Leading article: A storm of violence that we have done little to quell


The Palestinian territories could be heading for disaster. Eight people were killed and 60 wounded in the Gaza Strip over the weekend during gun battles between Palestinian factions. Government offices were trashed in the West Bank. Fighting continued yesterday, with a firefight at a hospital in Gaza City. There are fears this unrest could lead to a total breakdown of law and order, perhaps even civil war.

On the surface, this is a power struggle between Fatah and Hamas, the two most powerful political bodies in the Palestinian territories. But the situation is actually more complicated - and the outside world must accept its share of responsibility for the fires that are now raging across the West Bank and Gaza.

For most of this year, the international community and Israel have been exerting a financial squeeze on the Palestinian Authority, holding back the aid that it requires to function until Hamas, which has control of the Palestinian government, recognises the state of Israel and renounces violence. Fatah, which was thrown into a state of turmoil itself when Hamas unexpectedly won the Palestinian elections in January, has sought to exploit its opponents' weakness. On Sunday a Hamas militia put down a protest, supposedly over unpaid wages, by Fatah-supporting security officers. This was the flash point for the battle - and many more are expected in the weeks to come.

It is true that there would be a rivalry between Hamas and Fatah under any circumstances. But the strangulation of Palestinian political and economic life has made the situation much more volatile. Israel and the West have embarked on a most unfortunate road. The unstated objective of their present tactics is to precipitate the fall of Hamas. Yet not only is this likely to prove ineffective (a poll of Palestinians last month showed that Hamas' popularity is holding up well), it is highly dangerous. The sanctions are merely re-enforcing the impression among many Palestinians that Israel and the outside world are intent on keeping them in misery.

Whether the international community likes it or not, Hamas has democratic legitimacy among Palestinians. The outside world's decision to cut off aid has been a mistake. The West cannot demand democracy in the Middle East and then reject what it throws up. The international community must engage with Hamas. This need not mean a complete normalisation of relations. But a good first step would be to bring back the funding of the PA under certain conditions, short of demanding an unambiguous recognition of Israel by Hamas. Israel should also be forced to end its brutal blockade of Gaza. If the US refuses to make such demands, the UN and the EU have a responsibility to take the lead. If all this boosts Hamas' fortunes it is a price worth paying for the improvement in the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Hamas must make concessions too, of course. The group's leadership, hiding in Syria for fear of Israeli assassination, has been irresponsibly intransigent in refusing to form a unity government with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas - a "cohabitation" that has the backing of most Palestinian people.

There are some inescapable realities here. Israel and the rest of the world will, in the end, have to deal with Hamas if there is to be progress in the search for a lasting peace settlement. There will also need to be some form of political agreement between Hamas and Fatah if the Palestinian territories are to achieve the goal of statehood. The tragedy is that, at present, both sides seem more keen on fighting each other than advancing the interests of the long-suffering Palestinian people. Not for the first time, violence seems to be triumphing over reason in the Middle East.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy