Friday, December 12, 2008

The Hamas-Fatah War & Israeli Security

A briefing by Jonathan Schanzer

Jonathan Schanzer is the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, a Washington think-tank. Prior to joining JPC, he was a counterterrorism analyst for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Mr. Schanzer also has held positions at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Middle East Forum. It was during his tenure with the Forum that he undertook initial research into the subject of his new book, Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), which was also the topic of Mr. Schanzer's address to members of the Middle East Forum and the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia on November 3, 2008.

In Hamas vs. Fatah, Schanzer rejects the "constant narrative that the Palestinians are waiting for their state," an account that depicts the Palestinians as a passive factor in the state formation process. Instead, Schanzer argues that the Palestinians' troubled path to statehood is a product of their own political divisions. Schanzer believes that the problem had its roots in the outbreak of the first intifada in 1988. At that time, Arafat was exiled from the territories and living in Tunisia, so he and Fatah were unable to take credit for the Palestinian uprising.

Instead, it was Arafat's rival, Hamas, which "quickly eclipsed Fatah in terms of popularity with Islamists and refugees." Seeing his political relevance eroding, Arafat announced that he would accept in theory the state of Israel. Schanzer dismissed Arafat's declaration as merely "a ploy to get him back on the world stage. By simply recognizing the state of Israel," Schanzer explained, "the entire world [came] rushing to him thinking that perhaps he [could] end the uprising and bring Palestinian-Israeli peace."

The next seven years were the "Oslo Period." Although others saw the Accords as offering hope for a sustained peace, Schanzer believes that Arafat came to regret his involvement. By seeking the mantle of a statesman, Arafat found that he created a vacuum in the arena of "military struggle" that Hamas was able to exploit - as evidenced by the fact that during the 1990's, most terror attacks on Israel were perpetrated by Hamas.

For Hamas, attacks on Israel served a dual purpose. Every act of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas made Fatah look feckless to the outside world and undermined Arafat's overall strategy. On the other hand, terrorist attacks against Israel further cemented Hamas' popularity with the Palestinians, who increasingly looked to it as assertive, while Fatah was seen as submissive to the West.

This state of affairs lasted until 2000, when Arafat, seeing the damage that his reconciliation attempt had caused to the political relevance of Fatah, launched the second intifada. Schanzer said that Arafat's motivation behind this action was to "out-Hamas Hamas." Arafat promoted the conflict in a much more Islamist way than the first intifada; for example, calling the war the "Al-Aqsa intifada," after the historic mosque in Islam situated in Jerusalem.

In 2004, Arafat died and Mahmoud Abbas succeeded him as the leader of Fatah. In 2006, however, "in an absolute landslide…of the freest and fairest elections that we have probably seen ever in the Arab world," the Palestinians rejected Abbas and Fatah, and elected Hamas.

Along with the Hamas victory came what Schanzer declared the "Second Six-Day­-War," this one between Hamas and Fatah. In it, Palestinians fought each other and engaged in acts of violence such as "we've never seen in the Arab-Israeli conflict." With the election of Hamas - a terrorist organization – and the in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah, diplomacy with Israel came to virtual standstill.

The continued intervention of outside powers, which provide monetary and military support to one side or the other, further complicates the Fatah-Hamas split. Schanzer estimates that Iran provides Hamas with $35 million in annual support. The U.S. government supports Fatah mainly "so [Tehran does not] take over the Palestinian Authority as well."

Schanzer described the very separate nature of the two Palestinian territories today. The West Bank is "flourishing," due to the economic influence of Jordan. Meanwhile, Gaza, in which the Egyptians had failed to invest, is "the exact opposite" with people living in "squalor." Because of the geographic, economic and political differences between the two territories, Schanzer questions the potential for realizing a single Palestinian state.

But there are limits to the conflict between Fatah and Hamas. After all, both of their charters still call for the destruction of the State of Israel. However the conflict between Fatah and Hamas concludes, Schanzer asks, "With whom will the Israelis be able to make peace?"

Summary Account by Eric Bergel

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.



Sunday, December 7, 2008

The United Islamist Nations

by Supna Zaidi

Last week, the attacks in India and the threat to New York City's subway system provided another stark reminder of the need for a united front against global terrorism. Yet instead of figuring out how to combat Islamic extremists, the United Nations is worried about offending them.

On November 24, 2008, the U.N. passed a draft resolution against the defamation of religion sponsored by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), where all U.N. members are being asked to pass domestic legislation against blasphemy. The resolution was originally introduced in 1999 by the OIC, asserting that "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."

In reality, terrorism happens in Islam's name, or more accurately, in Islamism's name. Islamism is a 20th century product arising from the writings of sincere Muslims such as Hasan al-Banna and Syed Qutb. Frustrated by the fallen status of Muslims vis-à-vis the West, they offered a new version of Islam as a totalitarian socio-political alternative to democracy and Western license. Disparate followers from Osama bin Laden, Hezbollah and Hamas to the Jihadis that waged war on Mumbai last week are not deranged or crazy. Rather, they subscribe to a worldview that is antithetical to most Muslims and the West.

The OIC nations charge critics of Islamic extremism with "racism" and "Islamophobia" to deflect attention from the fact that such violence originates at the hand of Muslim clerics born and bread in their lands. This is because they realize they can't control Islamism, or they tacitly agree with its message.

These Muslim clerics also export this ideology to the West to radicalize Muslim immigrants abroad, and reform-minded Muslims are usually the first victims.

Kadra Noor was beat up in 2007 for speaking out against "Islamic" female genital mutilation in Norway. In Sweden, cabinet minister Nyamko Sabuni proposed that honor killings be labeled a separate crime in the Swedish penal code and girls get mandatory gynecological exams to discourage female circumcision. She also told the Sunday Times that arranged marriages are not a part of Islam.

As a result, she was called an "Islamophobe" and instead of supporting her, 50 Islamic Swedish organizations petitioned against her appointment to the cabinet in an effort to suppress her growing influence in Swedish politics.

Pakistan, spokesman for the OIC, recently promoted a politician to minister of education after he defended the live burial of five girls in Balochistan as "tribal custom." It is not a stretch to argue that Pakistan is not an OIC member interested in reform.

The 2005 Danish cartoon controversy kick-started the OIC campaign to pass last month's resolution when it was cited as another example of increased discrimination against Muslims after 9/11. The "cartoon intifada" arose 5 months after the original printing of the images of Muhammad, but only weeks before the UNHCR was due to consider the OIC's resolution on "Combating Defamation of Religion."

Such a coincidence caused the National Secular Society to state in its Memorandum to the United Kingdom Parliament that "the Danish cartoon crisis was manufactured…to exploit sensitivities around racial discrimination and to promote (or even exaggerate) the notion of 'Islamophobia' in order to restrict possibilities for open discussion or criticism of Islam….[M]easures calling for legislation banning 'defamation of religion' …. aim[] to remove religion, especially Islam, from public scrutiny and public debate."

The OIC forgets that Muslims are already protected in the West. The U.S., for example, increases sentences on crimes ranging from assault and battery to murder if they are deemed "hate crimes," which includes crimes against a victim based on his or her religious identity.

So what is this 57-nation organization really pushing with this "anti-blasphemy" resolution at the U.N.?

In the Muslim world, anti-blasphemy laws are regularly used to suppress free speech by attacking fellow Muslims and non-Muslims who criticize the government or protest human rights violations. Such laws are also used as pretext against individuals in personal and business disputes. The mere allegation puts mobs before the accused before the police can arrive to investigate.

At the U.N., the OIC has manipulated the language of racism to make its anti-democratic agenda more attractive to "third world" nations recovering from their own genuine post-colonial struggles. Nations that voted in favor of the resolution or abstained were predominantly from Latin America or developing African nations.

A final version of the resolution is up for a vote this month. It would be a mistake for these U.N. members to fall for anti-colonial rhetoric once again. By aligning with Islamists, the U.N. would be supporting the stifling of free speech and the suppression of human rights, and crushing the goal of building tolerant democratic societies.

Supna Zaidi is the assistant director of Islamist Watch, a project at the Middle East Forum.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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