Monday, August 10, 2009

Fatah Congress Fails Miserably and Shows Extremism; Much Media Reports It As Outstanding Success Which Proves Moderation

By Barry Rubin

The sober Financial Times speaks of the “agony” of Fatah. Khalid Abu Toameh of the Jerusalem Post, the best reporter covering Palestinian politics, compares it to the Iraqi Ba’th party. The Fatah Congress has been a dismal failure, even a disaster.

You’d never—or only very partially—know this based on much of the mainstream media coverage.

Consider some points being either taken for granted or downplayed:

--Fatah defined itself not as a political or even as a governing party for a state on the road to independence but as a “national liberation movement.” Think about what this phrase means: its job is not to run an administration or negotiate or prepare for full independence or to serve its people’s material needs but to struggle.

In the words of one resolution which sounds as if it came out of the 1960s, Fatah considers itself part of the Arab liberation movement. What does this mean? Who else is in this movement? The forces defining themselves in that manner nowadays are Hamas, Hizballah, and Syria. In contrast, Fatah is floating on Western donor money and diplomatic protection. Yet it still acts the way it did when Arafat led a Fatah conference in a rousing rendition of that old ditty, “America is the head of the snake.”

Implicitly, this says that Fatah doesn’t believe Israel is sincere about wanting a peaceful, compromise solution. It isn’t just distaste for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They said, and say, similar things about Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Tsipi Livni, the last five prime ministers.

--There is no change or moderation. Abu Toameh says that the resolutions passed in this meeting were virtually identical as those at the last conference twenty years ago. Since I was there covering that conference I can confirm that he’s right.

--There was no serious discussion of internal shortcomings, of why Fatah didn’t get state in 2000, of why it lost the election and the war in the Gaza Strip to Hamas. No report on the state of Fatah or on the spending of its money was offered, angering some delegates.

--The Congress unanimously passed a resolution claiming that Israel had murdered Yasir Arafat. This is no funny little marginal deed but a demonstration that the conspiracy-ridden world view in which Israel is demonized still dominates the group.

On one point, Fatah may be less extreme than charged. Its resolution on Jerusalem is ambiguous and doesn’t clearly intend to claim all of Jerusalem but just the eastern part. Possibly it was copying Israeli rhetoric by calling it the “eternal capital” of the Palestinians. Israel does claim all of Jerusalem. But up until now Fatah has not done so since 1993. If this position has changed it may be a mirror image of Israel’s position but is still a major escalation of Palestinian demands.

Now, did the New York Times coverage reflect any of these points? No, it was a whitewash designed to show that Abbas is a good leader and Fatah is moderate. For example:

“In a victory speech…[Abbas] said he wanted to tell the world that Fatah `adheres to the national project’ and…would continue to work for an independent Palestinian state.”

No mention of the armed struggle issue. In fact, it is relegated to the past:

“Mr. Abbas charted Fatah’s course from its early years of armed struggle in the 1960s, which he called a `necessity,’ to its current efforts to forge peace deals with Israel. The challenge, he said, is how to turn the limited autonomy the Palestinians have into a `normal state.’”

So we are to believe that Fatah engaged in armed struggle in the 1960s but that was a long time ago. How about the 1970s, 1980s, early 1990s, and from 2000 to 2005? Moreover, after many reporters long denied or downplayed the connection of the al-Aqsa Brigades, which often committed terrorist acts, from Fatah, aren’t we entitled to know that the meeting explicitly adopted this group as an official Fatah military arm?

Abbas is also said to have “urged the Palestinians to hold fast and be patient `as long as there is a glimmer of hope’ of negotiating a settlement.”

This sounds like a moderate man, horrified of violence and desperate for peace. Abbas is made to seem like a popular leader rather than an institutional dictator.

As for hardliners and violence advocates, we are to believe these are marginal opposition forces that have nothing to do with Fatah’s current leadership:

“Delegates at the conference have been pushing Fatah leaders to take tougher positions against Israel, participants said, rejecting the idea of negotiations for their own sake and insisting on reserving the option of some kind of resistance should peace talks fail.”

You get that? Abbas is moderate, but the bad guys are a small fringe of hardliners pushing for a tougher policy. In fact, all the hardline rhetoric and policies (and even individuals) in the current leadership are airbrushed out of existence.

This has nothing to do with the reality of Fatah and, thus, cannot explain its continued intransigence and failure. From such coverage, the Fatah congress would seem to be an outstanding success. So when there is no successful peace process for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years, you'll never be able to understand why.

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