by Saud Abu Ramadan
GAZA, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Since June 2007, Islamic Hamas movement which had violently seized control of the Gaza Strip and routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas security forces has been trying to Islamize the coastal enclave, but failed to end the popular presence of his Fatah Party.
At the end of an eight-day aerial Israeli operation on the Gaza Strip in November 2012, the two rival groups, Fatah and Hamas, showed significant signs of unity and reconciliation towards ending an internal division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank that lasted for about six years.
Hamas supporters in the West Bank were allowed for the first time to hold popular rallies in the territory to mark the 25th anniversary of the Islamic movement, while Hamas rulers in Gaza decided to let Fatah supporters to hold a central rally in Gaza city on Jan. 4 to mark the 48th anniversary of Fatah.
Palestinian observers and analysts said that despite six years of Hamas violent repression practiced against Fatah leaders and supporters in the Gaza Strip, Hamas had failed to end the secular party's popular presence, and Fatah is back in the field stringer than before.
On the eve of the rally that will be held in Gaza city on Friday, tens of thousands of Fatah supporters carried by trucks and motorbikes and walking on foot waved the yellow flags of their movement and wore the black-and-white Koffeya or scarf which late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat used to wear.
PARTY WITHOUT LEADERSHIP
Mekhemer Abu Se'da, a political science professor at al-Azhar University in Gaza City, told Xinhua that those who believed that Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip has died and it was blotted out " are mistaking," adding that "Fatah in Gaza has a large popular support but without a powerful leadership."
"The repressive policy of Hamas rule against Fatah and the attempts to impose its laws and rules on the Gaza Strip kept and increased the popularity of Fatah Party," Abu Se'da said, adding that "allowing Fatah for the first time in six years to hold a rally to mark its anniversary made the people so happy."
As an agreement had been reached late last week between Hamas and Fatah to hold a central Fatah rally in Gaza City on Friday, thousands of Fatah supporters have been spontaneously taking to the streets all over the Gaza Strip and happily waving Fatah yellow flags that were banned by Hamas for six years.
The Gaza Strip populations, mainly of whom support Fatah and other factions in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), are eager to end six years of division between Fatah and Hamas. Their spontaneous celebration was not only for Fatah, but because they feel that achieving reconciliation is so close.
"The young men, women and children who took to the streets and wave yellow flags are telling Fatah leadership in the West Bank, because there is no Fatah leadership in Gaza, that they took to the streets for the sake of reconciliation to end division and see a new Fatah leadership in Gaza," he said.
Since the death of Arafat in November 2004, Fatah movement has been declining. It was ousted by its rival Hamas movement in the parliamentary elections held in January 2006 and lost its control on the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Having such a huge popular support to the group, mainly in the Gaza Strip which is ruled by Hamas movement, is giving hope to its supporters, mainly its young leaders that their veteran national party which represents the modern revolution would recover and become stronger than before.
"Fatah would only recover; first if the young generations in Fatah are given the opportunity to lead the old movement and second is to prepare for holding Fatah Party's seventh conference, hold democratic internal elections and elect new leadership," Talal Oukal, a political analyst from Gaza, told Xinhua.
He said that the positive atmosphere between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank "is a good opportunity to Fatah movement to deeply think about rebuilding itself and treat all the problems and crisis it had passed through since the death of Arafat."
However, Oukal said ending division with Hamas would never happen "as long as Fatah is still weak and suffers from many internal problems," adding that "once Fatah is stronger, this would help its leaders to take serious political decisions to achieve real reconciliation with Hamas."
RECONCILIATION A PRIORITY
The competition between Hamas and Fatah is so high, although both powers had cracked down on each other's supporters and leaders in the West Bank ruled by Abbas and his Fatah party and the Gaza Strip. Observers believe that this competition must make reconciliation a priority for them.
Hamas believes that Fatah policy since the signing of Oslo peace accords with Israel in 1993 was wrong because it abandoned armed struggle and followed a useless peace process. Hamas said the only mean that brings a powerful unity is the armed resistance that would end the Israeli occupation.
Fatah believes that it is a pioneer Palestinian movement that it had been and will be the movement that will lead the Palestinian people towards ending the Israeli occupation and towards establishing the independent Palestinian state by using all means, including the resumption of armed resistance.
"After six years of division between Fatah and Hamas, leaders of the two rival groups realized that keeping the division going on would only serve Israel's interests," said George Jackman, a political analyst from the West Bank, "therefore, the only option left is to achieve reconciliation."
He told Xinhua that the division between Gaza Strip and the West Bank "had dropped the popularity of Hamas and increased Fatah popularity in Gaza, and also dropped Fatah popularity and increased Hamas popularity in the West Bank."