SALFIT, West Bank, Feb 2 (Mohammed Assadi/Reuters) - Hamas legislator Naser Abd El-Jawad says nobody will work for him out of fear it could land them in a Palestinian jail.
His last driver spent two months in a West Bank prison after his arrest by security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Ramallah-based government is in a state of open hostility with the Hamas Islamists who control Gaza.
Whenever I ask someone to work with me, they refuse. They are afraid, said Abd El-Jawad, who was elected in 2006 legislative elections in which Hamas inflicted a shock defeat on Abbas's long-dominant Fatah movement.
Partly a result of the voters' perception of corruption in Fatah at the time, the Hamas win led to a political crisis and a brief civil war in Gaza, where the group seized control and continues to govern under a tight Israeli blockade.
There is a programme to uproot Hamas in the West Bank, said Omar Abdel-Raziq, another Hamas lawmaker, speaking to Reuters at his office in Salfit, a village near the Palestinian town of Nablus.
There are no Hamas activities. Arrests are conducted on a daily basis, he said.
Hamas says some 600 members are in Palestinian prisons in the West Bank, indicating the depth of the divide that many Palestinians believe has badly damaged their cause in pursuit of a state of their own.
Hamas says the Western-backed Palestinian Authority aims to eradicate it from the West Bank. Fatah says Hamas wants to wipe out its presence in Gaza. Palestinian analysts say Israeli opponents of a Palestinian state can only enjoy watching the split.
Egyptian efforts to reconcile the two movements have so far failed, and mutual accusations of the use of torture have exacerbated a hostility that is essentially rooted in their opposing strategies towards Israel and Palestinian liberation.
Backed by Iran and Syria, Hamas opposes Abbas's strategy of seeking a permanent peace with Israel. Its charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Both Abd El-Jawad and Abdel-Raziq have spent more than three years in prison in Israel since they were elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, a body that has not convened since the Gaza-takeover in 2007.
They were among 40 Hamas lawmakers arrested in 2006 after Islamist Palestinian militants in Gaza captured an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who they still hold.
Abd El-Jawad was released in September. Palestinian security forces banned his welcome-home reception, he said. A security official said Hamas used such gatherings to incite hatred against the Palestinian Authority.
More than 200 Hamas-affiliated charities, important in building grassroots support, have been shut down and anyone affiliated with the group had grown accustomed to being routinely followed by Palestinian forces, Abl El-Jawad added.
Hamas sympathisers also complain they have been sacked from government jobs in the West Bank, because of their affiliation.
Abd El-Jawad's last driver, Ibrahim Abdallah, said his record of working for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had not spared him from arrest by Palestinian security forces.
I spent two months working for him and two months in jail, he said. No one wants to work with him. (Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Douglas Hamilton)