Special Report: Palestinian Civil War

• Hamas   • Fatah   • Lebanon   • Israel
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By Andrew L. Jaffee

Hamas and Fatah are both are factions of the Palestinian family, and are currently fighting a civil war, vying for power. Hamas has taken control of Gaza; Fatah dominates the West Bank. Violence had been concentrated in Gaza, but is now spreading to the West Bank. A coalition government comprised of these two groups has collapsed. Why are Hamas and Fatah fighting?

They have differing ideological origins, i.e. Hamas in Islamism, and Fatah in secular/socialist, pan-Arabism. The West and Israel seem to favor Fatah in the conflict precisely because of its secular roots, and this probably irks Hamas. Some of the fighting between Fatah and Hamas has had a tribal aspect, also. According to the BBC, “Hamas considers Fatah to be corrupt, Fatah regards Hamas as militants still learning the ropes as politicians,” but does this justify a civil war? I have been trying to find a simple explanation for the rift between the two sides but, after studying myriad sources, can only conclude that their conflict is mostly a play for total control of the Palestinian territories — an internecine mob/turf battle.

Led by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin during the late 1960s, Hamas evolved from the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas wrested control of the Palestinian parliament from Fatah in elections held on January 25, 2006. Current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was one of the founding members of Fatah. Fatah had more secular beginnings during the heyday of pan-Arab nationalism, and dominated Palestinian politics from 1967 until 2006. Fatah is not used to being out of the driver’s seat, and this has been driving resentment amongst its members towards Hamas. Hamas is now seeking revenge for “Fatah’s violent offensives against the Islamic group during the 1990s.”

Things have gotten so bad in Gaza that “residents [are] huddled in fear in their homes.” With Gaza now controlled by Hamas, and Fatah dominating the West Bank, the likelihood exists that these territories will become two separate de facto states.

Stock Photos from 123RF


The best summary of Hamas comes from the Council on Foreign Relations:

What does Hamas believe and what are its goals?
…Hamas combines Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism. Its founding charter commits the group to the destruction of Israel, the replacement of the PA [Palestinian Authority] with an Islamist state on the West Bank and Gaza, and to raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Its leaders have called suicide attacks the “F-16″ of the Palestinian people. Hamas believes “peace talks will do no good,” Rantisi said in April 2004. “We do not believe we can live with the enemy.” …

What attacks is Hamas responsible for?
Hamas is believed to have killed more than 500 people in more than 350 separate terrorist attacks since 1993. Not all Hamas’ attacks have been carried out by suicide bombers. The group has also accepted responsibility for assaults using mortars, short-range rockets, and small arms fire. …

Hamas openly admits its commitment to the genocide of all Israelis. It does operate a social infrastructure, but one where babies are dressed up like suicide bombers, and kindergartens are run to train children to become homicide bombers. Ironically, some believe that “Israel helped to create Hamas.”


Fatah was founded by Yasser Arafat, and dominated by him until his death. From the Jewish Virtual Library:

The Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine (Fatah) was founded in the early 1960s by Yasser Arafat and friends of his in Algeria, Fatah was originally opposed to the founding of the PLO, which it viewed as a political opponent. Backed by Syria, Fatah began carrying out terrorist raids against Israeli targets in 1965, launched from Jordan, Lebanon and Egyptian-occupied Gaza (so as not to draw reprisals against Syria). Dozens of raids were carried out each year, exclusively against civilian targets.

Fatah’s popularity among Palestinians grew until it took over control of the PLO in 1968. Since then it has been the PLO’s most prominent faction, under the direct control of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"Fatah" is a reverse acronym of the Arabic, Harekat at-Tahrir al-Wataniyyeh al-Falastiniyyeh. The word "Fatah" means "conquest by means of jihad [Islamic holy war]".

Note the grenade and crossed rifles, superimposed on the map of Israel in the emblem. This emphasizes the dedication of Fatah, along with the other "liberation" groups, to the "armed struggle" against Israel, a euphemism for terrorism against civilians.

Paradysz Matera

Arafat chose the path of violence from day one, ca. 1965, e.g., Black September, the “second Intifada,” and the Oslo Accords. He stole foreign aid meant to help his own people build a viable economy. Arafat remained steady in his funding of terrorism. He tried to smuggle a boatload of plastic explosives into Palestine and opposed democratic reforms which would’ve loosened his grip on power. Arafat ruled by decree and ordered summary executions of his own people. Arafat’s own al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade keeps killing innocent Israeli civilians with firebombs packed with nuts, bolts, nails, and screws. He spoke of peace in English, while in Arabic he and his cronies advocated Israel’s destruction.[1]

Fatah is more politically-correct in its public acrimony towards the Jewish state: “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ stated recognition of Israel’s right to exist is part of a ‘political calculation’ aimed at ultimately destroying the Jewish state.” Israel’s relationship with Fatah is also ironic.

Arafat “recognized” Israel during the Oslo debacle, but in July 2000 rejected Israel’s generous offer to end the conflict. Palestinian terrorists then responded to Israel’s offer with the “most sustained wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli history.” The Palestinian Authority never lived up to its Oslo commitments.

Lebanon and Fatah

A historical fact that is often omitted is Fatah’s responsibility in destroying Lebanon. The history of Lebanon is a long and painful one. The country achieved full independence in 1944. According to nationbynation.com,

Between 1944 and the early 1970s, Lebanon enjoyed a comfortable prosperity based on international banking and trade. This period came to a close as the Palestinians began to use Lebanese territory from which to stage attacks on Israel.

During this period of prosperity, built mainly by Lebanon’s Maronite Christians, Beirut was fondly known as the “Paris of the Middle East.” But Yasser Arafat made sure Lebanon’s peace would come to an end. Starting in 1968, he and his fellow Fatah/PLO members tried to take over Jordan. They failed and by 1971, moved into Lebanon. According to cedarland.org,

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…Lebanon was to suffer more than any other country at the hands of the Palestinians whose actions and those of their allies resulted in [a] fifteen year war and the destruction of the Lebanese state.

Again, nationbynation.com,

In 1975, civil war broke out between Christians against Moslems and the Palestinians joining in against the Maronite Christians. Thousands died and much of the formerly cosmopolitan Beirut was left in ruins. In 1981, Christian militiamen fought Syrian troops and all the others combatants joined in. Israel placed itself in the position of supporting the Christian militiamen and in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to force the PLO out.


It is difficult to understand how Israel is expected to negotiate with groups sworn to its destruction — this is a contradiction in terms. “Negotiation” implies implicit recognition that the other side exists. What of Hamas and Fatah’s claims to advocating for the liberation of the Palestinian people? Their actions: decades of killing innocent civilians (often their own); indoctrination of children with hatred; denial of history; obsession with totalitarian control, etc.; disqualify these groups from any association with the terms “liberation” or “freedom.” Israel has built a true democracy and vibrant economy ($120.9 billion GDP), all while defending itself from ceaseless attacks by these two groups.


If Palestinians can’t even live with each other, and are bent on Israel’s destruction, how are Israelis supposed to make peace with them?

Related: All articles on Palestinian civil war

[1] Benjamin Netanyahu, “A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations,” Warner Books, Inc., New York, N.Y., 2000.