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March 24, 2008: Fatah and Hamas

March 24, 2008

Well, here we are in the midst of an ever-changing scenario that has yet to play itself out.

Officially, neither the US nor Israel has comment on the agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas yesterday in Yemen that commits them to working out their differences. I determined as much via calls to the US Embassy and US Consulate in Jerusalem, and to spokespersons for the prime minister and ministry of foreign affairs.

But unofficially , it’s another story.

Most nauseating (and I use the word advisedly) was the reaction of Defense Minister Barak, as reported by Abu Toameh and others in the Post. Barak is said to be considering some "good will gestures" to show the PA that if they get too close to Hamas they risk "losing everything."

What the Post article said was that:

"[Israeli government] officials, who were skeptical that a declaration agreed upon in Yemen by Fatah and Hamas would actually bear any fruit, said that by agreeing to re-start a dialogue with Hamas, PA President Mahmoud Abbas might be signaling to Israel that if it didn’t start acting to shore up his position, he had ‘other options.’"

If we didn’t "start acting to shore up his position"??? Does this mean we are expected to cave on matters that impinge on Israeli security, in order to make Abbas look good, out of fear of what he might do if we fail to respond?

There is a word for what Barak is contemplating: appeasement . The more the PA officials act perversely, the more we think we must provide for them. In such a scenario, the PA is calling the shots and we make ourselves fools. There is no notion of requiring demonstrable good faith of the PA before restrictions are relaxed.

All of this, you understand, is being done with an eye towards Rice’s arrival here next week. For it’s not only the PA that our government rushes to appease, but also (and perhaps even more so) the US government.

Barak is considering such things as a VIP lane at checkpoints and exempting businessmen who have received security clearances from getting checked at these points. A risky business in my opinion. Suffice it to say that there have been several occasions on which persons who have been deemed trustworthy turned out to be accomplices to terror activity.

In fairness to Barak, he did say it’s too soon to consider actually taking down checkpoints.


Olmert for his part, is reported to have told Cheney that "the understandings between Hamas and Fatah are not the kind that requires any Israeli response." We will continue to negotiate with the PA, he said, but implementation of any agreement will depend on its ability to fight terror. Also perhaps words designed to satisfy the Americans.


With all of this, at a different level , the message has also been passed to Abbas that if he returns to a unity government, negotiations are over.

An Israeli official, speaking without authorization and thus anonymously, said, "The Fatah leadership has to make a choice. They can have a peace process and dialogue with Israel or a coalition with Hamas. But it’s clear that you can’t have them both."

Unofficial messages from the US have been similar.


And will there be a new Palestinian unity government?

Well.. according to PA chief negotiator Ahmed Qurei, the agreement was signed as the result of a mix-up. He says that Azzam al-Ahmed, who headed the PA negotiating team in Yemen tried to call Abbas to get a final OK before signing, but Abbas was busy meeting with Cheney, so he went ahead and signed. A foolish and simplistic interpretation that perhaps signals a deeper disagreement or quandry.

Al Jazeera reports that some Abbas advisors are claiming that al-Ahmed kept Abbas in the dark regarding the details of what he signed, but al-Ahmed insists that he didn’t exceed his brief and had coordinated with Abbas’s office before signing.

So what is this about? We might say that Abbas is getting cold feet. But I would suggest another interpretation: that he’s playing both ends against the middle, preparing to get into bed with Hamas while he acts as if this is not his intention at all.


There is considerable indication that this agreement, while it is based on specific items, simply commits the parties to further talk.

According to a PA statement, "Resumption of dialogue in the future must be to implement the Yemeni initiative in all its items and not to deal with the initiative as a framework for dialogue, because this will not yield an outcome." "The initiative in all its items" includes return to the situation in Gaza before the Hamas takeover.

But then, the PA is not ready to change its situation in Judea and Samaria.

While Hamas’s position is that the agreement simply represents a guideline for talks, not pre-conditions at all.


Let me here recommend a new piece by Barry Rubin , "Palestinian Politics: Onward and Downward." It provides a solid dose of much-needed realism.

Says Rubin, Palestinian politics continues to reject moderation. (Emphasis added)

"Three factors fuel this trend.

"First, Fatah and the PA continue to be corrupt, incompetent and incapable of self-reform.

"Second, given the cult of violence and total victory dominating Palestinian political culture , Hamas is inevitably seen as heroic because it fights and rejects compromise…

"Compromise is treason; moderation is cowardice . This is the daily fare of Palestinian ideology and politics, purveyed by leaders, clerics, media and schools…

"Third, due to its own weakness and the strong political culture it never challenges, the current leadership cannot make peace. It knows, contrary to Western claims, that negotiating a political solution would destroy it, and acts accordingly…

"Even so, Fatah is undergoing a radicalization process which may not displace Abbas, but will install his successor. Public opinion is also more extreme, with support for terrorism zooming upward. Fatah both heeds and feeds the trend…

"We are now seeing the birth of a new Fatah all right, but not the one heralded by such people as former British prime minister Tony Blair or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It is rather an even more extremist version, coming from those who wield guns, not pens, namely the Aksa Brigades. Contrary to much reportage, this is not an ‘offshoot’ but an essential part of Fatah…

"The Brigades demand Fayyad’s firing and replacement by ‘a new government that would not abandon the armed struggle.’ Like others in the Fatah leadership, its strategy is not to fight but ally with Hamas. Despite Hamas’s bloody expulsion of Fatah from Gaza, killing Israelis wipes out all sins in Palestinian politics…

"The main thing keeping Fayyad in office is not honesty or moderation, but the fact that removing him would kiss good-bye to almost $7 billion in Western aid …

"One reason why many Westerners misunderstand the conflict and countries adopt ridiculously irrelevant policies is ignorance of how extremism is attractive in its own right . After all, Westerners reason, if people are all alike and universally pragmatic, Palestinians must want to end the conflict and get an independent state through negotia
tion and compromise. Why go on suffering? No ‘rational’ person would act that way.

"Therefore, many in the West reach one of two conclusions:

"1. Palestinian leaders want to act rationally but cannot make peace and achieve a better life for their people because Israel will not let them. This is the anti-Israel stance.

"2. They are eager to do so, and if Europe and America only put in lots of effort and money peace can be quickly achieved. This is the ‘evenhanded’ position, which always ends up demanding Israeli concessions in hopes of enabling Palestinian moderation.

"These are articles of unshakable faith, impermeable to evidence or experience. Whenever Palestinian leaders reject peace it must be because they were not offered enough…”





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