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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159
November 23, 2004
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
By Barry Rubin,
The Jerusalem Post, November 16, 2004
The split among Palestinians makes the prospect of peace or progress
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
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
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
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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