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The State of Negotiations

August 5, 2008
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But Abbas is finding himself under challenge. The younger, potential Fatah leaders believe he represents a throwback to the Yasser Arafat era when Fatah was an openly aggressive and revolutionary organization. If he is different and seriously promotes a moderate approach to Israel, he lacks the authority to remove the cohorts who came with him from the old guard. He also lacks the charisma and clout of his predecessor Yasser Arafat.

Abbas was born in Safed, in northern Israel, in 1935. His family became refugees during the 1948 war and settled in Syria. There, he graduated from the University of Damascus before going to Egypt where he studied law. Abbas earned his PhD in Moscow at the Patrice Lumumba University. In the fifties, Abbas associated with underground Palestinian politicians and teamed up with exiled Palestinians in Qatar (an Arab emirate on the Arabian Peninsula). He recruited a number of people who became key members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and was a founding member of Fatah along with Arafat in 1957. In 2003, he served a short term as prime minister, but conflicts with Yasser Arafat over the delegation of authority cut the term short.

The Question of Motivation

When Arafat died in 2005, Abbas was seen as the natural successor. While he brought a call for moderation, he also had by his side revolutionaries who had been part of the belligerent Arafat era. They were raised on the Fatah 1964 Constitution, which contained very militant terminology such as: “The Palestinian Revolution plays a leading role in liberating Palestine,” or “The Palestinian struggle is part and parcel of the worldwide struggle against Zionism, colonialism, and international imperialism,” and “The Israel existence in Palestine is a Zionist invasion with a colonial expansive base, and it is a natural ally to colonialism and international imperialism.”

In its goals, the Constitution lists as its goal the “complete liberation of Palestine and [the] eradication of Zionist economic, political, military, and cultural existence.” When the Fatah Constitution speaks of “method,” it starts with a very specific declaration: “Armed public revolution is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.” It is this policy, established by Yasser Arafat and his revolutionary leaders in the sixties, which the Abbas team is elected to sustain to this day.

Is the softly, softly approach simply a methodology to acquire more land from Israel and continue the process of the “eradication” plan? It may be presumptuous or even wishful thinking to believe Abbas, a cofounder of Fatah, has suddenly ceased with his revolutionary ambitions. This year at the opening ceremony of the Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem, Abbas said, “East Jerusalem belongs to us, and we will get it back sooner or later.” It is the “sooner or later” that concerns me.

Is his peace talk just part of a process in reaching the ultimate goal of gaining all of Israel to be Palestine? The Palestinian school children are taught there is no legitimate “Israel,” and their maps display the entire Land of Israel as “Palestine.” The name “Fatah” is a strong statement in itself. It is a reverse acronym of Harakat al-Tahir al-Filistinya (Palestinian Liberation Movement), meaning “conquest” in Arabic.

Instability Reigns

The world was shocked in January 2006 when Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel, defeated Abbas in a national election. A number of reasons led to the downfall of the once invincible Fatah.

1.     Charges of corruption and inefficiency within the leadership. The people expected new         faces in the leadership team; instead, the Old Brigade was retained, despite their               failings. 

2.      Abbas lacked the inspirational leadership of Yasser Arafat.

3.      Abbas’s message of compromise and acceptance of Israel was unpopular.

4.      Hamas offered the same aggression and motivation once inspired by Arafat.

The Fatah “young guard” say that they have been denied access to senior positions because of the power play by the Arafat “veterans.” Fresh faces at the top are being blocked and unrest is mounting. These factions have once again attacked each other over the continuous charges of corruption and incompetence. Financial scandals are said to be rampant.

When Abbas was forced to dissolve the Hamas-led government, large financial support was immediately sent to him by the United States, European Union, and others in an attempt to strengthen his hand. On June 20, 2007, Rami G. Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University Beirut, wrote: “Fatah dominated the Palestinian national movement since its inception over 40 years ago and forged a unified national movement with realistic diplomatic goals based on a two-state solution that garnered great international support. All this was systematically wasted and negated in the past decade. Gaza looks like the ravaged Somali capital Mogadishu, because its political turmoil is slowly mirroring the Somali legacy of a disintegrating state replaced by feuding warlords.” This uncertainty suggests more of the same in the immediate future.

While the Middle East conflict is often said to be all about the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, what emphasis is given to the bloody rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, Sunni and Shia Muslims, and religious and secular Arabs? How does Israel make peace with one faction when that simple gesture infuriates another? But the VIPs of international political wisdom continue to parade Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah as the solution to the problem. However, Joseph Shier, the senior vice president of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, warned about designating Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.“ He wrote, “Promoting Abbas as a moderate will once again prevent the emergence of any genuinely moderate Palestinian Arab leadership.”

Another “Moderate” Alternative

In a unique and curious situation, Marwan Barghouti—currently serving five life terms in an Israeli jail—is called the mastermind behind plans to bring about the changing of the guard. He is being offered as a potentially moderate leader. This year, he sent this message to an Israeli Peace Now demonstration: “I, Marwan Barghouti, am telling you that I and the majority of the Palestinian people are ready for a historic agreement based on international decisions that will allow a Palestinian and Israeli state to coexist, side by side, in peace and stability.”

Analyst Ami Isseroff observed, “But in 2000, Marwan Barghouti, who claims that he wants peace, was part of the leadership. He himself, documented his role in starting the violence that made peace impossible.” He then issued a quote from Barghouti that was made after Arab riots, which erupted when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in 2000. Barghouti said, “I saw within the situation a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict. The strongest conflict is the one initiated from Jerusalem.” Isseroff said, “Barghouti, who professes peace, may have had more to do with preventing peace in 2000 than any other Palestinian.”

The Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Taomeh wrote, “Barghouti does not seem to be operating on his own. His young guard camp includes many prominent Fatah figures, such as former security commanders Muhammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub. Barghouti has also succeeded in rallying behind him hundreds of young Fatah leaders not only in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria], but in the Gaza Strip as well” (April 6, 2008).

This mounting opposition may be the real reason Mahmoud Abbas was recently quoted as saying he will resign if a Palestinian state is not achieved this year. “The power struggle is not only over jobs and money, but ideology as well. Many Fatah members, especially old guard Fatah representatives, are strongly opposed to introducing changes to the faction’s political program, which advocates an ‘armed struggle’ with Israel,” according to Khaled Abu Taomeh. The instability within Fatah is a major obstacle to a lasting peace agreement with Israel.

Will Living Side by Side Work?

President Bush has continually said he stands for “a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.” The difficulty in achieving that goal is that the internal Palestinian factions have problems living side by side with each other. In her book Shackled Warrior, Israeli columnist Caroline Glick tells the story of a man she called Alon. This is what Alon, a kibbutznik, shared with his new commander while serving with the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria:

“I refused to serve in the reserves for the past three years while we were in Gaza because I think that we should give the territories to the Palestinians. But then I realized that the Arabs keep killing us no matter what we do, so now I don’t know what I think. My wife, who comes from Denmark, doesn’t think I should be here. She wants us to move to Denmark. I decided to serve this year because now I think I’m supposed to fight.

“On the one hand we should give them a state. On the other hand, they don’t want a state because we already gave them one at Camp David and they went to war to kill us. On the one hand, maybe our being on the territories gets them mad, but on the other hand they keep killing us no matter what we do, so we have to keep fighting them because they will never leave us alone. So I am confused. I came here to fight because I think this is what I am supposed to do, but I don’t know.”

Dr. Mitchell Bard, in his series Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab–Israel Conflict, wrote: “Israelis fear that a Palestinian state will become dominated by Islamic extremists and serve as a staging area for terrorists. The greatest danger, however, would be that a Palestinian state could serve as a forward base in a future war for Arab nations that have refused to make peace with Israel.”

The real purpose and character of a new Palestinian state is a quandary for Israeli negotiators. In the midst of such a serious situation, Israel should not make decisions based on what any world leader says. The survival of the Jewish people and the birth of the State of Israel can be directly attributed to the faithfulness of God. It is through Him they must seek wisdom. “Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established” (Prov. 24:3).

By Ron Ross
BFP Israel Mosaic Radio Host

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