Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Palestinian Politics: One Plus One Plus One Moderate Equals: Zero Moderation

By Barry Rubin

When it comes to moderation Palestinian politics, one thinks of the folktale about the Greek philosopher Diogenes who searched fruitlessly night and day for an honest man.

One can find among Palestinian leaders some relative moderates and people who can quietly act pragmatically when necessary. But you cannot find someone who is willing or capable of openly advocating and implementing a moderate course on making peace with Israel.

Previously, in what can be called the “prequel” to this article, I’ve written about two of the most genuinely (but relatively) moderate and pragmatic leading figures in Fatah--Ahmad Qurie (Abu Ala) and Muhammad Dahlan.

Abu Ala, in his 70s, a technocrat and former negotiator for peace now claims that Israel secretly controls Fatah and is conspiratorially pushing it toward a traitorous compromise which must be resisted.

Muhammad Dahlan is 47, a militia-leading tough guy who can talk sensibly to Israelis behind the scenes. He is insisting that Fatah has never recognized Israel and will never ask Hamas to do so.

In their hearts, these men--more than all the other dozens of Fatah and Palestinian Authority leaders--would be happy to make a two-state deal with Israel and might well stick to it. But in public, in pursuit of their ambitions, they know that any sign of moderation, compromise, or concession is suicidal, if not physically certainly in political terms.

Hatem Abd al-Qader represents still a third type. While Dahlan is the strongman of the establishment's younger generation, Qader is the most outspoken leader of the young opposition, whose better-known head is Marwan Barghouti. No one was more courageously, openly, and constantly critical of Yasir Arafat than Abd al-Qader. He has long thundered against its dictatorship and corruption.

In another political culture, Abd al-Qader would be a tribune of the people, a man of peace and common sense.

Not here. In a July 31 television interview—translated by MEMRI—here's what he says:

“How many years will [Israel] last [as a country]? Eventually, Israel will withdraw [from the West Bank]. In the past, Jerusalem was subject to invasions, and it has been occupied for over 90 years. There are two promises – that of Allah and that of Balfour. They have Balfour’s promise, while we have the promise of Allah. This is not a problem for us. The struggle between us is a long one….

“Negotiations have not and will not achieve a thing. In my view, the greatest mistake made by the Palestinians was the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords were catastrophic for the Palestinian people in general, and for Jerusalem in particular. Since the Oslo Accords and to this day, the Judaization and settlement have increased by 1,700%. This clearly demonstrates that the political plan was a failure. I believe that the Palestinians must seek different options now, other than the option of negotiations. Negotiations will not lead to anything. The Israelis continue to view us as a defense issue, rather than a political issue. When Israel is ripe for a political solution, we may turn to negotiations. But for now, there is no point to negotiations, and we must seek other options.”

Abd al-Qader, hardly an Islamist, is quite ready to use the Islamist approach, thus reinforcing it in the minds of Palestinians. Nor is he some kind of mindless extremist. There are basically three problems which he shares with his Fatah movement and people as a whole:

First, he knows the movement is governed by violence and militancy. Anyone who wishes power or influence must take this line and pursue it.

Second, his concept of Israel is so hostile and irrational that he cannot deal with it in realistic terms. Perhaps this is going too far—it would be for Abu Ala and Dahlan--and the way I should express it is: while there’s a more realistic framework for comprehending Israel in his mind, he can’t keep the demonic version from overcoming it.

Third, his goal remains one of total victory, no matter how long it takes or what twists and turns short-term situations require. When he says that Jerusalem has been occupied for more than 90 years and that this will be brought to an end, he is referring to the British and then the Israeli presence. It isn't only in east Jerusalem, held by Israel since 1967, that must be "liberated" but the whole city and all of Israel as well.

So if the young, iconoclastic, seemingly honest young generation of anti-establishment Fatah people--those treated as heroic moderates in the Western media--were to come to power, the situation would be worse.

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