Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has denied requests from representatives of the Palestinian faction Hamas to visit “political” detainees held in West Bank prisons. The West Bank is controlled by Abbas’s own Fatah faction.
The move was denounced by senior Hamas representative Aziz Dweik, who is viewed by Hamas as the speaker of the Palestinian parliament but who is rejected by Fatah. Dweik demanded the right to “check human rights violations in Palestinian prisons” in his capacity as a Palestinian legislator, and was declined. Fatah has been criticized by Western human rights groups — to say nothing of its Palestinian rivals — for consistently and increasingly suppressing civil liberties.
The incident also underscores divisions between the two factions, which have been at odds for years and which fought a bloody conflict in 2007 that saw Fatah forces ejected from the Gaza Strip by Hamas. Hamas subsequently began to govern the territory and implement hard line Islamic law, up to and including moves this week to enforce gender segregation on girls as young as 9 years old.
Efforts at reconciliation have by and large failed despite efforts by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, and others. Early last month Fatah and Hamas traded tit-for-tat blows, with Fatah arresting Hamas officials in the West Bank and Hamas demolishing the homes of Fatah-linked Gaza residents. Fatah’s roundups came in the aftermath of Hamas doing the in same to Fatah figures in Gaza.
The ongoing political division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has deeply complicated Palestinian pretensions toward statehood. Last fall the Palestinians sought and secured a declaration of non-member statehood at the United Nations, a move that was both largely symbolic and diplomatically costly. The Palestinian Authority subsequently used the declaration as a pretext for rebranding territories under Palestinian control as the “State of Palestine.” The pretense, if taken seriously, would render that Palestinian state almost by definition a failed state.
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