Mahmoud Abbas for the first time saw a rise in his popularity, Hamas had to go and pull a stunt like that. What’s worse is that Hamas is gaining popularity at the expense of the Fatah-ruled PA! Uh-oh, are those cracks I hear in the noncontingent West Bank’s double iron-fisted rule?
Divide and Conquer. We are the living reality of that concept. Resisting the occupation has taken a secondary role to promoting the interests of political factions.
Today at noon there was a demonstration in downtown Ramallah in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners who were on their twenty-first day of hunger striking. I attended it with my mother. After five minutes, my mother declared that she will not stand a moment longer listenting to the derisive speech of the speaker, who was belittling the prisoner deal. “Did we come in solidarity with the prisoners or to hear some fool talking smack about the prisoner deal?” she said (I paraphrased). She stepped away from the crowd, her scowl still visible. I was doing my job as a citizen journalist and was tweeting from my phone what was going on. As one speaker replaced the other, the same train of thought continued. The prisoner deal was not enough, they said. The prisoner deal forsakes the rest of our men who are left to languish in the occupier’s dank cells. The prisoner deal has not succeeded in releasing any important leaders. The prisoner deal, unless it releases all of the prisoners, is a FAILURE.
I wonder how the families of the prisoners to be released feel like when they hear that their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers are not adequate enough.
My nose was frozen in a crinkled position. The speakers didn’t sound all too different from the laughably eloquent appointed attackers of rival factions. It was a shame that factions should be involved in such a topic that was meant to be national. The PA barely endorsed or supported any activities regarding solidarity with the prisoners. I wondered what their reaction was going to be about the prisoner deal. Obviously, they’d hijack it in the best way possible by making it seem like they also played a role in securing the prisoners’ release. Or maybe not, but they were definitely going to stage a huge celebration at the PA’s compound Al-Muqta’a to welcome back the prisoners.
A professor from Gaza passed on an official looking letter from Fatah to me. Reading through it, its contents did not surprise me at all. I wasn’t able to stifle a shriek of frustration and condescension though. It includes a plan complete with ten main points as to how to undermine the recent prisoner deal, and to cunningly brandish it as a failure. I have translated the letter below:
To the members of the Central Committee,
To the members of Media Committees,
To the spokesmen of the Fateh Movement,
Our National Greetings,
Subject: Confronting Hamas’ Media Campaign Regarding Shalit Deal
Since the first moment of Hamas announcing the prisoner swap deal, it has embarked on exaggerating its achievement of freeing the prisoners from Israeli jails. It is obvious that the purpose of this it to undermine President Abbas and Fatah’s achievements, to gain media popularity, and to exploit the political prime moment of the hunger striking prisoners.
Through its media campaign, Hamas was keen to gain more popularity on the Palestinian street and the around the Arab world, and to humiliate and expose the Palestinian Authority as working primarily for the interest of Israel. It also seeks to regain its popularity through the released prisoners and its presence in activities in support of the deal in the West Bank cities.
For this reason we at the Information Office of Fatah with the general intelligence department—the information segment— conducted an emergency meeting to plan a media strategy to preserve the accomplishments of the nation and of the Fatah movement, and to highlight the dirty goals of Hamas and to attack what Hamas views as its achievements. Also, this strategy will include many tasks that will make Hamas miss out on chances to do anything for the Palestinians.
Points of the Plan:
- Undoubtedly this swap deal is one of the strongest deals in Palestinian history which Hamas takes the credit for. This undermines previous deals carried out by the PLO especially Fateh. Therefore it is necessary to work on belittling the Shalit deal by stressing the previous achievements and deals on releasing prisoners accomplished by the PLO and Fateh.
- Focusing on the swap deal’s failure of freeing the key leaders and other prisoners will ultimately weaken Hamas’ position. This can be done by drawing attention to the families of the prisoners not released by getting them to express their lack of satisfaction on this deal, as well as using the PFLP and Islamic Jihad’s media sources and Ma’an News Agency in particular.
- Drawing a comparison to what the swap deal has achieved and the price the Palestinian people in Gaza paid as a result of the capture of Shalit, such as the 1400 martyrs, thousands of injured people, the demolition of hundreds of houses which left many families homeless, the bombing of the main electricity power plant in Gaza which plunges people in the dark to this day, the destroyed infrastructure, and the siege on Gaza that has been ongoing for five years.
- The focus on the four martyrs that fell during the capturing of Shalit, and for their families to express their dissatisfaction with the swap deal, pointing out that their sons did not sacrifice their lives for a failure of such a deal, indicating that the ones who captured Shalit were not from the [Hamas’ military wing] Qassam Brigades but from the Islamic Army and the An-Nasser Brigades.
- Emphasizing the frustration amongst the families of the remaining 5000 prisoners who are not included in the deal, and talking about how Hamas concentrated its efforts on getting only its affiliates released at the cost of prisoners who are affiliated with other factions.
- Not to show our opposition to the deal and to talk about it in the media as a positive addition to the Palestinian national accomplishments, while at the same time defaming it more than agreeing with it. We should also showcase the deal to be more advantageous to Israel than to the Palestinian people.
- The media attack on the swap deal should begin gradually, and the more the initial euphoria begins to wear off, the more we intensify our media attack and criticism.
- Organizing a central celebratory event by the government and the Fateh movement to welcome the released prisoners and for President Abbas’ speech to be broadcasted only on PalestineTV.
- Drawing attention to the faults and conflicting statements of Hamas and its spokesmen.
- Coordinating with the Israeli media to focus on the negative aspects of the deal.
Lastly, President Abbas has allocated 2 million and 250 thousand dollars as the cost to implement this plan into action.
I don’t think it’s necessary to dissect and analyze each point. I do have a couple of comments though.
Regarding the prisoner deal not releasing all of the prisoners, why don’t Fateh capture another Shalit and secure the freedom of the other prisoners? It sounds more productive than snarking.
I thought the PA is struggling to pay its own employees their salaries. Did the two million and 250 hundred thousand dollars magically drop from a tree?
The Palestine Media Center (Arabic) has confirmed that this letter came from the office of Fatah’s media department under supervision of Nabil Abu Rudeinah who is Abbas’ spokesman. Some of the plan’s points have already been implemented. Ma’an News Agency reported that Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi stated that the prisoners and himself were not consulted or had any prior knowledge as to the logistics of the prisoner deal. However, according to the Palestine Media Center, Barghouthi’s lawyer quickly issued out a statement which stated that his client was aware from the beginning of every aspect of this deal.
Ma’an also published on its front page an article about how the wife of the leader of the Qassam Brigades in the West Bank Ibrahim Hamed sent a letter to Hamas leader Khaled Meshal expressing her sorrow about how her husband was not included in the deal. Asma Hamed denied this and declared that the letter was a fabrication.
Another article (Arabic) published by Ma’an News Agency is titled “Why, Hamas!!!” which is a prime example of number 6 in the letter. The article’s author hails the prisoner deal as a national accomplishment while simultaneously highlighting its faults. Number two in the article refers to the deal being only the most significant deal since the Oslo Accords. Number five in the article points out to how Hamas has not included any leaders in the deal, despite them demanding their release for the past five years. Number six in the article says that Hamas representatives met directly with the Israeli negotiator as a result of changing its policies due to the on-going geo-political changes. Hamas has denied this repeatedly.
Even if this letter is not authentic and is the work of Hamas (or any other political group) it still aims to gain factional points as if it were real.
As Palestinians, we should be united in welcoming any deal that sees the release of any amount of prisoners, considering the amount of suffering, humilation, and anguish the prisoners undergo on a daily basis. This recent deal is not perfect as for one thing it conditions the exile of many prisoners, but the prisoners themselves especially the forty exiled to a different country favored this over their imprisonment. That Fateh should actually devote its money and energies in belitting the deal only serves to show the malevolence it is steeped in, as it ultimately favors power over any—however small— national achievement.