Recently, I wrote that the Fatah terrorists who were arrested — and promptly released — for planning to assassinate Israeli PM Ehud Olmert — were possibly part of a piece of Paliwood theater. I simply couldn’t get my mind around the actions of Abbas and Fayed any other way. But there’s another way to see it.
The Attempt to Kill Olmert
By Barry Rubin
Several Fatah security force officers assigned to protect Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as he went to meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas, it has just been revealed, planned to assassinate him instead. This event should be amazing enough to get people to rethink their premises. After all, it is late 2007, with a supposedly moderate leadership running the PA and Fatah, and this kind of thing is still happening.
It should be emphasized that the would-be assassins were Fatah, not Hamas, and that they were quickly released by PA authorities before outside pressure forced their re-arrest. (Prediction: they will be freed soon with little or no international media coverage.)
But this is merely the same basic pattern as happened with the assassins of Israeli government minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001 or the gunmen who seized the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002: international indifference, a show of PA law enforcement, and terrorists go free. Not to mention thousands of other attacks when the PA had a chance to teach its own people about the politically counterproductive—not to mention immoral and divisive–nature of terrorism.
The PA has never really punished anyone for murdering or trying to kill an Israeli or for attacking Israel. Occasionally, in the 1990s, there were convictions but only on charges of damaging the Palestinian cause which meant attacking at an embarrassing time. Even those prisoners were quickly released.
Remember that the conspirators, if successful, would have tremendously damaged the PA and Fatah before an international summit meeting from which Palestinians hoped to benefit. If they’d actually started shooting, much less killed or wounded Olmert, the PA, Fatah, and the Palestinian cause would have been so discredited that it would take years before they were offered a state or lavish Western aid again.
Consequently, based on his own interests, Abbas should have them shot, which is what the PA does to people it deems traitors. But they probably won’t even get community service in the end.
Why? Because of the rules of Palestinian politics which are absolutely fatal to the hope of getting a Palestinian state, becoming more moderate, ending terrorism, or stopping even officially sponsored PA incitement to commit terrorism. Palestinians know these rules well though outsiders seem largely unaware of them. Exceptions can be found but few and since these are considered shameful they go unpublicized and thus form no precedent for changing the rules, which are:
1. Palestinians cannot stop other Palestinians from attacking Israel. To do so would be betraying the cause, becoming Israel’s lackey. This applies even if the Israelis are bringing in supplies or providing jobs to Palestinians, or if the attack damages Palestinian interests. If the victims are schoolchildren or shoppers or people riding on a bus, of course, is irrelevant in this world view.
2. He who is most militant is always right. Extremism equals heroism. This is one reason why Fatah has such a difficult time competing with Hamas. It cannot denounce these rivals for being too hardline and intransigent. Suicide bombers along with those who incite and manage them are role models, not misled individuals, much less evil ones.
3. More violence is good and a victory if it inflicts casualties or damage on Israel. Other than ritual denunciations for the foreign media, these are matters for pride, with the implication being that they advance the cause rather than sabotage it.
4. No Israeli government can do anything good. Thus, Olmert is no better than anyone else even as he withdraws from the Gaza Strip, offers to accept a Palestinian state, and is ready to give up east Jerusalem. Some Palestinian leaders can talk privately to Israeli counterparts about cooperation and even their dream of peace but don’t tell this to their own people.
5. Since Palestinians are the perpetual victim they are entitled to everything they want and never need to give anything in exchange for Israeli concessions. Thus, the preferred PA diplomatic option is that Israel withdraws from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, recognizes an independent Palestinian state, releases all Palestinian prisoners, and then talks can begin. (Note: I thought of this as a satire but a high-ranking Syrian official just proposed the equivalent on that front.)
6. No Palestinian should be imprisoned for attacks on Israel one minute longer than required by international public relations’ needs. After all, if they are doing heroic deeds against an evil enemy—even by murdering civilians on purpose—why should they be punished?
7. Fatah won’t discipline or expel anyone for launching attacks.
8. Wiping Israel off the map is morally correct. If anyone says anything different they will be scared or ashamed, justifying their lapse as a temporary tactical measure or way to fool enemies.
9. While pretending to be nationalist, the movement sets as top priority the so-called “right of return,” the demand that all Palestinian refugees or their descendents—several million people—must be allowed to live in Israel. It is better not to get a state than to give up this demand. Even though having many Palestinians go live in Israel would make Palestine weaker and poorer it is better to focus on destroying Israel from within.
10. It is more important to be steadfast and patient with a terrible status quo than to make big gains by ending the conflict forever. To do so would give up future Palestinians’ chance to seek total victory. Their right to all of the land cannot be given away.
11. No speeches, no foreign aid, and no international plans or meetings have altered these basic rules. Palestinian leaders may sincerely voice their dismay with this problem privately but won’t fight to smash them. If they ever really do change we’ll know. But until then, these are the reasons why the Palestinian side cannot and will not reach for peace or keep existing commitments very well. Even if a handful of top Palestinians want to reach agreement with Israel, they cannot—and even worse, dare not—violate these commandments.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).