The Region: Too late for Abbas

Fatah primaries show that the best campaign event in Palestinian politics is a terrorist attack on Israel.

By BARRY RUBIN
December 5, 2005 22:03
The Region: Too late for Abbas

abbas 88. (photo credit: )

 
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The evidence for the Palestinian national movement's collapse is accumulating daily. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Palestinian Authority will lose the parliamentary elections scheduled for January if it does not cancel them first. Two recent events have worsened his situation. The opening of the Egypt-Gaza Strip border under essentially full PA control was widely portrayed as a PA victory, but this conclusion is misleading. The PA's border controls are a joke and both terrorists and weapons are going to pass freely with no one interfering effectively. Neither the Egyptian security forces nor the European Union observers are going to risk any confrontations for the purpose of saving Israeli lives. Yet curiously it is not Israel that is most endangered by this situation. Israel has a defensible border, a strong army, and good intelligence which can block almost all attacks from that front. The real loser is the very PA that is cheering its new border-control role. This power, the PA argues, shows it delivers benefits to the Palestinians. Yet this will not gain much popular support for it. After all, Hamas's claim of credit for such things due to its terrorist violence seems more credible with Palestinians. In addition, PA officials admit that Gaza anarchy has driven off any hope of obtaining foreign investments. Moreover, the group which most needs to smuggle across cadre and weapons is Hamas. Fatah already has plenty of guns and armed men. While Hamas would like to use its guns against Israel, these arms are going to end up ensuring it can defy - or even fight - PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. A half-dozen years ago, Muhammad Dahlan begged Yasser Arafat to take on Hamas, whose disrespect and challenges to the PA and Fatah were becoming steadily more apparent. Arafat did nothing and Dahlan broke with him. But now Dahlan himself has failed to provide the military muscle to impose Abbas's authority. The truth is that it is too late for the nationalists to crush the Islamists, even if they decided to do so. Whether or not Hamas will actually take over the Palestinian movement - I think it won't - it now is setting the agenda and intimidating anyone advocating moderation. Within the next two months, local and parliamentary elections are going to confirm Hamas's new leverage. THE OTHER big recent event has been Marwan Barghouti's strong showing in the Fatah primaries. The fact that Barghouti won big in Ramallah, his home town and main base, is hardly surprising. In general, Fatah militants involved with the Aksa Brigades terrorist group did do well, while traditional PLO figures and Abbas supporters did poorly. Here, too, arise multiple problems for Abbas. He is supposed to be able to choose the Fatah list as he likes from among high vote-getters. Yet how is he now going to ignore the victories of a faction which opposes him? Moreover, Abbas's supporters have charged that the primary results were marred by cheating. Further balloting was canceled by Fatah's leaders after gangs stole ballot boxes and fired shots outside polling stations. Thus, Abbas faces a host of dilemmas. If he holds no more primaries and chooses a Fatah list full of his own supporters, the young radicals may resist with violence as well as by running independent candidates splitting the Fatah vote. Abbas will be even weaker and, if elections are held, Hamas will gain even more. But if he lets his opponents dominate Fatah, his career will essentially be over. No doubt, the final round of Palestinian local elections will also bring more success for Hamas, which is also doing well in student government elections. In addition, the Fatah primaries, like Hamas's victory in local elections, show that the best campaign event in Palestinian politics is a terrorist attack on Israel. Ironically, Barghouti's wife has claimed that her husband's local success showed that "Marwan is not a terrorist, he is a leader of his people." But the exact opposite is true: Barghouti did so well precisely because he has been a terrorist recently. Could it possibly be clearer that Abbas is the Palestinian leader in name only and is incapable of negotiating any agreement with Israel or implementing anything he promises? WHAT DOES it say that the most popular forces in Palestinian politics are Hamas and Fatah hardliners who engage in terrorism and insist that military force not diplomacy is the way to reach their goal? What does it signify that the big winner in Jenin, Jamal Abu Rob, who chose "Hitler" as his nom de guerre, is another terrorist leader? The answer is this: moderates have no chance of leading the Palestinians; there is no prospect of progress toward a negotiated peace for many years. But there is an even more immediate triple problem for the Palestinians themselves: Abbas cannot lead the Palestinians, Fatah cannot unite itself, and Fatah cannot defeat Hamas. The writer, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, is editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.

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