By Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh:
Speaking about the crises Hamas or Fatah is facing should be always put in its proper context. It is unfair to keep ourselves engaged in accusing either, since both of them contributed much to the Palestinian Issue and Nation.
The core of the crisis is the Israeli Occupation and its practices of killing, destroying, imprisoning, besieging, impoverishing the Palestinian people and Judaizing the Palestinian lands. Thus, the biggest challenge is how to get rid of the occupation.
To face this challenge, Fatah and Hamas adopt two different agendas, the first (Fatah) relies basically on a peaceful settlement plan, while the second (Hamas) is based on resistance. If there is to be a discussion on crises, then this discussion is actually a discussion of each party’s strategy in implementing its own agenda within the possible circumstances, and the obstacles and challenges each agenda is facing. However, the situation becomes more complicated when the crises is related to internal structural problems, inexperience or faulty administrative practices.
For some, the Palestinian situation is best portrayed by concentrating on the crisis of the recently elected Hamas government. This portrayal breaks up the broader scene since there could be more serious crises faced by others.
Hamas is suffering from three main dilemmas. The first is related to the Palestinian government led by it, the problems this government is facing against its political opponents, specifically Fatah and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in addition to not being acknowledged nor accredited by many official Arab and international governments, and the various kinds of besiege it is suffering.
The second dilemma deals with how to combine armed resistance with ruling responsibilities.
Third is the absence of a local environment ready to embark on a new massive Intifadah, that drove Hamas to emphasize more on the political activities, at least for the time being.
However, any careful examination of Hamas’s crisis will conclude that the problem doesn’t lie at Hamas’s internal structure, but rather at its way of dealing with the current circumstances and challenges.
Although it is still premature to judge a few months old government, Hamas’s government managed not to give up any of its fundamentals despite various pressures and strains. In addition, throughout its political practice, Hamas’s government presented transparent paradigms that are free from any administrative, financial or political corruption.
Besides, the essence of Hamas’s crisis doesn’t lie in its legitimacy nor in its competency (from a total of 22 ministers, 11 are PhD holders), or well-tenderness, but rather in its resolute stand in rejecting a set of Israeli-American demands and orders.
What further complicates Hamas’s situation is the presence of another strong Palestinian rival who is still controlling the presidency and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and to whom most governmental employees and the Palestinian Security forces are still loyal. This rival is doing his best in practice to bring down Hamas’s government and replace it with one of its own, as fast as possible, although government’s duties can be easily hindered or blocked using the presidency’s prerogatives or by administrative disobedience in the ministries and government institutions, or quarrelsome security practices.
From the legal perspective, the Palestinian government is responsible for running the Palestinian’s daily-life issues and concerns in West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to Oslo Agreement, recognizing, accepting and negotiating with Israelis are the responsibilities of PLO and not the government. None of the previous nine preceding Palestinian governments was asked to recognize Israel as a state or to denounce terrorism. On the other hand, Oslo’s agreement and the arrangements and conventions that followed, didn’t oblige Fatah on any of the conditions and restrictions that Hamas and its government are currently being asked to agree on.
In other words, the Israeli-American (and to some degree Arab) besiege is legally unjustified, even when the standards are based on Oslo Agreement. It is a besiege for only one reason, that is the presence of Hamas in the government. This in turn, makes any further discussion of a national unity government (taking into account the Israeli American conditions) useless as long as Hamas is a partner in the government, regardless of the number of Hamas-affiliated ministers, (i.e. even if there was only one Hamas affiliated minister). The latter is what the Americans told Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to New York last September.
On the other hand, the real reasons behind the apathetic position taken by some Arab countries towards Hamas, isn’t Hamas’s refusal for the Arab initiative, since Israel did refuse this initiative the same day it was announced more than four years ago; later it was also left behind by the quartet of Middle East mediating states (US, EU, Russia and UN) that worked up the road map plan, not to mention the clear statement of Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, that the peace process reached a dead-end.
The real reason behind theses attempts by some Arab states is the resistance ideology Hamas beholds; its Islamic project, and its Muslim Brotherhood cross-affiliations, added to the American pressure on these states.
The crisis of Hamas is related to being in an opposing position to the American and Israeli demands. For many Arabs and Muslims, this, in itself, implies high commendation rather than a bill of indictment.
If Hamas’s crisis is confined with what it is being currently focused on, i.e. being unable to manage the governmental requirements and responsibilities, to provide the employees’ salaries, and the isolation and besiege situation, then Hamas can end the crisis by leaving the government, going back to resistance, and retaining its supervisory role in the Legislative Council, bearing in mind the comfortable majority it enjoys there.
But Hamas knows, as well as its opponents and supporters asking it to resign from the government, that the essence of the issue isn’t about Hamas’s performance of the governmental tasks and responsibilities, but solely about Hamas being there in the government, beholding to its resistance ideology and agenda.
Any new Palestinian government committing itself to obtain the consent of US and Israel, and willing to reactivate negotiations and the road map plan, will have to start with “eliminating terrorism” and disarm the resistance movements. However, this will actually make the Palestinian situation more complex and create new crises and new conflicts. Hamas will then be no more accused of being the reason behind the employees’ not getting their salaries, but rather the obstacle preventing the peace settlement plans and thus hindering the achievement of the Palestinian State dream, i.e. the old stereotypical accusation will be brought back to light, just enough to create a new crisis for Hamas.
Ironically, Hamas’s agenda causing its crisis is the same agenda that promotes its popularity; Sticking to the resistance and refusing to recognize the Israeli state, are the main reasons behind the respect and praise Hamas gained among wide sectors of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.
Hence, what is being presented as Hamas’s crisis, is essentially a part of the challenges it is facing. Hamas has to react accordingly with what suits the current situation, after having succeeded in gaining the political legitimacy and a wide public support for its agenda. Anyway, Hamas identifies the current stage as time for sacrifice not for gains, and relies heavily for that on its well-built and solid organizational structure, high dynamicity, and being still by and large immune from corruption.
On the other hand, anyone investigating Fatah’s crisis will end up finding that it is far more complicated than Hamas’s crises. First, Fatah is experiencing a critical structural organizational problem, an inner jagged situation, and serious clashes among its adherents that did reach sometimes the extent of defaming, blackmailing and assassination.
Since 1989 Fatah didn’t succeed in organizing its general conference. Its internal elections and the elections that decide who will represent it in the legislative council, witnessed some practices that are inappropriate for Fatah, being a well-regarded deep-rooted Palestinian party. Earlier, Yasser Arafat’s presidency was the subject of many complaints raised by Fatah’s members, describing it as dictatorship and absolute rule. His death however, worsened the situation.
The second problem Fatah is facing is the fallback of its resistance record, in the eyes of many Palestinians and Arabs. Fatah, that was originally established with the goal of liberating the western lands of the West Bank (Palestinian lands occupied in 1948, i.e. Israel), had given up this goal. Its commanders (who also command the PLO) agreed on recognizing the state of Israel and this state’s right of existence on 77% of Historical Palestinian. Fatah declared the abandonment of “terrorism”, signed Oslo Agreement, led the negotiations, and was urged to oppress various resistance movements for the sake of meeting its commitments towards Israel. Many Fatah members and symbols turned out to have economic, political and security relations with Israelis.
There is no doubt that al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, affiliated with Fatah, was involved significantly in al-Aqsa Intifadah, but Fatah is no longer the same old Fatah that sacrificied almost 80% of the total Palestinians who were killed or arrested till the end of the 1970s. Hamas’s resistance activities outperformed Fatah one during al-Aqsa Intifadah. Also, Fatah’s resistance agenda faded out after negotiations and relations with Israelis.
Third, Fatah is suffering form corruption. Many of Fatah’s members, especially those in official positions in the Palestinian authority, were accused of corruption in many cases. It suffices here to mention the Palestinian’s Legislative Council 1997 report, that confirmed the stealing of 326 million US dollars, which is a huge amount compared to the Palestinian Authority’s moderate budget. This report was then the main reason behind the Council’s vote of no confidence against Arafat’s government (56 votes against vs. one vote). Nonetheless, when Arafat re-established a new government, it was, amazingly enough, the same old faces accused with corruption, with some swaps in the ministerial assignments.
On the 5th of February 2006, the Attorney General revealed fifty corruption cases, in which more than 700 million dollars were wasted, not to mention the well known scandal of Palestinian cement being sold to Israelis and used in building Israeli settlements in West Bank and the Apartheid Wall; this scandal in which several prominent personalities in Fatah and the Palestinian Authority were involved.
The Palestinian’s public consensus that there was corruption in the Palestinian Authority led by Fatah, reached 81% according to polls conducted by public opinion institutions. Interestingly, these institutions and centers are secularly oriented and are by and large supporting the peace process, e.g. the Center for Palestinian Research and Studies (CPRS) in Nablus and Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre.
This corruption state also led to strong critiques from several Fatah leaders, such as Muhammad Jihad who said that Arafat surrounded him self with a gang of robbers and racketeers; Husam Khodor described Abu Ammar’s (Arafat) entourage and intimates as Mafia.
Hence, one of the main reasons behind Hamas’s victory in the legislative council’s election is the current corruption and flabbiness state in Fatah. This very same reason is what’s making the responsibility on the shoulders of unspoiled and committed members of Fatah more and more towards the rejuvenation of Fatah.
Fourth, and in addition to the above, Fatah’s ruling experience, the Palestinian Authority in particular, doesn’t present an encouraging model in any field, political, economic, or security. Judging this experience in any of the mentioned three fields is impossible to do in this, or any one single, article.
Throughout its ruling period, Fatah adopted an obsessive factional approach, and considered the degree of affiliation with Fatah the measure for filling various administrative, political and security positions. This however, caused Fatah to experience a crisis due to it being joined by many self-interested and opportunist individuals.
As a result of this obsessive approach, the above mentioned centers’ surveys, done during Fatah’s rule over the Palestinian Authority, showed a negative view of Palestinian democracy, that didn’t exceed 20-30 %. Moreover, only 20 % believed that freedom of media existed. In October 2003, 61.4% of Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza Strip assessed the performance of the Palestinian Authority as bad or very bad.
A June 1999 survey showed that only 4% of the Palestinians believe they don’t need an intercession (through mediators) to get a job or get done any required official procedure. The same survey also showed that the financial status of 54% of Palestinians is worse than what it was prior to Oslo Agreement in 1993. The Center for Palestinian Research and Studies (CPRS) in Nablus and Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, can be referred to for further details and particularities.
From the above, if there is indeed a crisis in Hamas’s government, then this definitely doesn’t mean the Palestinian people will be content with a Fatah-affiliated government with the above mentioned criteria.
Fifth, if we, arguably, assume that Hamas’s adoption of a resistance agenda that doesn’t recognize the state of Israel is the origin of Hamas’s crisis, then as well, we may claim that Fatah’s adoption of a “peace settlement” agenda is one main origin of Fatah’s crisis.
Peace process seems to reach a stall mate and experience a huge failure, besides the massive anger at this feeble process among the Palestinians, that led to the eruption of al-Aqsa Intifadah. In addition, Israeli partners are abusing this plan dreadfully and expanding settlements, Judaizing Jerusalem, portraying the Palestinian resistance as terrorism, and promoting the image of Israel internationally and even Arab wise, while isolating and weakening the Palestinian side.
For that, those who are in haste to bring down Hamas’s government should recognize that all what they will get is a blazed ball, and that their crisis will be more complicated more, since how can Fatah present itself with all the flabbiness and corruption it is suffering, and the currently-blocked reconciliation plans with Israelis. How then will Fatah’s reaction be when it is asked to eliminate all resistance movements as the price for accomplishing the promised peace? The Palestinian situation then would only go back gloomy by an initiative that is destined to failure. This gloomy situation would later be expressed in a new Intifadah that will bring Hamas back to the front stronger and more popular.
Finally, giving the Palestinian authority from Hamas back to Fatah, will only create more and more crises because the essence of the crises lies in the ugly Israeli occupation and its allies and in the Arab and Islamic feebleness.
Palestinians should give priority to establishing a national agenda that unites them on their national principles and criteria, not those of the Americans and the Israelis. Consequently, this implies Palestinians should pursue in any possible way a national unity government that will impose its authority on all parties and sides, and improve the Palestinian political performance. At least, this will ensure that Palestinian sides will be no longer occupied with confronting each other, but rather put all their efforts in liberating their land.
This article is a translation of the arabic article published by Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh on Aljazeera.Net on 25-10-2006