How Fatah got religion and lost power

The PLO Charter never once mentions Allah. The Hamas Charter does so over 100 times.

arafat 88 (photo credit: )
arafat 88
(photo credit: )
God was left out when the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964. Its 1968 charter made no mention of Allah, nor did it cite the Koran. The PLO Charter is an Arab nationalistic document which defines the Palestinian goal as the destruction of Israel, thereby facilitating the unification of the Arab world. God is everywhere, however, in the 1988 charter of Hamas. For the Islamists, whose government was elected by the Palestinians in January 2006, the ultimate goal is for Islam to rule the world. The Palestinian conflict with Israel, meanwhile, is carried out in the name of God - not Arab nationalism. Welcome to the New Middle East. But how did this radical change come about? How did 11 years of Fatah-PLO socialization wind up with the radical Islamists capturing the hearts and minds of Palestinian society? To understand this transformation from secular nationalism to radical Islamic rule, let's start with Machiavelli. In The Prince he implored leaders to use religion for political purposes. Rulers should appear to be religious: "There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality [religion]." FOR YEARS, the Fatah leadership of the Palestinian Authority actively followed this philosophy. They promoted religion and unwittingly paved the way for the current Hamas regime. Both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas routinely had the media give prominence to religious leaders. Many of them promoted religiously-based hatred and violence against Jews and Israel. Fatah leaders appeared on TV praying in the mosques even when the sermons delivered preached genocide. Islamic education was given prominence in the PA's school system. Arafat, though himself secular, did not hesitate to call Palestine an Islamic trust or wakf. And the draft of the proposed Palestinian constitution recognized Islamic law. Most significantly, the incessant promotion and glorification of jihad and shahada ("death for Allah"), intended to motivate suicide bombings gave prominence to Islam as the driving force in the battle against Israel. FATAH'S RELIGIOUS pretense was so successful that it Islamicized its own people, especially Palestinian youth. In a March 2005 poll, 70 percent of Palestinians preferred Islamic law, Shari'a, to the laws of the PA parliament. Less than a year later, in January 2006, Hamas completed its journey from a fringe movement to the Prime Minister's Office. The push by Arafat and Abbas to make religion a dominant motivation behind the war with Israel had been more "successful" than they could have anticipated. In stark contrast to the PLO Charter, in Hamas's charter the name "Allah" appears a resounding 105 times; with 39 quotes from the Koran and the sayings and practices of Muhammad. Every part of Hamas's ideology is presented as God's eternal truth. Indeed, those who drafted the document opened it with the words, "In the name of Allah the most Merciful," followed by verses from the Koran that focus on Islamic supremacy - fitting for a religious work, not a political document. HAMAS IS an an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement; the word "Palestine" is not even present in the movement's name. That's in contrast to the "Palestine Liberation Organization," whose focus is on the liberation of Palestine and not on God or Islam. Fatah and Hamas both seek Israel's destruction - so from an Israeli perspective there is little practical difference between the two. But for Palestinians, the two movements represent completely divergent goals. The PLO Charter saw the Palestinian state as temporary, leading to "Arab unity" [Article 11], while the Hamas Charter sees the destruction of Israel as leading to Islamic unity - and a time when muezzins will announce from Palestine's minarets the birth of the "State of Islam." [Article 9]. THIS TRANSITION from secular Arab leadership to radical Islamic leadership has significant implications. Under a Hamas government, peace and acceptance of Israel's right to exist will never be possible because Hamas sees the destruction of Israel and extermination of Jews as reflecting God's unchanging truths [Articles 7 and 3]. And whereas pronouncements made in Arabic by the Arafat-Abbas regimes, or a look at the school books they have produced, make it clear that Fatah never accepted Israel's right to exist, secular Palestinian nationalism always had an intrinsic potential for moderation. It was also possible that a future charismatic secular leader might one day change direction and bring Palestinians to accept Israel. But because of its divinely dictated ideology, however, acceptance of Israel is impossible for Hamas. The need for Israel's destruction is not the opinion of political leaders, as with Fatah, but God's immutable will. Indeed, Hamas leaders insist that they do not have opinions of their own - they play the modest role of intermediary, informing society of God's plan, as explained in Article 12 of the Hamas charter. Indicative of the new reality was how the Al Ayyam newspaper described the scene in March 2006, when the new Hamas-led parliament selected Ismail Haniyeh as the new premier: "After the vote, one of the Hamas MPs, Hamad Al-Bithouey, waved a Koran and called out loud: "Allahu akbar." The Hamas legislators responded with calls: "The Koran is our constitution, Mohammed is our prophet, jihad is our path and dying as martyrs for Allah is our greatest wish." The current efforts between Fatah and Hamas to form a new unity government do not reflect a closing of the ideological gap, but a desperate need for renewal of Western funding. Whatever happens in the current efforts between Fatah and Hamas to form a coalition government, the fundamental ideological and theological shift in orientation described above is unlikely to change. Marcus is director and Crook is associate director of Palestinian Media Watch.