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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159
(415) 356-7801


November 23, 2004

Dear Friend of FLAME:

While Yasir Arafat's death has raised some hopes for a renewed peace process in the Middle East, the reality on the ground is much less promising. Before the U.S., Britain and the European Union renew their pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, let's take a sober look at the considerable obstacles to peace and the costs of appeasement. Moderates are the weakest faction among the Palestinian nationalists and they have no charismatic leader who can control terrorists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Most importantly, a majority of Palestinians, and certainly the hardliners in Arafat's Fatah movement, still cling to the fantasy that they can defeat Israel and replace it with an Arab/Islamic state. Many hardliners support the popular, but convicted and jailed terrorist, Marwan Barghouti, and could conceivably elect him as Arafat's successor. The article below, by Barry Rubin, outlines this troubling situation and its critical challenges. Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Relations (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) journal, editor of Turkish Studies and co-author of "Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography."

Jim Sinkinson
Director, FLAME

The Region: Two, three, many Arafats
By Barry Rubin,
The Jerusalem Post, November 16, 2004

The split among Palestinians makes the prospect of peace or progress unlikely.

Despite the frequently heard claim that, post-Arafat, a moderate Palestinian trend offers an opportunity for advancing peace, the Palestinian reality is one of division and radical veto power. Palestinians are split by many competing ambitions and multiple factions. Among the nationalists there are three main groupings:

The moderates. By far the weakest, this faction has three well-known figures: Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), the new head of the PLO; Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei), the prime minister, and Muhammad Dahlan, leader of a Gaza militia that is powerful but has little organization and few supporters.

A pragmatic point of view is unpopular among activists who have been indoctrinated to glorify violence, hate Israel, and define moderation as treason. The best strategy for the moderates would be to win over the dozen security services that resent young Fatah terrorists and Hamas as competitors. Another sector they could court would be Palestinian Authority bureaucrats and technocrats who want quiet to do their jobs and make money.

Finally, moderates could appeal to average Palestinians who are tired of violence. But they are not politically sophisticated or organized enough to pursue that strategy. They also face the movement's dominant ideology, which still hinges on Israel's destruction, and the men with guns.

They have no charismatic leader, are heretics to the Islamists, and will be seen as puppets of Israel and America. Consequently, they are likely to survive by not doing much. They know it is in the Palestinians' interest to end terrorism against Israel - but how? Attempts to prevent Hamas or their Fatah attacks will be laughed at, ignored, or bring violent retaliation.

The old hard-liners. These veteran Fatah officials see no reason to change their view that the only acceptable outcome is a Palestinian state in place of Israel. They will allow no compromise solution that would foreclose that objective, and demand a total return of refugees to ensure Israel's destruction from within.

Their best-known leader is Farouk Kadoumi, the new head of Fatah, and they have a big majority in Fatah. But since Abu Mazen and Abu Ala come from this group, the faction backs them as figureheads to project a moderate view to the world and maintain a united front of veterans against the younger radicals and the Islamists.

Fatah is now the most important power center. The PLO is a shadow organization that supposedly represents but has no control over the refugee communities in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or other places more sympathetic to a hard line. Thus the old hard-liners will go along with Abu Mazen and Abu Ala holding high posts as long as they don't actually do anything. Fatah will maintain a veto over all policies, blocking any real progress toward a peace agreement.

The young hard-liners. These are Fatah militants whose formative political experience comes from terrorist and underground activities in the late 1970s-early 1980s. Best-known is Marwan Barghouti, currently serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail for terrorist activities, and its main structures include the terrorist Aksa Martyrs Brigade - now calling themselves "Brigades of Martyr Yasser Arafat" - and the grassroots Fatah Tanzim group.

Barghouti was the main architect of the post-2000 intifada, acting to position himself as Arafat's most loyal disciple, supplanting Dahlan in that role. Ironically, he was an earlier ferocious critic of Arafat, doing everything possible to block him.

The young hard-liners believe armed struggle solves all problems and there is no need for political compromise because they will drive Israel out of the territories. They are ready to fight on for decades, reincarnating Arafat's world view. By announcing his run for PA chief, Barghouti is trying to seize the leadership - a clever stratagem that could lead to countries demanding Israel release him from jail because he is now a "politician." (Israel's refusal will lead to it being accused, falsely, of blocking Palestinian democracy and peace.)

Barghouti puts still another constraint on moderates by demonstrating the militant forces' power, and he could even win. Unlike his elders, Barghouti has no compunction about allying himself with Hamas. And if that alliance took over the PA, any hope of peace would be gone for a very long time. Hamas will not run candidates in the election, which it says validates the Oslo Accords. But many Hamas supporters will vote. Preferring Barghouti, they could spring an unpleasant surprise for their rivals.

There is still much confusion, including the possibility that elections will not be held. Already, though, it can be seen that the post-Arafat situation is going to be very difficult, with Palestinian leaders unable to create a government for the Gaza Strip following an Israeli withdrawal.

Like their late leader, Arafat's heirs may win some international public relations victories. But getting a state or improving their people's welfare - much less defeating Israel - may elude them for many years.

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