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Volcanoes are classified historically as active, dormant, and dead. The second group is merely inactive at present but could blow any time. As a terrorist organization, Fatah, the leading group in the Palestinian Authority (PA) which supplies nearly all of its leaders, is dormant, not dead.
The unfortunate reality is that the ideology that favors the total destruction of Israel as a higher priority than getting an independent Palestinian state is still dominant; all the mechanisms of terrorism are still in place; incitement goes on daily. It’s a very good thing that these are not active and it is important to try to keep them that way. But the real PA and Fatah are far from the diplomatists’ dreams and the journalists’ description of the group as “moderate.”
This is a problem not only because it blocks any hope of a negotiated peace, but it also ensures the group’s ineffectiveness. While Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a pretty genuine moderate, he is also rather alone in that category.
What can Fatah and the PA offer better than Hamas? In theory, the answer is a simple one: a dedication to obtaining a state, living in peace, raising living standards, and providing West Bank Palestinians (the ones it rules) with a better life than Gaza Strip Palestinians (the ones Hamas rules).
There are, however, daily reminders by these same leaders–Fayyad excepted–that this is not the primary focus of Fatah and the PA. An interesting video is provided by the valuable and accurate Palestinian Media Watch group that illustrates this reality rather effectively.
The televised show was put on by Fatah in order to demonstrate why it is better than Hamas. With top Fatah and PA officials prominently seated in the audience, the event is a mock debate in which Fatah “proves” it is better than Hamas. How? By getting Western aid? By having better schools? By holding out the likelihood of a Palestinian state where refugees can be resettled?
No. By more effectively killing Israelis.
Here’s the transcript of the key section:
Fatah student taunts Hamas: “Since Hamas seized power, we haven’t heard of any martyrdom operation [suicide-bombing].”
Hamas teacher: “It’s called ‘fighter’s rest.'”
Fatah student: “A Hamas fighter needs rest, but a Fatah fighter doesn’t need rest?!”
Hamas teacher: “Every fighter has the right to rest.”
Fatah student: “Why is it that when Fatah stops fighting, you [Hamas] say they’re cowards, but when Hamas stops fighting, you say it’s ‘fighters’ rest’?”
Hamas teacher: “I don’t know much about resistance [terror] and fighters…”
Fatah student: “The first shot was fired by the PLO; the first Jihad was carried out by the PLO [audience applauds], with all the other factions – but Hamas always opposed.
Hamas student: “What do you say about Hamas having kidnapped the [Israeli] soldier Shalit [still held hostage – Ed.]?”
Hamas teacher: “Ahaaa!”
Student: “By Allah, it’s good.”
Hamas student: “Did Fatah ever capture a soldier?!”
Fatah student: “It was the [other] brigades who captured him [Shalit] and sold him to you [Hamas]. It’s a deal that you [Hamas] made for your own benefit, not for the [Palestinian] people’s benefit. [Applause]
Fatah student: Remember, in Ramallah the [PA-Fatah] police arrested two soldiers – have you forgotten, teacher?!”
And what happened in Ramallah? Two unarmed Israeli reservists who were driving got lost, wandered into Ramallah, were taken into custody by the PA police, and then turned over to a mob which tore them apart and murdered them in cold blood.
This is one of the greatest achievements Fatah offers to prove its superiority.
The other main Fatah point is that Hamas is “chicken” because it no longer fires as many rockets and mortars at Israel as it did before the attack. Of course, Fatah can’t win on that point either since it wasn’t firing any at all. And of course the implication is that Hamas should prove it is macho and an appropriate leader for the Palestinians by attacking Israel more.
Aside from the extremism and anti-peace views this approach indicates it is simply a losing argument for Fatah and the PA. Hamas can easily out-terrorism Fatah. If that is the criterion there is no doubt who will win in this competition.
Here is the problem with the argument, so often heard, that Fatah and the PA are “moderate,” often accompanied by the speaker saying, “If I were them….” or “If they were smart….”
Well, if Fatah and the PA were led by Western Europeans or Obama supporters we would indeed be better off. They’d say: All Hamas can offer is more decades of bloodshed, whereas we can get Western support, get a state really fast, resettle all the refugees there, get billions of dollars in compensation money, raise living standards, and end the violence.
But they never say that to their constituents. Why? Because that isn’t their set of priorities.
For Fatah and the PA the competition in violence and martyrdom, the seeking after total victory, the refusal to make concession or compromise isn’t only an immoral argument, it is also an inevitably losing one against both Israel and Hamas.
It is, however, the policy they prefer because this is what the vast majority of them believes in and they also fear that if they were to adopt a real moderate policy they’d lose popular support. To debate the latter point is most interesting–the Fatah/PA leaders may not be right to think that–but those doing such debate are outsiders. The actual leaders know what they themselves think and will do.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (Routledge), The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).