In Palestine, Islamic State will replace both Fatah and Hamas

Abbas’ Fatah organization grew out of secular ideologies. Its largest threat now comes from the growing fundamentalist revivalism sweeping the Islamic world.

June 16, 2015 21:20
3 minute read.
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, May 22, 2015.. (photo credit: AFP/KHALIL MAZRAAWI)


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Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, now serving the eleventh year of his four-year term, should pause and consider that Israel is no longer his biggest problem. Even Hamas is no longer his biggest problem.

Abbas’ Fatah organization grew out of secular ideologies. Its largest threat now comes from the growing fundamentalist revivalism sweeping the Islamic world.

A people that fail to achieve their political destiny, the fulfillment of their political eschatology, ultimately shift to the extremes. The Palestinians are no exception. It is the nature of political movements.

The PA represents failure. After decades of being on the receiving end of international largesse, it has failed to build a viable political infrastructure or a meaningful economic base.

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Yasser Arafat amassed a fortune. At one time he was worth four billion dollars, some of which was squandered on the lavish tastes of his wife Suha. Such corruption does not build a nation’s economy.

At Camp David and subsequently at Taba, the Palestinians were offered nearly everything for which they asked, and they once again said no.

The Palestinians come to the negotiating table with the Israelis thinking that everything from the Jordan River to the sea is theirs. In their minds, the Israelis are interlopers, and it is not just the settlements, Jerusalem and the post-1967 boundaries that have to be negotiated but also Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ashkelon and everything in between.

This is one of the reasons the negotiations go nowhere.

Through continual incitement and lionizing mass murderers as heroes and martyrs, the Palestinian leadership has done nothing to prepare its people for a negotiated peace. The rhetoric of incitement and the aspiration for achieving honor by retaking all of what is now Israel only socializes each generation to sacrifice itself for the cause, not to accept compromise.

But after repeated failure, sacrifice becomes less enticing.

The Western faith communities have only fortified Palestinian obstinacy.

Whether through naiveté or the sense that Israel’s re-emergence somehow undermines their replacement theology, the one-sided pressure directed at Israel only lends support to the sense that the Palestinians are justified in their world view. This does not advance the cause of peace.

Peace will build prosperity in the region. It will give hope to young Palestinians that there is a future in a Palestinian state beyond martyrdom and emigration. It will serve as a bulkhead against the waves of radicalism that seek to pull the lifeblood of the Palestinian nation into the sea of regional jihad.

But time is running out. Although we foolishly want to believe that Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam, IS is part of a religious revivalism sweeping through the failed states of the Islamic world. From the Maghreb and into the Middle East, IS represents a unifying transnational ideology that invokes both a spiritual ideology and warfare reminiscent of the early days of Islam.

Its success feeds itself. The inability of the rest of the world to stop it or even to degrade its capabilities in the face of new conquests makes it more appealing.

IS fills political vacuums, as it did so successfully in Iraq and Syria. The PA represents another political vacuum, an entity without meaningful political or economic infrastructure, and a society without hope. It can complain about the occupation, but the legacy of political and economic corruption goes far beyond the problems of the occupation.

Politics abhors both a vacuum and a stagnant status quo. Abbas’ inability to change the fortunes of his people will not see a replacement by Hamas but by a more radical movement. In a society where young people cannot see a meaningful future, they will shun the peddlers of temporary relief and charity to follow the peddlers of hope. We should not underestimate the allure of the messianic movement known as IS for the otherwise hopeless.

The author is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. Follow @salomoncenter

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