I intend to write more about this in the future, but there are a number of reasons to think that Hamas and Fatah are right now on the edge of internecine open armed conflict. The reconciliation agreement announced to great fanfare last year is no closer to being implemented as both sides squabble over who will control what, and Hamas has been busy arresting and interrogating Fatah members in Gaza on conspiracy charges. The back story to this is that Gaza is suffering fuel shortages and electricity blackouts while the Palestinian Authority has had no such problems in the West Bank, leading Hamas to accuse the PA of conspiring with Israel to bring down Hamas. Hamas’s popularity has taken a blow in Gaza as the consequences of its hardline stance against Israel and the ensuing Israeli response stand in stark contrast to the situation in the West Bank, where the standard of living is much better despite the various hardships imposed by the occupation. The Arab Spring has unsettled both Hamas and Fatah since neither movement is viewed as democratic, and should Palestinian elections ever again be held, neither side wants to deal with too much competition. Thus both Hamas and Fatah have been doing everything they can to undermine the other and have been devoting lots of attention to each other rather than toward Israel.
It is against this backdrop that the PA has been arresting reporters for trashing the PA and exposing a spying operation run out of its French diplomatic mission, and now comes news that the PA has arrested a university lecturer for insulting Abbas on her Facebook wall. This behavior is worrying in its own right given Salam Fayyad’s program to build credible political institutions and professionalize the PA security forces in the West Bank, but the recent obsession of the PA with monitoring Palestinians is being driven by the desire to gain an upper hand on Hamas and root out any significant support for it among West Bank Palestinians. Fatah is cracking down on any and all criticism as it becomes more paranoid and this is driving the arrests of journalists and now even ordinary citizens who challenge the PA or lampoon Abbas. As more reports of this type of stuff emerge, keep in mind that it will lead to similar recriminations against Fatah in Gaza, and as this behavior escalates, the dueling Palestinian factions are consigning their unity agreement to the trash heap and moving ever so closer to civil war rather than toward a show of reconciliation. In the bigger picture, it also means that a third intifada is unlikely to break out any time soon while the two Palestinian heavyweights slug it out and devote their organizational capacities toward thwarting each other rather than thwarting Israel.