Hamas Consolidates Gaza Power/ The Kadima Primary

Update from AIJAC

August 5, 2008
Number 08/08 #02

Readers will likely be aware of the drama of the past few days, where Hamas in Gaza used the pretext of a bombing to attack a Fatah-linked clan in Gaza, killing many, and sending more than 180 members of the clan fleeing to Israel. Israel first proposed sending them to Ramallah but was then convinced by PA President Abbas to start sending some of them back to Gaza. However, after some were arrested on their return to Gaza, Israel sent the remainder to the West Bank after all. (A report on the transfer of the refugees to the West Bank is here. ) This Update provides analysis of this latest round of Gaza fighting.

First up, Ali Waked, Arab affairs reporter for Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, explains that the significance of the latest fighting is that Hamas has essentially completed the takeover of Gaza it began in the coup last June. He says there are no longer any significant rivals or pockets of resistance to Hamas remaining there after the latest violence. He also says that it is now very hard to imagine any way in which Palestinian Authority forces can ever return to the Gaza Strip. For the full piece, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Khaled Abu Toameh of the Jerusalem Post reports on the reasons Abbas initially did not want the refugees to go to the West Bank.

Next up, the Jerusalem Post comments on the latest crisis and what it says more broadly about the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. The editorial looks at the evidence that Hamas, with its totalitarian bent, is using the ceasefire to destroy all rival sources of power in the Strip. It also points out that Hamas’ behaviour is a potential foretaste of a future Palestinian state, and that Abbas’ evident weakness in this crisis makes it clear that hopes that greater Israeli security concessions to him would have significantly strengthened his position seem unrealistic. For the paper’s full argument, CLICK HERE. Another editorial on the Gaza crisis comes from the London Times. Meanwhile, historian Anna Geifman sees parallels between current Fatah-Hamas violence and Bolshevik-Menshevik disputes in Russia before the revolution last century.

Finally, we include some good comprehensive analysis of the leadership contest in Israel’s ruling Kadima party, with a vote scheduled for Sept. 17, from the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). With Olmert now out of the race, the major candidates are Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz. This backgrounder looks at the stances, biographies and prospects of both. It also looks at various scenarios that could follow the poll. To understand this important contest, likely to have major effects on Israel’s future course, CLICK HERE. Some interesting Israeli comment on the Kadima leadership contest comes from Amir Oren, Calev Ben David, and Hillel Halkin.

Readers may also be interested in:

Gaza revolution complete

Hamas completes mission year after Gaza coup, clears remaining ‘Fatah traitors’

Ali Waked

Ynet.com. 08.03.08, 07:41

Fatah, which up until the last few years was the largest and oldest movement in the Gaza Strip, closed down its last branch among a population of more than one and a half million Palestinians on Saturday.
The Hamas raid on the Hilles clan compound prompted the last Fatah men who survived the Hamas revolution to make their way into Israel, and from there directly to Ramallah.

Officially, the raid against the Hilles compound was meant to identify those behind last Friday’s attack in the Strip that killed five senior Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades members and a girl. Yet beyond it, this was an attempt to convey a message to the last rivals of the Hamas regime in the Strip.
Hamas made it clear that whoever attempts to undermine stability and peace will not be shown any mercy.
The Hilles clan was considered to be Fatah’s last stronghold in the Strip – the bastion that did not fall during Hamas’ revolution, mostly because of the hostility between the heads of the family and the Mohammad Dahlan camp. Now that the clan has been removed, there are no longer any military forces in the Strip that can undermine or significantly hurt the Hamas regime.
Today, we can say that the June 2007 revolution has been completed. From now on, Hamas is the only ruler in the Gaza Strip; there are no longer any rivals and certainly not any armed pockets of resistance that are visible.
Fatah, the movement that led the Palestinian revolution, has no authority vis-à-vis Salam Fayyad’s government in the West Bank and has been left without any presence in the Gaza Strip.       

The return of Palestinian Authority members to Gaza seemed impossible even before Saturday’s events, and certainly so without Israeli intervention and Egyptian assistance.

Yet in the wake of Saturday’s events, the likelihood of the Palestinian Authority forces returning to the Strip is non-existent. Hamas has succeeded in what it characterizes as “clearing the last traitors from the Strip.”


Weekend in Hamastan


Trying to distinguish between the good guys and the bad in the latest bout of Gaza fighting is bit like trying to decide who to hire as a babysitter – the Boston Strangler or Jack the Ripper.

Hamas may have been elected fair and square, yet its true orientation is totalitarian. No surprise, then, that it has been using the cease-fire with Israel, in effect since June 16, not only to prepare for the next round against the Jewish state, but to smother rival factions.

Thus Hamas shut down the Gaza offices of the Ma’an news agency (an outfit funded largely by Denmark) as well as the Sha’ab radio station, run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Even Islamic Jihad has been put on notice to watch its behavior.

It’s not as if Hamas faces much opposition. Perhaps its most significant challenge comes from the Dughmush clan, which enriched itself by smuggling weapons and contraband through tunnels dug under the Philadelphi Corridor into Sinai, and the equally lucrative hostage-taking business. Clan leaders help found the Popular Resistance Committees, a terror group active in the second intifada and probably involved in capturing Gilad Schalit.

It would not be surprising, therefore, to discover that Dughmush was behind the July 25 car-bombing along the Gaza beachfront which killed five Hamas operatives, injured scores of passersby and took the life of a little girl. If so, expect his clan to be the next Hamas target.

FOR ITS OWN Machiavellian reasons, Hamas blames exiled Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan for the bombing. On Saturday it went after the Hilles clan, described by the media as “loosely affiliated with Fatah movement.”

Hamas cut off the clan’s Gaza City stronghold. In the ensuing fighting, nine Palestinians were killed; a residential building was reportedly blown up, with people still in it; and Hamas sharpshooters aiming from minarets in nearby mosques targeted anyone trying to flee.

Hamas even used tunnels dug in the area – originally for use against Israel – to surprise the clan. At least 100 people were injured, including a dozen children. Many more were taken into Hamas custody. Under withering Hamas fire, about 180 members of the clan, led by headman Ahmed Hilles, sought to enter Israel via the Nahal Oz crossing, leaving their women and children behind.

At the request of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority – and as a humanitarian gesture – Israel allowed the Hilles men in, with the intention of sending them on to Mahmoud Abbas’s Ramallah headquarters.

But in the murky world of Palestinian politics, relationships are seldom straightforward. Far from being Dahlan stooges, the Hilles had actually tried to assassinate Dahlan, together with Abbas, in November 2004, shortly after Yasser Arafat died and Abbas went to Gaza to receive visitors in Fatah’s mourning tent. Abbas and Dahlan survived, but two of their bodyguards didn’t.

Yesterday, after the dust had settled, Abbas did an about-face: At his request, Israel “repatriated” to Gaza many of the men who had sought his protection in Ramallah.

ISRAEL AND the West would do well to internalize, given this internecine Palestinian violence, that Hamas’s rule in Gaza is the best indicator to date of how Palestinians would run their affairs in a fully independent Palestine. We need also to recognize the failure of institution-building and due process in the Abbas component of the PA thus far, as illuminated by the torture of Hamas functionaries, on Fatah’s behalf, by the Aksa Martyrs Brigade.

Dismally, despite the brutal nature of its Gaza rule, Hamas remains more popular in the West Bank and Gaza than Abbas. This ongoing triumph of bellicosity and intransigence over relative moderation is greatly assisted by Abbas’s abject failure to root out corruption from Fatah.

In such a climate, there aren’t enough checkpoints in the West Bank Israel can dismantle to “help” Abbas. Indeed, IDF pullbacks and eased security conditions in the West Bank would simply set the stage for a Hamas takeover and leave Israel more vulnerable to terrorism.

Plainly, lifting international sanctions on Hamas would be a flagrant reward for Islamist violence and tyranny. At the same time, Hamas is a permanent fixture in Palestinian politics. Rather than closing its eyes to this reality, Israel must more thoroughly integrate awareness of it into its security and diplomatic strategy.



BICOM ANALYSIS, 04/08/2008

Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz have emerged as the main candidates in the Kadima primary, which is due to take place on 17 September. Significant differences of tone and emphasis exist between the two candidates on policy issues. But there is no truly major rift between them on the key areas of Iran, the Palestinians and Syria. Livni, while considered more centrist, has not committed herself on the extent of her willingness for territorial compromise with either the Palestinians or the Syrians. Mofaz, while considered more hawkish, meanwhile, is also not opposed in principle to the negotiations – though he considers that talks on final status issues are currently doomed to failure. Consequently, the issue of personality and the personal record of the candidates will undoubtedly play a major role.  It has been said that Livni will be the candidate of ‘peace and security’ while Mofaz will be the candidate of ‘security and peace.’ While this may exaggerate the absence of meaningful differences between the two, it reiterates the extent to which personality will play a key role in defining the results. The latest polls suggest that Livni stands a far better chance of defeating Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in a general election.

Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he would not be competing in the primary elections in the ruling Kadima Party, scheduled to take place on 17 September. [i] The key issues now are who will replace Olmert, and will the new Kadima leader succeed in forming a governing coalition, or is the basic implication of the prime minister’s announcement that new general elections are now inevitable? This document will look at the key players in the race for the leadership in Kadima, examine the process whereby the elections will take place and the winner attempt to form a new coalition, and will conclude by suggesting some pointers as to the likely run of events.

The players

The two key contenders for the Kadima leadership are Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister (and former IDF Chief of Staff) Shaul Mofaz.[ii] Polls over the weekend put Livni two percentage points ahead of Mofaz. Two other senior figures in the party are standing in the elections – Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. Neither of the latter two, however, are considered to possess a serious chance of winning the leadership.

Thus the contest is between Livni and Mofaz.  So who are these two contenders for Israel’s leadership?

Foreign Minister Livni is the daughter of a prominent right-wing Israeli family whose father, Eitan Livni, was the operations officer of the Irgun Tsvai Leumi organisation[iii], and who was considered close to Likud founder Menachem Begin. Her mother was also an activist with this group. Livni is a successful lawyer, who served for a short period of time in the Mossad intelligence agency, and who began her political career in the Likud. Livni’s parentage means she is considered a ‘princess’ of the Israeli right – the term used in Israel to refer to the daughters of the founding political and military activists of this camp.

She served as minister for Immigrant Absorption in Ariel Sharon’s first government. Livni was considered to be among the senior politicians closest to Sharon. Her closeness to him, particularly in terms of the central ideas underlying the formation of Kadima, and her decision to move with Sharon to the new party, are seen as important elements in explaining her rapid rise in politics. Like Sharon, Livni has made the journey from an uncompromising, hawkish position to a willingness to enter negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She was initially associated with the proposed strategy of unilateralism with which the party was identified.  Livni was appointed foreign minister after the Kadima election victory in March 2006, and served in this position during the Second Lebanon War in that year. In this position, she has also been serving as the head of the Israeli team in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority begun after the Annapolis Conference. In a political system widely regarded by the Israeli public as riddled with nepotism and widely corrupt, Livni is seen as possessing integrity and genuine commitment. This ‘Mrs. Clean’ image is a major part of the broad public appeal she possesses.

Livni is associated with a pragmatic, centrist outlook. She is generally credited with success in her position as foreign minister. There have been some questions raised, in this regard, concerning her relations with ministry officials and employees. Livni is also widely seen as one of the few ministers to have emerged untainted from the Second Lebanon War. She faced some criticism, however, for her decision not to resign after the war, despite her criticism of Ehud Olmert. There are those now who would say that Livni’s decision not to resign may have formed a part of a broader strategy which may yet pay dividends. Adherents to this view would also say that this indicates that Livni is a more hard-nosed and canny politician than she is sometimes given credit for being. 

However, in a country accustomed to leaders who enter office having already amassed broad experience in national security affairs, her resume is considered to be light. This is likely to be the main line of attack against her – both in the Kadima primary and, if she wins this, in the subsequent general election. This will be the case particularly because the failures of the Second Lebanon War are widely associated in the public mind with the relative inexperience in national security affairs of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then defence minister Amir Peretz.

Shaul Mofaz is a former IDF chief of staff whose name is associated with Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.  This operation – which saw Israeli forces striking into the West Bank at the height of the Second Intifada – is considered to have been a vital moment in the defeat of the campaign of terror against Israel launched in 2000. The Iranian-born Mofaz entered politics and the Likud party directly after his demobilisation from the IDF.  Mofaz was the last major Likud politician to defect to Kadima upon its foundation.  He took the decision to move only after he had unsuccessfully competed against Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.  Although known to have been close to Sharon, Mofaz was associated with the more hawkish wing of Likud.  Since there was a clear shortage of senior military figures in Likud after the split, it was initially considered likely that Mofaz would stay in the party and play this role.  At the last minute, however, he chose to come over to Kadima.  His late decision is considered the reason for his currently occupying the relatively junior position of transport minister.

Mofaz remains associated with a hawkish outlook. He has been particularly vociferous on the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme. On two occasions in the last few months, he has expressed support for the possibility of military action against Iran, in the event that sanctions fail to induce the Iranians to abandon their nuclear programme.[iv] Mofaz is known to be sceptical regarding the possibility of the negotiations with the PA leading to a successful outcome. He has been noted among the supporters of a major IDF military operation into Gaza (as is Livni).

Therefore, it is important to note that while Kadima has often been characterised as a ‘post-ideological’ party of nebulous outlook, the September elections do represent a genuine contest between two politicians representing notably opposing views on some issues.  The party was born with a very specific idea – that of unilateralism – though this is no longer relevant to the Israeli policy discussion. Yet Kadima remains a party united by a broadly centrist vision, which accepts the need for territorial compromise, while retaining a pragmatic caution regarding the intentions of Israel’s neighbours, which it sees as differentiating it from the parties to its left. While it was initially built around the dominant political presence of founder Ariel Sharon, Kadima appears to have survived his departure from the stage, and looks set to establish itself as a distinctive centrist presence in Israeli politics.

Procedure and current polls

On 17 September, 62,000 registered members of Kadima will be permitted to vote in primary elections for the party’s leadership. The winner will then set about attempting to form a new governing coalition.  In this period, Prime Minister Olmert will remain in office as a ‘caretaker’ prime minister. If no new governing coalition is founded within 42 days, then President Shimon Peres may allow additional time, or may choose to allow another party leader to attempt to form a coalition. If neither of these actions is taken, then elections must be held within 90 days.[v]

Mofaz is considered more likely than Livni to attempt, and is considered more likely to succeed in forming a new coalition with the current Knesset. He is more likely to attempt it because whereas Livni is more likely to wish to go straight to elections because of her higher public standing, Mofaz is more likely to wish to preserve the current coalition, because he is considered less able to beat Netanyahu.  He is considered more able to preserve the coalition because of the issue of the Sephardi (Jews of non-European origin) ultra-orthodox Shas party. Mofaz, who would be the first realistic prime ministerial candidate of non-European origin in Israel, has forged a close relationship with Shas.[vi] Livni, the first female contender for the prime ministership since Golda Meir, meanwhile, has a particularly difficult task in building relations with Shas.  The spiritual leader of the party, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, is known to oppose the idea of a woman prime minister, and hence may refuse to allow the party to join a coalition led by Livni. Mofaz has spoken of the formation of a government of ‘national emergency’ and his claim of a greater ability to form such a government is likely to form a key part of his campaign. [vii]

However, if elections are called, all polls indicate that Livni enjoys a clear advantage over Mofaz in terms of broad public support. According to a Dialog poll conducted over the weekend for the Haaretz newspaper, Kadima led by Livni would win elections if they were hold now, scoring 26 seats for Kadima against 25 for Likud. The same poll found that if Kadima were led by Mofaz, Kadima would win only 19 seats, against 29 for Likud. Two other polls taken over the weekend found that Likud would emerge from elections as the largest party, but both of these also found that Kadima under Livni would perform significantly better than under Mofaz.[viii]


The election campaign is already under way. The polls published over the weekend are currently dominating the discussion – since they are seen as representing a significant dent in the perception since mid-2006 of a near certain victory for the Likud in the next elections. This dent, the polls suggest, exists on the condition that Livni leads Kadima, and as such, they are considered to have given her a considerable boost.

While significant differences of tone and emphasis exist between the two candidates on policy issues, there is no truly major rift between them on the key areas of Iran, the Palestinians and Syria. Livni, while considered more centrist, has not committed herself on the extent of her willingness for territorial compromise with either the Palestinians or the Syrians. Mofaz, while considered more hawkish, is also not opposed in principle to the negotiations – though he considers that talks on final status issues are currently doomed to failure. Consequently, the issue of personality and the personal record of the candidates will undoubtedly play a major role. It has been said that Livni will be the candidate of ‘peace and security’ while Mofaz will be the candidate of ‘security and peace’. While this may exaggerate the absence of meaningful differences between the two, it captures the extent to which personality will play a key role in defining the results. Currently, Mofaz’s camp is seeking to undermine Livni’s claim of particular closeness to former prime minister Sharon. Such issues of perception are likely to form a major part of the campaign. The current form they are taking reflects Livni’s status as favourite, and the perception that the Kadima leadership campaign is ‘hers to lose.’

[i] Gil Hoffman, ‘Olmert: I’ll resign after Kadima primary,’ Jerusalem Post, 30 July 2008. www.jpost.com
[ii] Toni O’loughlin, ‘Battle for power: the candidates who could succeed Ehud Olmert as Israel’s prime minister,’ Guardian, 30 July 2008. www.guardian.co.uk
[iii]  The Irgun Tsvai Leumi was a paramilitary organisation which fought against the British Mandatory authorities in what was then Mandatory Palestine in the period 1944-48.
[iv] ‘Mofaz on Iran: we wont allow a second Holocaust to occur,’ Haaretz, 3 August 2008. www.haaretz.com
[v] David Makovsky, ‘Olmert’s announcement fuels uncertainty in Israel,’ Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, 31 July 2008. www.spme.net
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] ‘Mofaz: I’d opt for a broad coalition,’ Jerusalem Post, 31 July 2008. www.jpost.com
[viii] ‘Three poll show Livni heading Kadima 20-26 seats vs. 25-33 for Likud.  IMRA, 1 August 2008.www.imra.org.il