The Region: Folded hands, closed eyes

Marwan Barghouti has been the most vocal Fatah advocate of partnership with Hamas.

barry rubin 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin 88
(photo credit: )
In this land, says a character in Oedipus by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, "Who seeks shall find; Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind." Yet in most things concerned with this land of the Middle East, the blind don't just sit with folded hands or sleep, they are running things. Too often, the failure to realize just how bizarre things are - or, to put it in another way, how perfectly logical they are when examined by a different set of beliefs and goals - makes it impossible to understand or cope with the region. Consider Palestinian politics, always illustrative of these principles. The new theory is that Fatah, chastened by defeat in the Gaza Strip, will be more moderate and seek peace. Consequently, even if nothing changes in its program or behavior it should be rewarded lavishly as a Western client. And that's the saner Western reaction; the even worse alternative is to embrace Hamas. But even the pro-Fatah strategy disregards a lot: the group's continued disinterest in reform, its weak leadership, incitement and tolerance of anti-Israel terror, its factionalism, corruption, mistreatment of its own people, and much more. Helping Fatah survive is probably the best policy, but one worth implementing only if leverage is used to make the surviving Fatah behave less like Hamas's twin brother. Like forcing a drug addict to get off dope, this would do more to keep the miscreant alive than shovelling in money to buy more heroin. People who would be appalled if the Free World enthusiastically and uncritically backed sleazy repressive Latin American or African dictatorships have no problem thinking Fatah a dandy ally without pressing it for reform. Mark my words: Their ship will sink. FORMER BRITISH prime minister Tony Blair is supposed to be the smartest Western leader. Now he has taken the job as bag man for Fatah, becoming its full-time fundraiser. No doubt, Swiss bankers and purveyors of luxury goods to embezzling Fatah officials will have cause to thank him. Already, though, Palestinians and Arab media are complaining that he is pro-Israel, an enemy. They will take the money, but won't say thanks. But Palestinians haven't concluded, even after 50 years of defeat due to radical strategy and tactics, that peace and moderation is the way out. They see alternatives. For example, in a recent Pew poll, Palestinians are the sole Arab group favoring a nuclear Iran. They'd better be careful. Given their luck, if Iran ever did fire a nuclear weapon at Israel it would land in the middle of the West Bank or Gaza Strip. And there are even more alternatives. Fais Hamdan, a 34-year-old stone cutter from a village near Nablus, understands more than sophisticated Western politicians. He told an American reporter that if Hamas wants "to kill any political deal, they only have to attack a settlement or another Israeli target. Don't think that Hamas is very weak in the West Bank." Hamdan is right. Hamas is sure to launch attacks on Israel from the West Bank to discredit the Fatah regime. The response will then be that this proves all the more need to shore up Fatah. Wrong. The issue is really: Will a Fatah government act against such terrorists, or will it want to imitate these supposed patriots fighting the real enemy, thinking that to stop them would show Fatah as a "protector" of Israel, and thus totally illegitimate? This is how Palestinian ideology and politics work. IF YOU DON'T believe Hamdan ask Hani al-Hassan, a member of the Fatah central committee and perhaps the last surviving member of Fatah's original leadership. He is usually portrayed as a conservative because of his closeness to Saudi Arabia. He was also, according to a very reliable former KGB agent, the highest-ranking Soviet spy in the PLO. That ought to tell you something about Middle East politics. At any rate, Hassan embarrassed Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas by saying that the Gaza fighting was between Hamas and pro-Israel, American running-dog traitors. Yet by expressing sympathy for the group murdering his colleagues, Hassan expressed typical Arab nationalist ideology: You are either a revolutionary who stands for total victory through armed struggle and Israel's elimination, or you are scum. Hassan's statement has another dangerous implication: Hamas seems to be winning, and Fatah elements want to be on the victorious side. That's why Israel should never release Marwan Barghouti, the highest-ranking Fatah leader in prison, serving life sentences for organizing the 2000-2005 war of terrorism. Barghouti has been the most vocal Fatah advocate of partnership with Hamas. RELIABLE ALLIES? Look at how the Egyptian and Saudi governments behaved at the Sharm e-Sheikh summit called by the United States to mobilize support for Abbas. These countries should - as outsiders interpret their interest - stand up to Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas; but they don't. Instead, Cairo and Riyadh urged Abbas to make a deal with Hamas. Teresias, the seer, was an early political analyst who understood that Oedipus himself was the source of the kingdom's woes. When Oedipus consulted him, knowing he was in a no-win situation, Teresias complained, "Alas, alas, what misery to be wise / When wisdom profits nothing! / This old lore I had forgotten / else I would not be here." The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC). His new book is The Truth About Syria.