I've been reading a lot about the recent breakdown of constitutional government in the Palestinian Authority, with Hamas establishing an unrecognised regime in the Gaza Strip while President Abbas set up an illegal government in the unoccupied bits of the West Bank. The International Crisis Group have an interesting report on the whole business, entitled After Gaza. Its recommendations are of the "Can't you guys just get along?" school of liberal internationalism, but there are some fascinating details in it on how the Gaza takeover happened (and how the Fatah militias there collapsed). One thing they and other commentators draw attention to is the vast improvement in the security situation in Gaza - where people previously lived in fear of crime gangs, armed clans, and corrupt state security agencies, now Hamas activists have swept these people off the streets and ensured a basic level of personal security for all Gaza residents. The release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston is the great exemplar of the Hamas new broom, with the rescue of Sabrina the Lioness a close second.
There is unfortunately a dark side to all this. It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that Hamas have instituted a reign of terror in the Gaza Strip, but commentators have noted that the openness of discussion that characterised Palestinian life has been somewhat curtailed in the area under Hamas control. People are reported to now be guarded about expressing opinions, in a way they would apparently not have been previously even in the most authoritarian days of the Arafat administration. There have also been reports of people being tortured while in Hamas custody. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz carries an interesting story (partly from AP) illustrating this, about a hospital doctor in Gaza who was sacked from his job and then arrested after reporting that his hospital was running short of medicines. Dr. Jomma Saka is apparently a Fatah loyalist, but the Dr. Bassem Naim, the health minister in the Gaza jurisdiction denied that Dr. Saka was arrested because of his political affiliation: "The decision to send Dr. Saka for investigations stemmed from many reasons, including giving false information that has intimidated the public"