Politics & Policy

Illusory Differences

Fatah and Hamas, birds of a feather.

The principles of its constitution include the following:

The Israeli existence in Palestine is a Zionist invasion.

The Zionist Movement is racial, colonial, and aggressive in ideology, goals, organization, and method.

Liberating Palestine is a national obligation…

Liberating Palestine and protecting its holy places is an Arab, religious, and human obligation.

Based on these principles, the constitution calls for:

Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military, and cultural existence.

And how is Palestine’s liberation to be achieved?

Armed public revolution is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.

Absent the strong Islamic religious element, this constitution might well be a document of Hamas. But it is not. It is the constitution of Fatah.

As Fatah appears to have lost at the Palestinian polls on Wednesday, it’s worth a closer look: Is Hamas that much worse?

Its early years remain murky, because it chose to function in a clandestine fashion. What is known is that in the mid-50s, Yasser Arafat went to Kuwait, where he organized some 20 Palestinians. For this, he drew on the membership of the Union of Palestinian Students, which had been organized by Arafat and his coterie at Cairo University in 1952; the union was affiliated with the radical Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, then in its heyday. One of the cofounders of the group, with Arafat from the beginning, was Mahmoud Abbas, today President of the Palestinian Authority. At first Fatah’s main activities consisted of recruitment and the publishing of a highly politicized magazine called Our Palestine; the first edition appeared in 1959.

A close associate of Arafat’s, Khalil Wazir (a.k.a. Abu Jihad) then went to Algeria to open Fatah’s first office. Algeria had just undergone a revolution, carrying outa war of terror to boot out the French. The ideologue of that revolution was Franz Fanon, who espoused the philosophy that violence was a catharsis for oppressed peoples–an end in itself and not just a means to an end.

There is solid reason to believe that Fatah adopted this as its model: Charles De Gaulle referred to French withdrawal from Algeria and the granting of Algerian independence as “Peace of the brave.” Arafat used that very same phrase frequently. An early Fatah leaflet, entitled “Revolution and Violence, the Path to Victory,” was essentially a collection of quotations from Fanon’s book The Wretched of the Earth.

By the early 60s, Fatah’s goal was the launching–from Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt-occupied Gaza–of commando raids against Israel. It went public with this in 1965 for a specific reason: The year before, the PLO had been founded with Egyptian support, and had adopted a pan-Arab stance; Fatah opposed its position.

The policy of launching border attacks continued, and escalated, until the Six Day War in 1967. The defeat of Arab armies by Israel left a power vacuum in the PLO–a vacuum that Fatah promptly filled. By 1968, Fatah had gained control of the PLO, and within a year Arafat was at its head, where he remained until his death just over a year ago.

From that time until the present, Fatah has essentially controlled the PLO. When, as a result of the Oslo Accords, the PA was spun off from the PLO, Fatah members controlled this entity as well. (After its founding, the PLO had declared itself the official representative of the Palestinian people, wherever they were, and of their nationalist aspiration. The PA was established as a temporary administrative entity in specific areas in Gaza and the West Bank.)

This scenario, however, presents an inherent inconsistency. If Fatah has remained committed to the destruction of Israel, how is it that the PLO, an organization controlled by Fatah, signed off on the Oslo Accords with the intention of negotiating peace with Israel?

Actually, the Fatah Central Committee never did approve. But the answer, more broadly, is that the PLO never intended peace with Israel, whatever the façade it presented to the Western world. In June 1974, the PLO had adopted its “Phased Program,” which stated:

Any liberation step that is achieved constitutes a step for continuing…to pave the way for completing the liberation of all Palestinian soil.

Quite simply, in the wake of the Arab defeat in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, it was evident that the “liberation of Palestine” would not be possible all at once. Thus was a “Strategy of Stages” conceptualized. It was entirely consistent with the goal maintained by the Fatah majority of the PLO, viz., that Israel had to be eliminated. Negotiations were sanctioned in order to gain a foothold, weaken Israel, and make the next step possible.

PA Minister Nabil Shaath acknowledged this approach in 1996, when he said (in Arabic) in a talk in Nablus:

We decided to liberate our homeland in step by step…Should Israel continue [to make concessions in negotiations], no problem…If and when Israel says ‘enough’…we will return to violence. But this time it will be with 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers and in a land with elements of freedom.

In the years since the founding of the PA, a good-cop/bad-cop strategy has been adopted. The PA is the good cop, Hamas the bad one. Arafat played this game to the hilt, professing inability to control the people who launched terror attacks while he was seeking peace. Abbas, in his own fashion, has done much the same. He would have liked to control the “gunmen,” but doing so was too difficult.

Whatever the talk of moderation by Abbas, whatever his expressed desire for negotiations and final settlement for a two-state solution, the harsh reality is that the Palestinian Authority has been comprised to a very significant degree of members of Fatah, which calls for Israel’s destruction via armed revolution.

The difference between Hamas and Fatah, until very recently, has been largely a matter of what face was presented to the world. The face of Hamas has been considerably more honest. In continuing to promote terrorism while joining the political fray, Hamas has actually further radicalized the public agenda:Fatah now speaks more openly about continuing the revolution.

In light of this history, and the current situation, the Western dismay at Hamas winning over Fatah is bewildering. In the end, it may not matter much.

Arlene Kushner is a Jerusalem-based investigative journalist and author. Her article on UNRWA appeared in the autumn edition of Azure. She is the author of Disclosed: Inside the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

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