‘Popular intifada’ – a page from Fatah history

Fearing rivals such as Hamas could hijack local protests, PA leaders are now spearheading calls for escalating ‘resistance’ – as they did in the ’80s.

April 2, 2010 16:56
4 minute read.
'Peaceful resistance.'

palestinian rioter 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Fatah’s decision to escalate the “popular resistance” in the West Bank is reminiscent of the faction’s strategy when the first intifada erupted in 1987.

Back then, the intifada was already well under way when Yasser Arafat and his Fatah lieutenants in Tunis decided to jump on the bandwagon. Contrary to popular belief, Fatah did not play any role in sparking the first intifada, which began spontaneously in a number of refugee camps and later spread to the West Bank.

History is now obviously repeating itself, as Fatah seeks to take control of a growing wave of popular protests that have swept the West Bank and some parts of east Jerusalem. These protests actually began in a number of remote villages in the West Bank when Israel started building the security barrier.

The weekly protests against the fence on the outskirts of the village of Bil’in, northwest of Ramallah, have meanwhile spread to other villages, including Ni’lin, Nabi Saleh and Mazra’a.

In recent months, the organizers, who include foreign and Israeli activists, have succeeded in extending their campaign to the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, where Jewish families have moved into scores of houses.

Fatah leaders in the West Bank have long been worried that their rivals within the faction or other Palestinian groups, such as Hamas, would try to “hijack” the popular protests by taking control and directing them.

Backed by the Palestinian Authority and the government of Salam Fayyad, Fatah is now making every effort to take over the driver’s seat.

IRONICALLY, MANY of the Fatah leaders who are behind the call for a popular uprising hold Israeli-issued VIP cards, which enable them to move around freely and even visit fancy restaurants and hotels in Israel whenever they wish.

The major fear among veteran Fatah officials is not that a handful of Italian or Swedish anarchists participating in the demonstrations would score points on the Palestinian and Arab street, but that Hamas or “young guard” activists from Fatah would take control of events on the ground.

This explains why some of Fatah’s “old guard” figures, such as Nabil Shaath and Abbas Zaki, are now spearheading calls for escalating the “popular resistance” against Israeli measures and policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Earlier this week, Zaki, a member of the Fatah central committee and the former Palestinian envoy to Lebanon, walked in front of a group of demonstrators who marched toward an IDF checkpoint on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

By the end of the day, Zaki had managed to kill two birds with one stone. First, pictures of him leading the protest were broadcast on major Arab satellite TV stations. Second, he succeeded in provoking IDF soldiers and policemen to a degree that they were forced to arrest him.

The incident near Bethlehem has since turned Zaki into a hero not only in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but also among the Arab and Islamic masses throughout the world. The veteran Fatah official is now being portrayed as a brave Palestinian who dared to confront the Israeli army.

Aware of the enormous Arab media coverage of the Zaki case, some of his Fatah colleagues are now trying to follow suit in the hope that they, too, will come under the spotlight.

A FEW days in an Israeli prison is undoubtedly the best thing that could happen to someone like Muhammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub or Shaath, whose names have long been associated with financial and administrative corruption as well as tyranny and abuse of human rights.

Fatah has thus far failed to rid itself of its image as a corrupt and ailing faction. The same figures who were responsible for Fatah’s defeat by Hamas in the January 2006 legislative election are still in control, pretending that nothing happened.

Many Palestinians, including a considerable number of Fatah activists, don’t even seem to buy the claim that the faction’s sixth general assembly, which was held in Bethlehem a few months ago for the first time in more than 20 years, was serious about real reforms and changes. The assembly’s decision to endorse the “popular intifada” idea was seen as an attempt to divert attention from Fatah’s internal problem by directing the heat toward Israel.

On the other hand, the PA and Fatah seem to be convinced that they can achieve more through a “popular intifada” than by returning to the negotiating table. To back up their argument, they cite the example of the first intifada, which, they say, forced Israel to recognize the PLO and the two-state solution.

Fatah leaders said this week that they had learned from the mistakes of the second intifada, when Palestinians lost the sympathy of the international community because of terror attacks, first and foremost suicide bombings. Now, they say, the Palestinians want an intifada like the first one, where stones and Molotov cocktails were the main weapons.

While the wave of popular protests is likely to continue, Fatah’s chances of leading the new “peaceful” intifada appear to be very slim. Fatah first needs to solve its internal problems and the continued power struggle with Hamas if it wants to regain its credibility among the Palestinians.

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