By Arlene Kushner, author of ‘Disclosed: Inside the Palestinian Authority and
January 26, 2006.
The principles of its constitution include the following:
- The Israeli existence in Palestine is a Zionist invasion.
- The Zionist Movement is racial, colonial, and aggressive in ideology,
goals, organization, and method.
- Liberating Palestine is a national obligation.
- Liberating Palestine and protecting its holy places is an Arab, religious,
and human obligation.
- Based on these principles, the constitution calls for: Complete liberation
of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military, and cultural
- And how is Palestine’s liberation to be achieved? Armed public revolution
is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.
Absent the strong Islamic religious element, this constitution might well be a
document of Hamas. But it is not. It is the constitution of Fatah. As Fatah
appears to have lost at the Palestinian polls on Wednesday, it’s worth a closer
look: Is Hamas that much worse?
Its early years remain murky, because it chose to function in a clandestine
fashion. What is known is that in the mid-50s, Yasser Arafat went to Kuwait,
where he organized some 20 Palestinians. For this, he drew on the membership
of the Union of Palestinian Students, which had been organized by Arafat and
his coterie at Cairo University in 1952; the union was affiliated with the radical
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, then in its heyday.
One of the cofounders of the group, with Arafat from the beginning, was
Mahmoud Abbas, today President of the Palestinian Authority. At first Fatah’s
main activities consisted of recruitment and the publishing of a highly politicized
magazine called Our Palestine; the first edition appeared in 1959.
A close associate of Arafat’s, Khalil Wazir (a.k.a. Abu Jihad) then went to
Algeria to open Fatah’s first office. Algeria had just undergone a revolution,
carrying out a war of terror to boot out the French. The ideologue of that
revolution was Franz Fanon, who espoused the philosophy that violence was a
catharsis for oppressed peoples – an end in itself and not just a means to an
There is solid reason to believe that Fatah adopted this as its model: Charles De
Gaulle referred to French withdrawal from Algeria and the granting of Algerian
independence as “Peace of the brave”.
Arafat used that very same phrase frequently. An early Fatah leaflet,
entitled ‘Revolution and Violence, the Path to Victory’, was essentially a
collection of quotations from Fanon’s book The Wretched of the Earth.
By the early 60s, Fatah’s goal was the launching – from Jordan, Lebanon, and
Egypt-occupied Gaza – of commando raids against Israel. It went public with
this in 1965 for a specific reason: The year before, the PLO had been founded
with Egyptian support, and had adopted a pan-Arab stance; Fatah opposed its
The policy of launching border attacks continued, and escalated, until the Six
Day War in 1967. The defeat of Arab armies by Israel left a power vacuum in
the PLO – a vacuum that Fatah promptly filled. By 1968, Fatah had gained
control of the PLO, and within a year Arafat was at its head, where he
remained until his death just over a year ago.
From that time until the present, Fatah has essentially controlled the PLO.
When, as a result of the Oslo Accords, the PA was spun off from the PLO,
Fatah members controlled this entity as well. (After its founding, the PLO had
declared itself the official representative of the Palestinian people, wherever
they were, and of their nationalist aspiration. The PA was established as a
temporary administrative entity in specific areas in Gaza and the West Bank.)
This scenario, however, presents an inherent inconsistency. If Fatah has
remained committed to the destruction of Israel, how is it that the PLO, an
organization controlled by Fatah, signed off on the Oslo Accords with the
intention of negotiating peace with Israel?
Actually, the Fatah Central Committee never did approve. But the answer, more
broadly, is that the PLO never intended peace with Israel, whatever the facade
it presented to the Western world. In June 1974, the PLO had adopted its
‘Phased Program’, which stated:
“Any liberation step that is achieved constitutes a step for continuing –
to pave the way for completing the liberation of all Palestinian soil.”
Quite simply, in the wake of the Arab defeat in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, it
was evident that the ‘liberation of Palestine’ would not be possible all at once.
Thus was a ‘Strategy of Stages’ conceptualized. It was entirely
consistent with the goal maintained by the Fatah majority of the PLO, viz., that
Israel had to be eliminated. Negotiations were sanctioned in order to gain a
foothold, weaken Israel, and make the next step possible.
PA Minister Nabil Shaath acknowledged this approach in 1996, when he said
(in Arabic) in a talk in Nablus:
“We decided to liberate our homeland in step by step. Should Israel
continue [to make concessions in negotiations], no problem. If and when Israel
says ‘enough’ – we will return to violence. But this time it will be with 30,000
armed Palestinian soldiers and in a land with elements of freedom.”
In the years since the founding of the PA, a good-cop/bad-cop strategy has
been adopted. The PA is the good cop, Hamas the bad one.
Arafat played this game to the hilt, professing inability to control the
people who launched terror attacks while he was seeking peace. Abbas, in his
own fashion, has done much the same. He would have liked to control the
‘gunmen’, but doing so was too difficult.
Whatever the talk of moderation by Abbas, whatever his expressed desire for
negotiations and final settlement for a two-state solution, the harsh reality is
that the Palestinian Authority has been comprised to a very significant degree
of members of Fatah, which calls for Israel’s destruction via armed revolution.
The difference between Hamas and Fatah, until very recently, has been largely
a matter of what face was presented to the world. The face of Hamas has been
considerably more honest. In continuing to promote terrorism while joining the
political fray, Hamas has actually further radicalized the public agenda:Fatah
now speaks more openly about continuing the revolution.
In light of this history, and the current situation, the Western dismay at Hamas
winning over Fatah is bewildering. In the end, it may not matter much.