Hundreds of thousands of Fatah supporters gathered in Gaza City’s Saraya Square on Friday for a mass rally to commemorate the faction’s 48th anniversary. This is the first Fatah rally at this scale to be held in Gaza since infighting between Hamas and Fatah toned down in mid-2007.
At face value, this is a good indicator that both Hamas and Fatah are scaling back on their efforts to limit or even force public opinion. It is no secret that the very notion of political dissidence in the occupied Palestinian territories is regularly met with hesitancy and competing territory-wide bans. But in the wake of Israel’s latest invasion on Gaza, Fatah — currently in control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) — and Hamas appear to have put much of the past five years aside. Another unity attempt is reportedly in the works.
I suspect there is slightly more at play here. For one thing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it very clear that he wouldn’t be calling off his Pillar of Defense invasion if Gaza-based factions resist. But in just a few days he turned his reservists around and signed onto a ceasefire deal. Gaza celebrated its victory, Netanyahu’s election campaign hit a rough patch, and the PA network faced immediate humiliation for its collaboration with Israel.
The humiliation didn’t carry over to the PA’s head offices, however. President Mahmoud Abbas was flying high over his successful United Nations statehood bid that upgraded Palestine’s status from “entity” to “non-member state”. Capitalizing on growing Hamas support and hoping to build a reputation as a leader of a state rather than of a faction, Abbas permitted Hamas supporters to stage a milestone rally for the organization’s 25th anniversary.
Friday’s Fatah rally in the Gaza Strip could have simply been an extension of courtesy to the PA for allowing Hamas supporters to gather en masse. It follows the very reactionary relationship highlighting the way both organizations have dealt with one another since 2006.
Although both factions have taken measures to allow rival supporters to gather, this should not be taken to mean that political repression has been entirely overcome.