02/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fatah Supporters Unite With Hamas Against Israel

Even if Israel wins on the battlefield or in the diplomatic corridors it is already paying the price of its Gaza onslaught in intensified hatred in the hearts of its Palestinian neighbours in the West Bank. The campaign also appears to be increasing public scepticism about the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's chosen path of negotiations as the way to establish an independent state alongside Israel.

The diplomacy championed by Mr Abbas has for years been difficult to sell to Palestinians because it has brought little or no relief from occupation or improvement in their daily lives, only the expansion of Israeli settlements. This existing frustration -which helped Hamas defeat Mr Abbas's Fatah movement in the 2006 elections - is now combined with popular anger and dismay at the carnage among fellow Palestinians in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority security forces are keeping a tight lid on protests, preventing confrontations with Israeli troops and arresting anyone raising Hamas banners at rallies. But displays of identification with the beleaguered Gazans are everywhere. Nine-year-old green-kerchiefed girl Scouts, their foreheads marked with the word Gaza in red ink, were among those who marched through the main al-Manara square in a protest. They held up pictures of bandaged toddlers, and dozens of demonstrators chanted, "With blood and spirit, we will redeem you, O Gaza".

Leaders of Fatah, which lost control of Gaza to Hamas fighters in June 2007, are torn between their own hopes that Hamas, which they view as a usurper and agent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, is defeated, and the people's anger over the Israeli campaign. There is a great deal at stake for them. "If Hamas is victorious and the Israelis raise the white flag there will be a problem in the West Bank, more people will support Hamas, and the Arab regimes will have problems too," said Ziad Abu Ein, the deputy minister of prisoner affairs and a veteran of 13 years in Israeli prisons.

Bassem Khoury, the president of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, launched the PA-supported National Palestinian Campaign to Relieve Gaza by holding up a picture from the al-Ayyam daily newspaper showing the head of a Palestinian girl buried in the rubble of an Israeli attack. "This is unbelievable," he said. "How will this help the Israelis? It only generates more recruits for Hamas."

Unlike the people, who seem less concerned as yet with apportioning Palestinian blame, some Fatah leaders couple calls for national unity with accusing Hamas of causing the suffering in Gaza. Tawfik al-Tirawi, an adviser to Mr Abbas and a former security chief, said: "The political leadership that miscalculated has brought catastrophe on itself and its people."

Palestinians in the West Bank have their own long-standing grievances against Israel: the ongoing occupation, checkpoints Israel says are needed for security but that hamper their movement, often humiliate them and paralyse economic life, the expropriation of Palestinian land, and the threat of Israeli army incursion or arrest. The images from Gaza are being layered onto a collective memory of being expelled at Israel's creation in 1948.

A teacher in a PA school talked of the Israeli attack on a UN school in Gaza that killed at least 40 people and other killings of civilians. "The feeling is of severe anger," he said. "We are angry at the Jews and the hatred of them inside of us has increased. This is more than people can bear. We are mad at the Palestinian Authority and we are mad at the Arab regimes. When there is a call to convene an Arab meeting it looks like they are giving Israel a free hand to do whatever it wants"

Another PA employee, from the northern West Bank city of Nablus, said: "I want to educate my kids to hate Israel. If I can't do something maybe my kids can. I will educate them to fight the Israelis."

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