The prospect of a strong Hamas showing in the upcoming Palestinian elections appears to have generated an international panic. Israel is threatening to deny Hamas candidates freedom of movement to campaign and to prohibit voting in east Jerusalem due to Hamas's presence on the ballot. The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that Hamas be barred from running. The Quartet (the US, UN, European Union and Russia) warned that the future Palestinian cabinet must include nobody not "committed to" both Israel's right to exist and "an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism." And the EU even threatened to halt aid to the Palestinian Authority should Hamas win the election and then fail to renounce violence.
But in all this hysteria, no one has yet explained why Hamas is so much worse than Fatah - whose list, despite the lip-service denunciations of terror routinely uttered by Fatah leader and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, is also comprised mainly of prominent terrorists and terror advocates.
The No. 1 slot on the Fatah list has been awarded to Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for terror attacks that killed five civilians during the current intifada. Moreover, his presence in the top slot was deemed sufficiently vital to justify breaking the rule that he himself dictated: that the national slate be reserved for new faces, while sitting PA parliamentarians such as Barghouti would have to run in the district races that will elect the other half of the PA parliament.
Barghouti is not only a practitioner of terror; he is also one of its vocal advocates. Indeed, the platform of the breakaway Fatah list that he formed last month (the two lists later reunited) stressed the importance of both negotiation and "struggle" - the Palestinian euphemism for anti-Israel terrorism.
SIMILARLY, IN a 2001 interview with the Londonbased newspaper Al-Hayat, Barghouti proudly claimed credit for having orchestrated the intifada, saying that when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in September 2000, "I saw within the situation a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict â€¦ After Sharon left, I stayed in the area for two hours with other well-known people and we spoke â€¦ of how people should react in all the towns and villages â€¦ We made contact with all the factions."
Even Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin - who wants him released to promote "peace" - acknowledges that Barghouti advocated violence even at the height of the peace process. In a December 2004 interview with The New York Times, Beilin described a meeting with Barghouti on May 14, 2000, during the preparations for that July's final-status negotiations at Camp David. "Barghouti told me that he wanted to continue the use of violence and that if there were no peace agreement by September, he would use violence," Beilin recalled.
But Barghouti's presence at the top of Fatah's list is no mere anomaly. That is evident from the slate that Abbas composed during Fatah's brief split, when Barghouti was heading the rival list. In the top slot, Abbas placed Muhammad Abu Ali Yatta - who is also serving a life sentence for murder in an Israeli prison.
In other words, Barghouti is not first on the list because his popularity forced a reluctant Abbas to accept him, but because Abbas deliberately decided to head the list with someone convicted of murdering Israelis. And whether he did so because he personally admires such killers or merely because he deemed this necessary to win votes makes little difference in terms of the prospects for peace: Even if Abbas personally wants to end the conflict, that is unlikely to happen if the Palestinian public prefers terrorism.
Indeed, most of the Fatah list is one long paean to terrorism. Barghouti is No. 1. Yatta is No. 2. No. 3 is Umm Jihad, whose claim to fame is being the widow of another famous terrorist, Abu Jihad. And so on and so forth.
THEN, FINALLY, there is Abbas himself - who, for all his anti-terrorist rhetoric, has facilitated terror rather than fighting it.
Ever since the disengagement, for instance, Kassam rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel almost daily. The main culprits are Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, both of which are small organizations that lack broad popular backing, and would therefore be easy targets for the tens of thousands of armed PA security personnel in Gaza.
Yet Abbas refused to order his forces into action, allowing the launches to continue unmolested. Only last week, after Israel decided to try to protect its southern towns itself by using air force and artillery to turn popular launch sites into "no-go zones," did Abbas finally move - not against the terrorists, but against Israel. Declaring that Israel "has no right to return [to Gaza] under any pretext, including the firing of rockets," he began trying to mobilize international pressure against the Israeli operation.
In other words, Abbas will not lift a finger against terrorism himself - but he will do his best to stymie any Israeli countermeasures, thereby facilitating the terrorists' operations.
Given this picture, one has to wonder why Fatah should be considered better than Hamas. Granted, Fatah does not openly call for Israel's destruction - but that merely makes the world more willing to overlook its members' involvement in, advocacy of and facilitation of terrorism, and to pressure Israel to do the same. That is hardly to Israel's benefit. Yet incredibly, Israel has actively promoted a Fatah victory - even to the point of allowing Barghouti to campaign from his jail cell.
It would be far better for Israel, and the world, to finally acknowledge reality: Secular terrorists are no better than the Islamist kind - and Fatah, in its current incarnation, is no more of a peace partner than Hamas.