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Gazans Restive; Hamas Nervous; PA Calls For Early Local Elections

Yesterday I posted the suggestion that Hamas’s refusal to allow Gazans to demonstrate in support of Egypt’s protesters might be the product not only of fear of retribution but also the fear that Gazans might take the opportunity to protest Hamas itself.

And lo: this morning Haaretz reported that thousands of people have joined a Facebook group calling for a protest against the Hamas regime to take place this Friday in Gaza. A few Gazans have already attempted to demonstrate (also in response to a Facebook mobilization), but the Hamas police quickly stepped in, arresting six people — all women — and detaining a couple of dozen more. (At least one of the women is reported to have been slapped around by the police following her arrest, and Human Rights Watch has criticized Hamas for refusing to allow peaceful demonstrations.)

The Palestinian Authority is also taking steps, not only to quiet dissent but to preempt it. Like Hamas, the PA sent its police to disperse a small demonstration, although reportedly without using Hamas-style intimidation. It has also called for early municipal elections. (Its officials were elected in 2006, so they are now serving beyond their original terms without a popular mandate.)

These elections would be for local councils only, not for the president or members of parliament, but this still represents an interesting development because it appears to begin to formalize the Authority’s break with Gaza. Until yesterday, West Bank officials have always said elections could not be held since the two territories are divided. They have now reversed that position and called for elections in both the West Bank and Gaza, a demand Hamas says is beyond the PA’s authority. Hamas says it objects on the grounds that elections are premature before the two sides are reconciled, but presumably they would be eager to hold elections if they anticipated a great success.