Saturday, April 01, 2006

Civil war in Palestine?

A Hamas militant died in a car bombing on Friday, and Hamas blamed forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Four people died in the ensuing unrest.

The setup is almost novelistic:

About half the gunmen are allied with Hamas, including Abu Quka, and the other half with Fatah. Abu Quka's supporters blamed the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security Services for his assassination; a shootout at the militant's funeral killed the three others and wounded more than 20.

Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday after trouncing Fatah in legislative elections in January. It has pledged to restore order in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but Palestinian security forces, most of them affiliated with Fatah, are involved in the violence, and Hamas has little control over them.

Abbas, a moderate who favors peace talks with Israel, is a vocal critic of violence but has struggled to gain control over the security forces since his election last year.

The forces are evenly matched. One is highly militant, the other is only loosely controlled by its nominal boss.

That's a perfect recipe for a long, intractable civil war that neither side can win. Perhaps such a step is necessary to settle the internal contradictions among the Palestinians and produce a leadership that can finally reach a lasting settlement with Israel. But it could just as easily lead to a Lebanon-style conflict that benefits no one.

Let's hope cooler heads prevail -- and that Hamas gets around to recognizing Israel.

UPDATES
Fatah gunman defy Hamas, take to streets
Gaza strongman nixes gun control


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