WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- The violent confrontation between warring Palestinian factions unfolding in Gaza is far more than a civil war. It's a coup d'etat accompanied by a civil war. And it's also the most serious, most nefarious chapter in the short history of the Palestinian Authority.
The heavy fighting pitting forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, against members of the Islamist Hamas movement, have not only revived fears of an intra-Palestinian civil war, but they have shattered the dream of the Palestinians gaining independence and ruling themselves as a sovereign nation at any time in the foreseeable future.
The defeat of Abu Mazen's Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip represents much more than a defeat for the mainstream Palestinian political/military movement. The mega-fiasco in Gaza is also a defeat of U.S. foreign policy in the region; it is the culmination of a policy of inaction on the part of the Bush administration. It represents a failure of Israel's policy vis-a-vis the Palestinian territories. After nearly 40 years of occupation Israel finds itself facing a far more hostile environment in Gaza than when they entered the territory in 1967. And possibly far more consequential in the Arab world, the resumption of fighting amongst Palestinians represents a defeat -- and loss of prestige -- for Saudi Arabia's King Abdallah who tried to broker a cease-fire among the warring factions.
"In light of the dramatic escalation of violence in Gaza and President Abbas' move to disband the Palestinian government, the U.S. needs to urgently rethink its failed policy in the Middle East," said Daniel Levy, a senior fellow and director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation and a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation.
"Palestinians, and Israelis too, have much blame to shoulder, but American disengagement from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for six and half years and its pursuit of regime change in Palestine have contributed significantly to the new developments," said Levy.
The onetime adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that "in its failed effort to prevent Palestinians from embracing Hamas, they are driving them instead into the arms of al-Qaida."
Levy cautioned that the United States should not be playing off the West Bank against Gaza and Fatah against Hamas. The United States should "allow instead Palestinian politics to take its course."
But the only course Palestinian politics seem to be following these days is one bent on violence and bloodshed and to all-out civil war.
"In the last couple of days they (the Palestinians) seem to have crossed that Rubicon," Levy told United Press International.
There exists now a de facto schism among the Palestinian society with on one side the secularists led by Fatah and on the other the Islamists of Hamas. And by all indications the intra-Palestinian conflict does not seem as though it will abate any time soon.
While Hamas stands little chance to succeed in defeating Fatah in the West Bank, which is heavily dominated by Fatah sympathizers, the Islamists on the other hand have gained the upper hand in Gaza. President Abbas is now asking for a U.N. military force to be sent to restore order there. That, however, is highly unlikely to happen as no nation would be willing to commit troops under such precarious and volatile conditions as prevails in Gaza.
Israel, which is watching the situation very attentively, is caught in a dilemma. Israel finds itself in a damned if you do, damned if you don't type situation. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can hardly stand by with his arms crossed and allow an Islamist entity to establish itself on Israel's border. But on the other hand, should Israel intervene in the fighting on behalf of Fatah it would be equally disastrous.
"If in the context of a Palestinian civil war Israel decapitates the Hamas leadership then you might as well hand Fatah IDF uniforms and get them to wear Israeli flags on their lapels," said Levy.
Olmert has already warned of "regional consequences" in the event of a Hamas victory. When you think of regional consequences, "one's mind immediately goes to the Iranians or the Syrians," says Levy.
In the interim, despite the fact that all parties emerge as losers in this latest Palestinian debacle, the gravest consequence is that those who stand to lose the most are the Palestinians, regardless of which side their sympathies rest.