Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Scoop: Fatah's New Charter Shows Why Peace Won't Happen.
by Barry Rubin
Many people seem to think that the Israel-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli conflict or the “peace process” is the world’s most important issue. So who's going to determine whether it gets resolved or not? No, not President Barak Obama; no, not Israel’s prime minister; no, not Palestinian Authority (PA) “president” Mahmoud Abbas or Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
That choice is in the hands of Fatah, which controls the PA and rules the West Bank. Only if and when Fatah decides that it wants a two-state solution and a real end of the conflict based on compromise will that be possible. So the fact that Fatah has issued a new charter seems to be a matter of great importance.
Yet up until now nobody has noticed that such a charter emerged from the August 2009 Fatah General Congress. The document was translated by the U.S. government and has just been leaked by Secrecy News. You are now reading the first analysis of this charter.
Secrecy News remarks: “The document is not particularly conciliatory in tone or content. It is a call to revolution, confrontation with the enemy, and the liberation of Palestine, ‘free and Arab.’" But then the newsletter continues:
“But what is perhaps most significant is what is not in the document. The original Fatah charter (or constitution) from the 1960s embraced `the world-wide struggle against Zionism,’ denied Jewish historical or religious ties to the land, and called for the `eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.’ None of that language is carried over into the new charter, which manages not to mention Israel, Zionism, or Jews at all.
”Now here’s an important lesson for you. When a radical group is portrayed as moderate based on some position it supposedly has taken or some statement made there has to be a catch somewhere. Here’s the tip-off in this case, a single sentence in the new charter:
“This internal charter has been adopted within the framework of adherence to the provisions of the Basic Charter.
”In other words, every detail of the original charter still holds; nothing is repealed, no error admitted, no explicit change of course accepted.
Of course, Fatah has changed a lot from the 1960s. It is less focused on violence (though that doesn’t mean it has renounced terrorism necessarily), less explicitly militant in its demands, more willing to deal in a cooperative manner with Israel. Neither genuine moderation nor remaining intransigence should be exaggerated. On practical day-to-day matters, Israel can work with Fatah and needs to ensure that Hamas doesn't overthrow it. At present Fatah leaders understand well that a return to large-scale violence is against their interests. But make a comprehensive peace agreement? Not going to happen.
And yet offered an opportunity to become a parliamentary political party, a movement clearly dedicated to peaceful politicking and a diplomatic solution, despite massive Western financial subsidies and frequent expressions of support for a Palestinian state from President Barack Obama, Fatah has chosen to remain a revolutionary organization. Indeed, there is no word more used in this charter than “revolutionary.”
“Let us train ourselves to be patient and to face ordeals, bear calamities, sacrifice our souls, blood, time and effort,” says the charter. “All these are the weapons of revolutionaries."
You must know that determination, patience, secrecy, confidentiality, adherence to the principles and goals of the revolution, keep us from stumbling and shorten the path to liberation.
"Go forward to revolution. Long live Palestine, free and Arab!”
At the same time, though, Fatah remains non-ideological. It sees itself as a broad nationalist movement, just as when Yasir Arafat founded it more than fifty years ago. Indeed, despite the challenge from Hamas, the word “Muslim” or “Islamic” is mentioned nowhere in the charter.
In structure, though, Fatah is still a revolutionary organization. Membership is secret; decisionmaking is supposedly based on the Marxist concept of “democratic centralism;” the Maoist phrase “criticism and self-criticism” is recommended; and the organizational structure is based on cells.
Yet while Fatah sounds like some Communist party or tightly disciplined revolutionary underground, the reality is quite different. Arafat set forth an institutional culture that has always been somewhat anarchical. Cadre are undisciplined and the command structure is anything but organized. When Hamas staged a coup in the Gaza Strip, Fatah simply collapsed and didn’t even put up much of a fight. Local bosses prevail; cadre do pretty much whatever they want; indiscipline and corruption is rife.
And so it is sort of a joke to read in Article 95 that members are enjoined to be, “Undertaking their tasks enthusiastically and sparing no effort in achieving the movement's objectives and principles; exerting strenuous efforts to enhance interaction with the masses and winning their respect and confidence.”
What is intriguing, however, is that there is a detailed discussion of transgressions of Fatah rules and punishments for doing so. Clearly, if members do anything the leaders don't like they are going to face severe penalties. Thus it is significant that no Fatah member has been ever disciplined for committing acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians or for making the most extremist statements. Indeed, it isn’t even clear that Fatah has the determination or ability to punish members for collaborating with Hamas against their own leaders.
But the most fascinating aspect of all is the definition of the movement’s structure. Overwhelming power is in the hands of a 23-member Central Committee, including control of Fatah’s military forces. As I have shown previously, the Central Committee elected at the same Congress which formulated this new charter is quite radical. There are few members ready for real peace with Israel. When it comes to making any big decision, Abbas and Fayyad are mere figureheads.
Beneath the Central Committee is an 80-member Revolutionary Committee and, as the next level, a 350-member General Council. The Central Committee chooses a fairly large portion o both groups. Indeed it also selects the Fatah members of the Palestine National Council (the PLO’s legislature); PLO Executive Committee, which rules the PLO; Palestinian Legislative Council (the PA’s legislature); and the PA itself.
What this means is that Abbas and Fayyad do not control the PA, nor can they make peace or even conduct serious give-and-take negotiations. The Central Committee is really in control and the Central Committee is overwhelmingly hardline--at least 16--roughly three-quarters--of the 23 are that way. They still hope to take over Israel and thus reject agreeing to resettle Palestinian refugees in a state of Palestine. Equally, they aren't ready to declare that a two-state solution is the end of the conflict.
Most of the hardliners are supporters of Abbas. But the main reason they back him is their conviction that Abbas is weak both in character and in political base. They want him to be leader because they know he doesn't threaten their power. Like the famous exchange between Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Vice-President Dan Quayle they can say: "I knew Yasir Arafat. I worked with Yasir Arafat. And Chairman Abbas, you are no Yasir Arafat."
He will not, he cannot, do anything they don't like. And one of the things Abbas has done to appease them has been to make Muhammad Ghaneim, perhaps the most hardline among all the committee members, his designaed successor.
These 23 committee members are in control of the fate of the Palestinians (except for Hamas’s considerable say in that matter) and the peace process. Due to their radicalism, there will be no peace or Palestinian state for many years.
Why don’t more people study the details of Palestinian politics? For the same reason that they don’t want to look closely at how sausages are made. It’s too unpleasant. After doing so, one could never go on naively believing that peace is within reach.
PS: Following my article on the new Fatah Charter, I was sent a JTA story about how the new charter is very moderate since it "drops" calls for Israel's destruction, etc. As I pointed out, the charter says that the old charter is still in force and nothing in the new one contradicts it. So nothing has changed in fact. It is amazing how easy it is for various radical Arab and Islamist groups to fool Western journalists. It always helps to read a document before describing it as a breakthrough for moderation.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
Posted by Harry at 10:39 AM