Palestinian president plans anti-Hamas measures as split widens

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a ceremony marking the 54th anniversary of Fatah's founding, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 31, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Updated 13 January 2019
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Palestinian president plans anti-Hamas measures as split widens

  • Hamas and Abbas’s secular Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the Islamists seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in a near civil war in 2007
  • As part of that agreement Hamas withdrew from border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Israel, allowing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to return

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The decade-long Palestinian split looks set to deepen in the coming months, with president Mahmoud Abbas poised to take multiple measures against Gaza to squeeze its Islamist rulers Hamas.
The moves raise concerns of more suffering for Gaza’s two million residents, already under an Israeli blockade and facing severe electricity shortages, while a cornered Hamas could renew violence against Israel.
Analysts say the measures will also widen the gap between Hamas-run Gaza and the occupied West Bank, where Abbas’s government has limited self-rule.
Hamas and Abbas’s secular Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the Islamists seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in a near civil war in 2007, a year after sweeping parliamentary elections.
Hamas has since fought three bloody wars with Israel and fears of a fourth remain.
Multiple reconciliation attempts between the Palestinian factions have failed but Egypt thought it had made a breakthrough in late 2017 when the two sides agreed to eventually share power.
As part of that agreement Hamas withdrew from border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Israel, allowing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to return and the Egyptian border to be reopened regularly.
The reconciliation agreement has since collapsed acrimoniously.
On Sunday, the PA announced it would withdraw from the Egyptian border crossing, creating a dilemma for Cairo about whether to leave it open with Hamas in control.
So far they have indicated they will.
Senior officials close to Abbas say he is looking for other measures to punish Hamas.
Among these could be removing staff from the crossings between Israel and Gaza — making it hard for the Jewish state to allow anything into the territory without dealing directly with Hamas, which it and many other countries label a terrorist organization.
They could also include cutting salaries to families of Hamas prisoners or rescinding Palestinian passports for Hamas employees.
Abbas has also pledged to dissolve the Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament, which though it hasn’t met since the 2007 split is still nominally the basis for new laws.
“Very important decisions against Hamas are being discussed,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.
It follows a series of arrests of those affiliated with Fatah in Gaza, according to Abbas allies.
The official said the PA spent around $100 million per month in Gaza, including for electricity subsidies, and was looking to cut back significantly.
“Those that want to rule Gaza must bear the responsibility of governing it,” the official said.
Azzam Al-Ahmad, a senior Abbas ally and negotiator of the 2017 reconciliation agreement, told AFP “the leadership is considering a number of measures.”
Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said the Islamists had seen similar threats before.
“Any type of sanctions such as electricity, preventing medicine, closing the border or cutting the salaries are intended to blackmail residents into rising against Hamas and they fail,” he told AFP.
“This is the most that Abbas can do.”
The Palestinians have faced stark challenges over the past two years, with US President Donald Trump leading what he has called the most pro-Israel administration in the country’s history.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has meanwhile continued to expand settlements in the West Bank.
Abbas’s government froze contacts with the Trump administration after it recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The deepening split between the two factions weakens their ability to respond to such pressure, said Hugh Lovatt of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.
He said the PA withdrawal from the border crossings was part of a “package of measures designed to try and squeeze Hamas.”
“It is not irreversible but it is certainly a very negative step. This is short-term thinking triumphing longer-term strategy.”
Nadia Hijab, president of the Al-Shabaka Palestinian think-tank, said the infighting prevented a united front against Israeli policies.
“Palestinians fear that this latest move will cement the division and lead to a complete break between Gaza and the West Bank, something Israel has been pushing,” she said.
Both sides were “playing politics with people’s lives instead of taking on Israel’s 50-year-plus occupation,” she said.
At least 241 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since mass protests along the border began in March 2018. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed.
The protests had calmed in recent months after Hamas and Israel struck an agreement that saw Qatari aid allowed into the territory.
This week, it was reported that Israel had blocked a third tranche of Qatari funding, which could lead to increased tensions.
“If the Israelis do block the money, then I think it is almost a certainty you will see Hamas increasing the tension on the border,” Lovatt said.


Turkey’s Erdogan croons on campaign trail

Updated 20 March 2019
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Turkey’s Erdogan croons on campaign trail

  • Erdogan has deployed theme songs played on speakers at rallies in past elections
  • Music has always been a powerful tool in Turkish politics

ISTANBUL: In a decade and a half in power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often turned to oratory skills that are the envy of his foes to rouse supporters with speeches, poems and stories.
Now the Turkish leader is picking up the microphone to sing, complete with hand gestures, to rally supporters of his ruling AKP party for March 31 local elections.
Music has always been a powerful tool in Turkish politics, but with Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), it has now become one more way to galvanize his support base before a potentially tricky vote.
With Turkey in recession and inflation in double digits, the AKP is turning up the nationalist rhetoric to try to win over voters hurt by high living costs.
“I get goose bumps when I listen to the songs everyday,” said Ilknur Can, at an Erdogan rally in Istanbul’s Kasimpasa district, where the president grew up.
“I really understand, through this music, what patriotism is,” she added.
Erdogan’s critics say he has eroded rights by cracking down on dissent at home.
But for supporters, his electoral style taps into their image of Erdogan as the strong leader Turkey needs who speaks for them.
In this month’s municipal elections, the AKP will likely remain the largest party even if some experts say it could win by a smaller percentage of the vote.

Music is everywhere in Turkey, blaring out in taxis, shops and restaurants. Political events also have regular, and often extremely loud music.
The Turkish leader has deployed theme songs played on speakers at rallies in past elections, which have kept him in power since 2003.
But in the upcoming polls, it is Erdogan himself who is singing at almost every rally.
“Nereden nereye geldi Turkiye” (“From where Turkey came to where we are now“) Erdogan crooned from the stage at a recent event.
The song repeats a line from his election campaign tune about how far Turkey has developed under his rule.
“He already has an organic connection with his grassroots, but these songs are a new strategy to widen support,” associate professor Dogan Gurpinar, of Istanbul Technical University, said.
Political events have also been the subject of songs.
After a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan, one song had the lyrics: “Democracy took a blow and the nation was puzzled... the commander-in-chief gave the order: Take to the squares.”
That was a reference to Erdogan’s call during the coup attempt for loyalists to take to the streets.
Another song entitled “Dombra” chants the president’s name, drawing cheers from party faithful.
“I am over the moon whenever I listen to Nereden Nereye,” said supporter Ayse Duru, as she sang along to Erdogan’s recent campaign song.

The composer of Erdogan’s latest campaign tune and performer of it when the president himself isn’t singing it is Turkish pop singer Altan Cetin.
“It was not hard for me to write (the AKP song) and put it into a project. Believe me, it can sometimes be even more difficult to do a pop song,” he told AFP in his studio in Istanbul.
Cetin said that it took almost a month to finish.
“Our president uses every instrument of politics very successfully and very professionally,” he said.
In Europe, it is rare for a candidate to sing at election rallies.
But in the United States, former president Barack Obama sometimes sang on the campaign trail, and in 1992, Bill Clinton famously played the saxophone before an audience — helping to cement his popularity with young voters.
Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez also often broke into song at rallies and speeches, rousing supporters with the national anthem or folksongs.
Cetin said that music was “like a glue” for people that “brings them closer.”
“Music is about synchronization. It creates a sincerity, a unity and a power with everyone who feels it.”

Cetin said that he wrote what he had “lived through” in Turkey, saying he was happy to see the country’s leader singing his music.
“A president accompanying a song with a microphone in his hand in a rally is a source of pride for the song’s composer,” he said.
Gurpinar, of the Istanbul Technical University, said that music was the most direct way to reach people.
“Turkey is a country that looks for tools to reach out to the masses more easily compared to other Western states,” he said.
Compared to the AKP, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) often struggles to establish similar bonds with its old school, left-leaning, protest song repertoire, Gurpinar said.
However the CHP is now also trying to attract more voters with modern songs — one is a rap tune by two young amateur musicians.
“It can have power only when the music and candidate merge,” CHP’s Istanbul candidate Ekrem Imamoglu told AFP when asked about music’s role.
But he said that positive expressions like music should replace heated rhetoric.
“I wish we would see and feel such nice things in politics,” he said. “We are happy with our songs. Honestly, I didn’t listen to the others.”