Hopes of Peace Slipping Away, Palestinian Factions Pursue Different Paths
JUDY WOODRUFF: Next to the Middle East, where President Obama is headed tonight. He will make three stops: Jerusalem, Ramallah on the West Bank, and Amman, Jordan.
Last night, we explored fractures in Israel's new coalition government. Tonight, we turn to the political and ideological split among Palestinians.
Margaret Warner reports.
MARGARET WARNER: This is not your typical after-school program. Called Futuwwa, or youth in Arabic, it's paramilitary training for Palestinian high school students in Gaza. It was instituted by Hamas, the militant Islamist movement ruling this impoverished district, which Israel withdrew from in 2005.
Gaza is home to 1.7 million Palestinians packed into an area the size of Atlanta.
MAN: I'm here to learn how the use weapons. The program teaches us to defend ourselves, to organize in school and everywhere.
MARGARET WARNER: Futuwwa is now offered in all of Gaza's high schools. It's further evidence of Hamas' entrenched grip on power here.
After winning a majority in Palestinian elections in 2006, Hamas violently expelled Fatah from Gaza. Fatah is the older established secular party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, which now runs Palestinian affairs on the West Bank.
As President Obama travels to Israel and the West Bank this week, he will be trying to assess whether a real opportunity exists for the United States to try to revive the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But among ordinary Palestinians, he will find no expectations that the U.S. can or will do anything to change the situation.
MOHAMMED MOUSSA, Palestinian: When Obama came to power, we hoped he'd have a different policy, but Israeli pressure has had influence on him.
FIRAS EID, Tea Vendor: He is not welcome here in Palestine. What will he do for us? All of them are standing with Israel, not with the Palestinian people.
MARGARET WARNER: An even bigger hurdle to reviving peace prospects: the deep division among Palestinians reflected in the ongoing split between Hamas and Fatah.
This wall on the street in Gaza is adorned by the smiles of two dead men, Yasser Arafat, the Fatah founder and first Palestinian president who died in 2004, and Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, assassinated by Israel earlier that year.
But Hanan Ashrawi, a longtime member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, says the two movements are poles apart.
HANAN ASHRAWI, Palestinian Liberation Organization: Hamas and Fatah certainly have a serious split. It's multifaceted. It's ideological, because Hamas is partly based on political Islam. And it's also social. It's territorial, because Hamas controls Gaza. And it's personal in the sense that you have many people who have vested interests and who have positions of privilege.
MARGARET WARNER: The two movements also represent two schools of thought on how to deal with Israel.
Mark Perry is a foreign policy analyst who remains close contact with the Hamas leadership.
MARK PERRY, Author: Abu Mazen has gambled very explicitly and he has said very explicitly that there will be no violence against Israel and he will negotiate in good faith with Israel. The problem is that hasn't gotten him anywhere. Hamas has a totally different approach, and their approach is resistance. They believe that Israel will only come to the table when they feel pain.
MARGARET WARNER: A growing number of Palestinians see justification for that belief. Last November, a week of Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes led to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.
As part of that, some Israeli restrictions on Gaza were eased. The year before, Hamas secured the release of 1,000 prisoners from Israeli jails in return for handing over Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier it kidnapped in 2006.
HANAN ASHRAWI: This has sent a clear message to the Palestinian people: If you abduct soldiers, Israeli soldiers, we will release prisoners. But if you sign agreements about with us about releasing prisoners, we won't honor those agreements.
MARGARET WARNER: Many Israelis say the Palestinian split means there's effectively no one for Israel to negotiate with. And among Palestinians in Gaza at least, there seemed to be some confusion on that point as well.
NEMEA KHADER, Student: The PLO, represented by Abu Mazen, is the only representative.
SAMER IBRAHIM ABU SEIF, Graduate Student: There are two authorities and leaderships. We hope this division ends soon.
MARGARET WARNER: The PLO, led by Abbas, is internationally recognized as speaking for the Palestinians, a fact Hamas says it accepts. But Abbas cannot simply move forward without Hamas, says Shibley Telhami, director of the Sadat Center for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.
Can Abu Mazen speak for the Palestinian people?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University Of Maryland: Not without Hamas. And let me put it this way.
There's no question the Palestinian people are divided. And in my own mind, there is no way that any Palestinian leader can sell a compromise solution, which means, ultimately, he's going to have to have Hamas backing.
MARGARET WARNER: Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal have engaged in halting reconciliation talks moderated by Egypt's new Islamist government.
But both camps suspect a major outside player may be trying to dissuade a healing of the breach.
The U.S. has been pressuring the Palestinian leadership not to reconciliate with Hamas?
HANAN ASHRAWI: If I may be blunt, I think that the pressure has not been overt or public, but, yes, there have been pressures.
MARGARET WARNER: Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil Gaza sees the same.
SALAH AL-BARDAWIL, Hamas Spokesman: The reconciliation is no longer between Fatah and Hamas. It's become something between Fatah, Hamas, the U.S., Israel, the E.U. and some Arab regimes. The external pressures and the American dictates that bring up conditions on the reconciliation are what prevent it from happening.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark Perry says U.S. funds for the Palestinian Authority may have been used as a cudgel.
MARK PERRY: The reconciliation talks were going very well up until the end of February. And what happened is, Obama announced that he is going to Israel, and the United States, Hamas believes, made it clear to Abu Mazen that if reconciliation talks were to continue, there would be no funding for the P.A.
MARGARET WARNER: The U.S., Israel and the E.U. consider Hamas, whose charter threatens the obliteration of Israel, to be a terrorist organization.
In 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked if a just-announce preliminary agreement between Hamas and Fatah would prompt the U.S. to reconsider aid for the Palestinian Authority. Secretary Clinton said: "We have made it very clear that we cannot support any government that consists of Hamas, unless and until Hamas adopts principles that have been well known to everyone for a number of years."
The principles include recognizing the state of Israel. Shibley Telhami says the U.S. should be prepared to drop that insistence when it comes to political parties if it hopes to broker a peace deal.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: I think we should insist that any Palestinian government, whether it includes Hamas or whoever, it insists meet certain conditions, including being against terrorism, meeting its international obligations. With parties, we never insist that they meet certain obligations. And I think right now we're going to have to reassess. The environment has changed. If there's still time for a two-state solution, we're on the last leg.
MARGARET WARNER: Why the last leg?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Israelis and Arabs no longer believe in the two-state solution.
MARGARET WARNER: During our recent trip in January, we found many Palestinians who had lost belief in the peace process. Nasser Hantouni owns Birds of Peace, a pet shop just inside the West Bank. He works in sight of the security wall Israel erected during second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s.
NASSER HANTOUNI, Birds Of Peace: We feel very frustrated. For the past 20 to 22 years, we have had hope in negotiations, and yet there are no concrete results on the ground and still we haven't reached peace. All we see is more settlements, the wall, checkpoints, closures, and constraints over the Palestinians.
Ninety percent of us have lost hope of reaching a peaceful solution with the Israelis.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that there's a possibility that if nothing happens on the peace front, more violence will break out?
NASSER HANTOUNI: It could be, yes. It is a valid alternative due to the stress this nation is living under.
MARGARET WARNER: Hanan Ashrawi worries that without progress, Abbas may not be able to hold it together much longer.
HANAN ASHRAWI: Obviously, what's happening is a situation of tremendous volatility. I think the Palestinians are on the verge of, I don't want to say explosion or implosion, but public opinion is extremely inflamed. People are very angry at what's been happening. The leadership is losing support, certainly for a variety of reasons, including the nondelivery of peace or security for the Palestinians.
MARGARET WARNER: A giant tangle awaiting Mr. Obama on his first venture into the thicket of the Middle East.
JUDY WOODRUFF: After filing that story, Margaret left for the Middle East. She will file reports about President Obama's trip all week.