I’ve become more or less desensitized to absolutely horrible news coming out of Palestine, so I didn’t initially react too strongly to the latest bloodshed. But Garance is right – this seems like a turning point:
Hamas gunmen consolidated their hold over large swaths of the northern and central Gaza Strip Wednesday in coordinated attacks on security posts once controlled by the rival Fatah movement after days of fighting that shows no sign of abating.
At least 13 Palestinians died Wednesday across the strip, driving up the four-day death toll to nearly 60 people in factional violence that both Palestinian parties are now calling civil war.
Emphasis mine. Just as the civil war in Iraq is a close analogue to that in Lebanon, this seems to be developing in a similar fashion to the civil war in Algeria in the early ’90s. In both cases, an institutionalized Arabist party which came of its own in opposing a colonial power was challenged electorally by an Islamist group, the Islamist group won, and a civil war broke out as the Arabist group tried to stay in power. Of course, just as in the Iraq/Lebanon analogy, there are differences; specifically, the civil war in Algeria erupted directly after the vote (and the FLN’s disregard for the results), whereas the election went more-or-less smoothly in Palestine, with civil war breaking out a little more than a year later. But just as lessons about Iraq can be gleaned from Lebanon, the Algerian experience can prove useful here. In Algeria, the FLN won and remains in power, the Islamist groups having radicalized and alienated their supporters. What with the growth in al-Qaeda membership in Gaza, this may well happen to the anti-Fatah forces. However, it’s also worth noting that the FLN had a relatively stable and powerful army at its disposal, whereas the Palestinian security forces are embryonic to nonexistent, meaning that the institutionalization of Fatah gives it less of an upper hand. Fatah does, of course, have the US, Israel, and most of the rest of the West backing it up militarily and financially, but that (particularly Israel’s support) could severely damage it on a hearts-and-minds level. The two sides are pretty evenly matched at this point, which is really too bad; I think we can all agree that a quick and easy victory by one side would be far better for humanitarian reasons than a prolonged struggle.