Palestinian Groups Escalate Fighting

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Michele Norris talks with Daoud Kuttab, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University, and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, Jordan Times, and other papers, about the Palestinian infighting.


For a perspective on what the fighting means for the fragile power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah, we turn to Daoud Kuttab. He's the director of the Institute for Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. He's also a columnist for several papers including The Jerusalem Post and the Jordan Times.

Mr. DAOUD KUTTAB (Director, Institute of Modern Media, Al Quds University; Columnist, The Jerusalem Post, Jordan Times): Hamas is in an interesting position. They have a majority of the seats in the parliament. They can get any government they want but they gave up the position of minister of interior, they gave up the position of minister of finance. And they're hoping that this would show to the world that they are serious about power sharing and that hoping that the economic siege would be lifted. Until now, it hasn't been lifted.

And some of the militants in Hamas, I think, some of the ones that who were etched out to make room for a national unity government are saying, why do we do this, what do we get out of it.

NORRIS: If we look ahead and if it's possible that the unity government won't survive, if it does fall apart, what happens then?

Mr. KUTTAB: I don't think it will fall apart that easily. I think there are many reasons and many countries and many powers that want it to be. But if it does fail, we will have what we had for the last 13 or 14 months. And what we're still having which is a government that has not been able to break the international boycott. So it doesn't really matter now because the international community still has not understood that they need to, kind of, cooperate or, at least, allow Palestinians and Arabs and other countries to support the Palestinian economy or to force Israel to give up the hundreds of millions of dollars they've collected on our behalf for taxes.

NORRIS: If these clashes continue, what might it mean for the Palestinian authority?

Mr. KUTTAB: Well, these clashes represent a lack of rule of law. This is the biggest problem we have. And at the end of the day, it is a Palestinian problem. We Palestinians are responsible for the fighting. We are shooting at each other and this is terrible. This is the worst thing that could ever happened. The national fiber, the unity of the people is the most important strength that it has. And if we give up on that, it's a really big problem.

So, it's not just the authority that will be hurt, but the whole Palestinian cause. Why would people want to support an end to the occupation when Palestinians in the tiny part of Gaza have not been able to rule themselves. And both Fatah and Hamas and the other groups who are armed now and who are unable to control and rule on Gaza, they have to really answer to the Palestinian public and to the world - why can't they find other ways to share power and to rule.

NORRIS: One thing that's curious is that Gaza slurred up when the West Bank, at least for now, appears to be quiet. How do you see that?

Mr. KUTTAB: Well, you know, the fact that the Gaza is a very small area economically, it's much worse off than the West Bank. If people in Gaza used to work in Israel, now they cannot work in Israel. People in Gaza used to travel across the borders to Egypt. Now, that border is closed and the Israeli border is closed. So they really cooped up, you know, a pressure cooker - the environment is ripe for tribal fights, personal fights, personal vendettas. And with people not having enough money but having lots of weapons, that's basically a formula for disaster for all kinds of internal problems.

NORRIS: As we just heard in Linda Gradstein's piece, many residents, at least from one area, are calling for a harsh Israeli military response. What does this mean for the region and also how might this affect the overall peace talks?

Mr. KUTTAB: Well, first you have to understand that yesterday was our 59th anniversary of the Nakba - the day that Israel was founded on Palestinian lands and the beginning of the Palestinian refugee problem. Gaza is made of 60 percent refugee so this is an important day. Hamas is being under a lot of public pressure from civil society in Palestine for blaming them for starting the latest fighting. And the latest barrage of Kasam rockets, I think, was done more to improve their political position than, kind of, a political statement.

Nevertheless, the Israelis have often united Palestinians and if they make a major attack on Gaza, it would be further disaster to an already a very tense situation.

NORRIS: Daoud, thanks again for talking with us.

Mr. KUTTAB: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That was Daoud Kuttab. He's the director of the Institute for Modern Media at Al Quds University.

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