THE BLOG

Why Hamas Rockets May Signal Breakdown of Palestinian Unity

Virtually ignored by the international media, Gaza-based terrorists have resumed rocket attacks on Israeli towns and villages after a two-month pause. Three rockets and at least one mortar shells hit southern Israel Tueday night and early Wednesday morning, bringing the total for the year to 341. One damaged a house in a kibbutz. This followed two rockets fired last weekend.

Israeli warplanes responded by bombing a tunnel in northern Gaza used to conceal and transport terrorist arms.

What is going on here?

By way of background, the Hamas terrorist group, which runs Gaza, signed an agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in early May. The parties agreed to establish a unity government and to hold elections next year. But no government has yet been established.

After the deal was signed, the rockets stopped falling -- at least for a few weeks. But relations between the two Palestinian factions have grown tense. The main sticking point is Hamas' insistence that the current Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad should play no role in the new government.

Fayyad, a U.S. trained economist who has worked on the staff of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis as well as the International Monetary Fund, is well-respected in the West and his continuation in office is seen as key in maintaining the economic revival currently underway in the West Bank -- as well as maintaining the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in western aid.

Hamas, which is armed and financed by Iran and rejects the existence of Israel, see him as too close to the West. Senior Hamas Official Moussa Abu Marzouk was quoted today as stating that Abba's position of insisting Fayyad as Prime Minister is 'unacceptable and unreasonable.'

By resuming rocket attacks on Israel, Hamas may be signaling that it is close to giving up on reconciliation with Abbas and is returning to its policy of low-level confrontation with the Jewish state.

Underlying all of this is the Palestinian push to win United Nations approval of its unilateral push for statehood in September -- which is itself running into more resistance than was anticipated.

The Palestinians still believe they can mobilize 150 votes in the U.N. General Assembly for a symbolic resolution -- but others feel this number may be inflated. In any case, with important nations like the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and Italy already on the record in opposition, the Palestinians face the prospect of recording a Pyrrhic victory.

Fayyad is known to be unenthusiastic about the unilateral statehood idea which he says will make no real difference to the daily lives of Palestinians -- but Abbas apparently feels he has invested too much of his personal prestige in the tactic to back down. Abbas has said he wants to retire from politics next year and sees this as part of his political legacy to the Palestinians.

Back in May when Abbas committed himself to the agreement with Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the Palestinian leader faced a choice. He could have either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel but not both.

The way things are going, he may end up with neither.