The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are an essential part of the ruling Fatah faction, Jamal Tirawi, a senior Fatah official with close links to the coalition of armed groups, said on Saturday.
“The members of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were born Fatah and are still part of its entity,” Tirawi said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
The Palestinian Authority, he said, has been profoundly weakened as a result of rampant corruption, the absence of a political horizon, and the widening gap between its leaders and the Palestinians.
Tirawi, a resident of Balata refugee camp near Nablus, was previously arrested by the IDF on suspicion of heading one of the brigades' groups and involvement in terrorism, for which he served several years in prison.
Balata has long been known as a hotbed for various Fatah-affiliated armed groups, especially the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Additionally, the camp is known for serving as a home to several disgruntled Fatah officials, who, like Tirawi, do not hesitate to openly challenge the veteran leadership of Fatah and the PA.
Tirawi, an elected member of the Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), was speaking days after the IDF killed three Fatah gunmen who were responsible for several shooting attacks against IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians in the Nablus area in recent weeks.
In 2016, PA President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree stripping Tirawi of his parliamentary immunity. The move came after Tirawi and other Fatah officials and PLC members publicly criticized the PA leadership.
The killing of the three Fatah gunmen in Nablus last week is seen by many Palestinians as a serious embarrassment for Abbas and the PA leadership, especially in light of growing criticism over the security coordination between the authority's security forces and the IDF.
THE PA leadership has had a complex relationship with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. While the security forces have on several occasions arrested or clashed with members of the group, they have refrained from taking drastic measures against the Fatah gunmen, such as confiscating their weapons.
“Let’s be clear: this group represents the young generation of rebellious youths born after the Oslo Accords,” Tirawi said, referring to the brigades, which is believed to have hundreds of members in the Nablus area alone.
“These men believe in the culture of resistance and belonging to Fatah; they inherited this from previous generations," he said. "The current generation of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members did not live through the First and Second intifadas, yet they inherited the idea of revolting against the [Israeli] occupation.
"They are the sons of Fatah. Anyone who says that they are outside the frame of Fatah and that they have an agenda, I say to them that you are wrong. Everyone knows that these young men belong to Fatah.”
Asked if the group was acting against the PA, Tirawi replied: “The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were never against the Palestinian Authority; on the other hand, the Palestinian Authority is not responsible for the group. The Palestinian Authority is not a breeding place for the group.
"The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is an arm of Fatah, and it does not belong to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority is a political entity, and unfortunately until now it has not received the stage of statehood. Fatah is proud of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, [which] are part of the entity of Fatah. They are part of Fatah’s organizational framework.”
LIKE MANY PA and Fatah officials, Tirawi condemned the killing of the three gunmen in Nablus, dubbing it a “horrific crime.”
“This heinous crime was carried out in an unimaginable way. This is a war crime.”
Tirawi took the PA to task for allegedly failing to bring the Nablus incident to the attention of the international community.
“Where is the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs?” he asked. “Where is the Palestinian foreign minister? Where are our ambassadors around the world? Each one of the men was hit with 30 to 40 bullets. Those who remain silent are complicit in the crime.”
Asked if he shared the widespread criticism against the PA following the killings, Tirawi was careful not to lash out against the Ramallah-based leadership.
He pointed out, however, that he and other Palestinians expect the PA security forces to “protect the [Fatah] fighters in the areas that are under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
“No one can say for sure that the killings were the result of the security coordination,” Tirawi added, referring to the allegations. “But when our people talk about the need to end security coordination, they are also referring to the political aspect and implications of this coordination. The Israelis anyway don’t need permission and don’t need to coordinate with anyone.
"Regrettably, we have reached a situation where the Israelis are controlling the sea and the sky and the land," he said. "They control the cities. We don’t have a Palestinian state. We don’t have an authority. The only authority we have is over each other.”
TIRANI WAS nevertheless critical of the recent meeting of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC), a key decision-making body of the PLO. Like many critics, he believed that the main purpose of the meeting was to approve the appointment of a number of Abbas loyalists to senior positions in the Palestinian leadership.
“The appointments were arranged in advance and were known to all,” he said. “That’s why the council was convened, namely to decide who would enter the PLO Executive Committee and who would become the speaker of the Palestinian National Council," the PLO’s legislative body.
"The appointments did not take into consideration the general interests of the Palestinian people," he said. "There was no decision-making mechanism. This was a meeting to hand out jobs to a group of people. I feel sad that we have reached this stage.”
Tirawi also dismissed as irrelevant the decisions taken by the PCC, particularly the suspension of PLO recognition of Israel and ending security coordination with Israel.
“The decisions announced last week are a copy of the previous decisions taken by the council in 2018,” the senior Fatah official noted. “I know because I attended the previous meeting. These are the same decisions, and they will remain ink on paper.”
Tirawi said he was bothered by the fact that the PA leadership had spent $2.5 million on last week’s PCC session. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have called for this meeting. They spent $2.5 million on the meeting just to approve some appointments.
"What a waste of money; this is a big sum. I believe it would have been better had they distributed the money to our people, to the residents of the refugee camps, to the families of the martyrs, to the families of the prisoners. This would have been more beneficial for our people instead of putting all this money on a theatrical play.”
Asked if he shared the view that the PA has been weakened, Tirawi said:
“The truth is that the Palestinian Authority’s performance on the ground, the absence of a political horizon towards ending the [Israeli] occupation, the big fracture between the people and the [PA] leadership in light of the difficult internal conditions, corruption, absence of an independent judiciary, absence of the law enforcement and a functioning parliament, have significantly weakened it.
"Yes, the Palestinian Authority is very, very, weak.”