Gaza spirals into lawlessness
Analysis: History leaves Palestinian territory with seeds of anarchy
By Guy Raz, CNN Jerusalem Correspondent
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CNN Jerusalem correspondent Guy Raz.
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Random kidnappings. Daily exchanges of gunfire between police and armed militants. Different neighborhoods patrolled and controlled by competing militias.
It appears as if Gaza has degenerated into anarchy.
In just the past 10 days in the 146-square-mile territory (about twice the size of Washington, D.C.):
Gaza was not supposed to turn out this way.
Last summer, Israel ended its 38-year military occupation of the area. For the first time in history, Gaza came under Palestinian rule.
No Ottoman Turks, no British mandate, no Egyptian control, no Israeli occupation. And in November, the Palestinian Authority took control over an international border crossing for the first time in history.
But since then, it's the absence of law and order in the territory that's been its most notable feature.
Some Palestinian politicians say the trouble is a result of "labor pains." Palestinians are just beginning to taste political freedom, and freedom can sometimes be messy, they say.
Others point to the Israeli occupation of 38 years, arguing it engendered a culture of violence in Gaza.
There is also the claim from some Palestinian officials that Israel decimated the Palestinian security forces during the past few years of fighting, rendering Gaza's police impotent.
Finally, many ordinary Palestinians point to the weakness of Fatah, the main Palestinian political movement which controls the Palestinian government. Fatah's leadership is widely seen as ineffective and, in some cases, corrupt.
Let's deconstruct those theories.
There is no doubt that the turmoil in Gaza is directly related to the fact that Israel's occupation has ended. Palestinians are now in control of their destiny in Gaza, and it's a new experience for a people who have lived most of their lives under some type of foreign control.
Today, there are tens of thousands of Palestinian men who are, formally, members of the security forces. Some have doubled as militants. Others have refused to carry out orders.
The Israeli military occupation and the Jewish settlements certainly didn't help make Gaza a "peaceful" place -- especially in the last five years of the occupation. But my experience, reporting from both inside Gaza and in the former settlements, showed the violence was not a one-sided affair.
The argument that Israel decimated the Palestinian security forces and helped render them impotent is an increasingly thin one. More than a quarter of the Palestinian budget is allocated towards the security services. Compare that to less than 10 percent for both health care and education.
Under the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the security services were divided up into more than a dozen different command structures. Arafat liked it that way. He preferred to "divide and rule," leaving a legacy of chaos and disloyalty to his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.
Today, there are tens of thousands of Palestinian men who are, formally, members of the security forces. Some have doubled as militants. Others have refused to carry out the orders of Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
In terms of Fatah's imminent implosion, that has a lot to do with the disarray. The movement founded by Arafat in 1959 has dominated Palestinian political life since then. But between 1982 and 1994, most of Fatah's top leadership was based abroad, in Tunis, Tunisia.
When they returned to the West Bank and Gaza in 1994 after the Oslo Accords, many younger members of Fatah who never left the Palestinian territories resented these old men who rapidly assumed control.
Some of these older leaders were accused of skimming money from the Palestinian budget and favoring their political allies over the interests of the general Palestinian population.
It's now coming to a climax, and its causing a major headache for Abbas. He heads Fatah and later this month, he's hoping his movement will win the majority of seats in elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) or parliament.
Most political observers believe Fatah will win, but emerge badly bruised. Many ordinary Palestinian voters are tired of Fatah and tired of the movement's poor performance in government.
The unsung beneficiary in all this is Hamas. The militant Islamist organization is also fielding candidates in the upcoming elections and has vowed to clean house. That is, to restore law and order to the streets of the Palestinian territories and to run an efficient, transparent, and open government.
All public opinion polls show most Palestinians want an end to internal chaos, a solution to the conflict with Israel, and self-determination.
The problem, though, is that both the United States and the European Union are threatening to cut off vital foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas takes power.
Why? Because Hamas formally refuses to accept the existence of Israel and still, again formally, is committed to Israel's destruction. Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, political movements who take part in Palestinian government must accept Israel's right to exist.
Now it should be noted that many Palestinians who will choose Hamas or another political party over Fatah aren't necessarily in favor of Hamas' political stance towards Israel.
But many voters are coming to the view that Hamas will bring stability and restore order. There is already evidence of this in certain Palestinian towns and cities now governed by Hamas officials.
Ultimately, all public opinion polls show most Palestinians want an end to internal chaos, a solution to the conflict with Israel, and self-determination.
Now we have to wait and see the outcome of the January 25 parliamentary elections to find out what happens next.
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