Abdulfattah al-Sisi, the general who led the military coup against Egypt’s elected president in 2013, welcomes the Palestinian Authority’s de facto leader Mahmoud Abbas to Sharm al-Sheikh, 27 March. (Thaer Ganaim / Maan Images)
Mahmoud Abbas calls for Arab military intervention against Hamas in Gaza
By Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 30 March 2015.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas issued a thinly veiled call for an Arab military intervention to overthrow Hamas in Gaza, along the lines of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.
But the kind of intervention Abbas may be setting the stage for would likely consist of ground troops rather than airstrikes.
Abbas made the suggestion at the Arab League summit hosted by the Egyptian military regime in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh on Saturday.
Abbas’ speech indicates that a similar call by his religious affairs advisor in a Friday sermon in Ramallah represented official PA policy, and not the views of a maverick. Hamas has condemned the PA leader’s statements.
Toward the middle of his hour-long address, Abbas warned of the “dangers of division which we must confront culturally, religiously and in addition to treating it through security means.”
He welcomed a suggestion by Abdulfattah al-Sisi, the head of the military junta that overthrew Egypt’s elected president in 2013, that Arab states form a “joint Arab force to protect Arab national security.”
Abbas suggested that the Arab League “troika” – its current, past and next chairs – put forward “an Arab vision to solve the wars, crises, discords and divisions” in several Arab states.
“The need is urgent to find practical and constructive solutions built on an Arab vision and based on legitimacy, that guarantee the territorial unity of every Arab country without any foreign intervention, and whose decisions are binding on all,” Abbas said.
In this context, Abbas’ use of “foreign” means “non-Arab.”
“In Yemen right now, there is an Arab intervention that is acceptable and advisable,” Abbas said.
“There are other cases, there are other countries suffering from division and discord. We suffer from division. We were the first to suffer from division,” Abbas said in reference to the split between his Fatah movement, which rules with Israeli support in the occupied West Bank, and Hamas which has governed the interior of the besieged Gaza Strip since 2007.
“We hope that there will be united Arab positions and an Arab vision and we are bound by anything that is decided by this summit,” Abbas said.
The kind of scenario Abbas may have in mind would not likely include airstrikes. Israel would not permit foreign aircraft to operate over Gaza and as Israel’s experience shows, airstrikes cannot dislodge Hamas.
Arab states would also not want to be seen repeating the kinds of massacres Israel carries out in Gaza.
However, Egypt and Gaza share a border, which the Egyptian regime has kept tightly closed to Palestinian travellers. The Egyptian army has demolished the homes of thousands of Egyptian families along the border to further isolate Gaza.
This border could provide an entry point for the joint Arab military force agreed in principle by the summit to invade Gaza.
This would be done under the cover of the Arab League and with the pretext of helping Palestinians and restoring “legitimacy.”
But its effect would be to restore Abbas’ Israeli-backed rule to Gaza so that he could crack down on Palestinian resistance as he has done in the occupied West Bank.
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri called Abbas’ comments “dangerous and unpatriotic” and urged Arab states to rebuke him for “attitudes that are consistent with the [Israeli] occupation’s desire to strike the Palestinian people.”
More than 100,000 people are still living without permanent shelter in Gaza after Israel’s devastating summer assault that left more than 2,200 people dead and thousands more injured.
Hamas recently released recordings which it claims prove Abbas’ intelligence apparatus was helping Israel to gather information it used to plan the attack.
But in line with Hamas’ policy of working with Abbas despite his constant incitement against the movement, Abu Zuhri stopped short of calling for the removal of the PA leader whose legal term of office expired five years ago.
Hamas “confirms that Mahmoud Abbas lost his legal legitimacy and that his presence in the presidency is linked to the extent of his commitment to the Palestinian national consensus,” Abu Zuhri said. “He has no mandate to take any decisions or make any declarations that depart from the national consensus or national constants.”
In a twist of irony, Hamas has itself given its blessing to the Saudi-led air raids on Yemen which, according to Amnesty International have killed dozens of civilians, among them a number of children.
Saudi Arabia says the attacks are intended to drive back the Houthis, predominantly Shia rebels who advanced on Sanaa in recent weeks effectively deposing Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the US- and Saudi-backed president.
On Friday, Mahmoud al-Habbash the PA’s chief Islamic judge and an advisor to Abbas, called on Arab states to “strike” Gaza, following the example of the Saudi-led bombing raids on Yemen.
“What happened in Gaza was a coup, not a division, and it must be addressed with firmness,” added al-Habbash. “There can be no dialogue with coup-makers; they must be hit with an iron fist.”
Abbas and other officials of his Ramallah-based, Western-supported PA regularly accuse Hamas of carrying out a “coup” when it took over the interior of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
This is a reversal of the well-documented reality that Hamas was acting against a coup attempt by forces loyal to Abbas, after Hamas won legislative elections the previous year.
The coup, which was supported at the highest levels of the US government, succeeded in the West Bank, where Abbas consolidated his Israeli-backed regime.
Meanwhile, the democratically elected Hamas-led government was isolated and besieged in Gaza.