February 15, 2019
Michael Barak, Moshe Dayan Center
With permission, read full study at the Moshe Dayan Center.
The announcement by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas last December that he was dissolving the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and the subsequent declaration by Hamas that his presidency is illegitimate, have together significantly heightened the tempestuous discourse between the Fatah movement and the Hamas movement. This tension has also been reflected in online spaces. In addition to the quarrels between the movements, the network discourse reveals that Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are increasingly resentful of the movements’ lack of willingness and indeed their ability to achieve national unity, along with a serious fear that the situation will deteriorate into bloody conflict.
In October 2017, Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement, a decade after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. Despite the agreement, relations between the two sides remained tense and were accompanied by mutual suspicion. The sanctions that Abbas continues to impose on Hamas, in order to buttress the PA’s governmental authority in the Gaza Strip, contribute to this tension. Thus, the PA has not transferred salaries to government officials in the Gaza Strip, and has reduced the payments for electricity that it ordered in April 2017. The tension peaked with the order to dissolve the PLC, in which Hamas holds two-thirds of the seats. For its part, Hamas expressed its protest by taking a number of steps. These included the arrest of several hundred Fatah members in the Gaza Strip (parallel to the arrest of Hamas members in the West Bank by the PA), their objection to marking the 54th anniversary of the establishment of Fatah, and their denial of Abbas’ legitimacy as president.
The rift between the movements has found widespread expression on social media. For example, Mahmoud al-Habash, religious advisor to Abbas, posted on Twitter that Hamas has “hijacked” the Gaza Strip, and caused many young people “to flee the reality created by Hamas.” Hussein al-Sheikh, another senior Fatah official, accused Hamas of promoting the “Deal of the Century” (the peace plan that President Trump intends to propose to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), of causing the failure of the reconciliation agreement, for perpetuating the separation between the West Bank and Gaza, and of intending to establish an Islamic emirate. Al-Sheikh stressed that the PA is working to protect Fatah members in the Gaza Strip from oppression by Hamas. In light of this, and because of other provocations by Hamas, al-Sheikh claimed that the Fatah Central Committee had decided to halt contacts with Hamas, and warned that Egypt’s efforts to achieve reconciliation were doomed to failure.  In addition, there were obvious efforts by Fatah members to influence residents of the Gaza Strip to launch civil disobedience that would lead to toppling Hamas in Gaza. Al-Habash, for example, called on residents of the Gaza Strip to take to the street and confront the “coup by the Muslim Brotherhood” in Gaza. 
Palestinian users from the West Bank and Palestinian diaspora also harshly criticized Hamas and called for a change of government in Gaza. Wael Mousa, a prominent Palestinian activist on social media with approximately 100,000 followers on Facebook, regularly uploads videos opposing Hamas. For example, he has referred to it as a terrorist organization that strives to undermine the PA in Ramallah and Palestinian national unity. In another video, Moussa describes Hamas as a mafia organization that steals millions of dollars each year, thanks to its trade in electricity and fuel, the cigarette taxes it collects, and aid money received from other countries like Qatar that, he claims, is channeled to benefit of Hamas members instead being used for the welfare of Gaza’s residents. In one post, Moussa stressed that the situation is unbearable, and suggested that Gazans be resourceful, and foment a civil uprising against the Hamas leadership. 
Other users pointed to the fickle nature of Hamas. For example, some contrasted the opposition of Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official and hardline pro-Iranian figure, to the 2002 ceasefire with Israel with his support for the ceasefire with Israel last August on the grounds that it was a national, religious and moral duty. Others wondered about Hamas’ achievements, as in this rhetorical question: “What has Hamas achieved that benefits the Palestinian cause, has it liberated even a bit of land? Has it contributed to the educational system? Of course not.” Saudi users, who also joined the criticism, accused Hamas members of living “a pleasant life in palaces” while citizens of the Gaza Strip hunger for bread, and of ignoring the good of their homeland and welfare of its citizens. 
On the other hand, supporters of Hamas criticized the conduct of Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinian residents of Gaza stressed that the dissolution of the PLC deepens the destruction of the Palestinian governmental system, intensifies the division and internal rift, and separates the West Bank from Gaza. A Palestinian, now living in Qatar, called dissolving the PLC a political crime, and said that nothing should be done that might turn the PA into “a one-man state.”  Others accused Abbas of treason, repeating the well-known claims made by Hamas and its supporters opposing cooperation with Israeli security forces, and accused him of spinning plans to foment civil disobedience in Gaza that would lead to the overthrow of Hamas’ rule. A Palestinian from Gaza said that Abu Mazen’s harsh words reflected confusion and defeat, and signify that his regime is drawing to a close. Another user from Gaza noted that halting salary payment is the main reason for the problems and the failure to achieve reconciliation, a dangerous reality that affects children and eventually serves the occupation. They launched these tags: “The salary is a right,” “One who withholds salaries is a spy,” and “Abu Mazen has lost his worthiness.” 
In addition to the strident voices, other voices – including those of senior movement members and residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – expressed a desire to stop the endless clashes between the movements, and instead to seek national unity. For example Munir al-Jaghub, head of Fatah’s information bureau, wrote on his Facebook page that he is determined to put an end to the bad relations between the movements. “To honor the martyrs, prisoners and wounded, and protect our nation’s honor in the eyes of the world: Enough, enough!! If Hamas and Fatah are considered traitors what will be left of our people?” He stressed that this trend serves the occupation. Hassam Badran, a Hamas spokesperson in the West Bank, expressed support for this position in a message he sent to al-Jaghub (see picture). 
Palestinian users in Ramallah and Gaza welcomed these positions but some claimed that implementation will prove impossible.  A user from Hebron stressed that both movements are engaged in ego wars and power struggles while ignoring the will of the ordinary citizen, and should instead devote resources to eradicating the plague of corruption. In his view, the solution lies in the establishment of a neutral committee that will work for unity, with representatives from the people, or in setting the date for presidential and PLC elections, supervised by the people.  Mohsen al-Afrangi, a senior media personality in Gaza, noted that the situation is explosive, “not because of the stopped salary [payments] or broken cameras, but rather because of the level of hostility, hatred, incitement, and ever-growing disease in society.” Users agreed with his remarks and warned against descent into Palestinian civil war.
The online discourse gives voice to the cavernous chasm between Fatah and Hamas, and is indicative of the deep fault line in Palestinian society. On the one hand, it is evident that the PA is making an effort to incite the Gaza Strip by encouraging its residents to use civil disobedience against the Hamas leadership, and that Abu Mazen is determined before the end of his term as PA president to “go all the way” and establish the PA’s status as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. On the other hand, Hamas supporters express unwillingness to relinquish control over the Gaza Strip, and give Abu Mazen responsibility for the fate of the residents of the Gaza Strip. Residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who are aware of how firmly both sides are entrenched in their positions, used the discourse to reveal a mood of deep concern that the continuation of this trend will lead to a civil war that will only play into the hands of Israel.
 #قاطع_الرواتب_جاسوس; #محمود_عباس_فاقد_للاهلية.