Since the start of April 1995 a bitter power struggle has been waged in the troubled Gaza Strip between Yasser Arafat and his Islamist opponents. The crisis, which erupted with the death of a wanted Hamas militant in an unexplained bomb explosion, has rumbled on despite concerted attempts to reach agreement through a dialogue between the Palestinian factions.
The arrival of the Palestinian National Authority in Gaza in May 1994 saw a serious attempt to avoid intra-Palestinian disputes: collaborator killings were stopped and the role of the various branches of the Palestinian police - one for every 50 Gaza citizens - was respected. But a tacit accord between the PNA and the Islamists to cease armed attacks in and from the areas of Palestinian self-rule did not hold.
The issue is critical. It comes in the context of a deadly campaign of armed attacks and suicide bombings by both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, mainly but not exclusively within the Green Line which separates Israel from the West Bank and Gaza, as reprisal for Israeli violence against Palestinians. The trigger for this onslaught was the Hebron massacre by Baruch Goldstein on 25 February 1994 which killed at least 35 Palestinians. Since then Israeli wrath has borne down on Yasser Arafat to bring the Islamists to heel in the areas under PNA control. The issue reached boiling point on 9 April 1995 when both Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched suicide bombs near Israeli settlements in Gaza, in defiance not only of Israel but also the PNA.
In the eyes of the Islamists (and the rest of the Gazan population), Gaza remains under occupation with 40% of the Strip still in Israeli hands and a continued military presence in many parts of Gaza policed by the Palestinians. The Islamists demand that the settlements be dismantled before they call a halt to jihad inside the Strip. Arafat, however, is demanding an immediate cessation of armed activity in and from the areas of self-rule and, as part of this, ordered a general handing in of all firearms unless officially licensed by the PNA for personal use.
At issue for the Islamists is the PNA's recognition of their legitimate role in the new Palestinian order. As far as the Islamic Jihad was concerned, agreement had seemed near by the middle of May. But Hamas and the PNA remained embattled over their respective political turf.
This may seem surprising in view of the Jihad's more militant stand and its refusal to associate itself with any form of...