What can we learn about the conflict from yesterday’s terrorist bombing? For one thing, that the West’s perception of it is far enough removed from reality to be called…
By Barry Rubin
The Arab-Israeli conflict definitely holds the record for the most bizarrely treated issue in modern history. It is easy to forget just how strange this situation is and the extent to which it is understood and handled so totally different from other, more rationally, perceived problems.
Let’s take a very simple example and examine the surrealistic, bizarre way in which normally sensible people and institutions respond.
On February 4, 2008, two terrorists attacked the quiet town of Dimona in southern Israel. One blew himself up near a toy store in a marketplace, killing an elderly woman and wounding forty people. The other was injured in the first blast and, before he could detonate his own bomb, was killed by a policeman.
At first, some Fatah officials claimed that one of the men was theirs, from that group’s al-Aqsa Brigades; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said the second belonged to them. Such are the bare facts. But from here it gets far stranger.
Apparently, Fatah and the PFLP did dispatch a two-man terrorist team, but they were apparently caught before crossing into Israel. At the exact same time, Hamas sent another duo, and they succeeded in reaching Dimona.
Thus, through no fault of their own, Fatah and the PFLP did not actually commit the attack. But they tried and would have preferred to have carried out the terrorist assault. From here, a number of conclusions should be obvious:
1. The nature of Fatah. Why is Fatah, the organization routinely described as moderate by Western governments and media, involved in constant terrorism attempts–and sometimes successes–against Israel?
The al-Aqsa Brigades are an integral part of Fatah. The Brigades’ founder and leader is Marwan Barghouti who has been head of Fatah on the West Bank. Many of the Brigades’ gunmen are on the Fatah payroll in various ways, often as members of security forces which are supposed to prevent…terrorism.
Of course, the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and in effect Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas “condemned” the attack. That is, he said he didn’t like it. But no member of Fatah has ever been expelled from the organization or fired from the security forces for involvement in terrorism. The PA’s media regularly broadcasts incitement to commit terrorism. It does not transmit television, radio, and newspaper demands on its members not to attack Israeli civilians.
So is Fatah a terrorist organization?
Well, apparently not. Granted, Abbas personally would prefer these attacks not occur. In the Fatah spectrum he is at the moderate end. Nevertheless, he presides over a group that is terrorist and which regards itself as fighting a war against Israel whose main tactic is deliberately murdering civilians. It uses its funds for this purpose and encourages such behavior through program and propaganda.
A Reuters dispatch about the attack, when it was thought to be perpetrated by Fatah, said it was a challenge for Abbas to control “rebels within his own Fatah faction.” The point, however, is that they aren’t rebels at all but rather members in good standing who probably have more support in Fatah than does Abbas himself.
2. International policy toward Fatah. Therefore, if Fatah, and the PA, should not be shunned at least they should be subjected to serious international pressure, right? If only for their own good since presumably the world believes that they are better off if they abandon terrorism? Again, apparently not.
Fatah is the group which is being given well about $7 billion by international donors. And there are no strings attached to that aid: no measure of whether Fatah uses or advocates terrorism whatsoever. It gets the money no matter what it does. There are good reasons for the West to work with, and even aid, the PA and Fatah but there are no good reasons for that support and aid to be unconditional.
3. Motive. Fatah officials said the reason for the attack was to protest Israeli “aggression” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. To begin with, of course, Israel is merely responding to rocket and mortar attacks on its territory. If these were to cease, Israel would never attack the Gaza Strip and continue to supply it–directly and indirectly–with its electricity. But if Israel were never to attack the Gaza Strip, the Hamas regime and its junior partners in the Gaza Strip would continue to attack Israel. By definition, then, they are the ones who are aggressive.
Incidentally, there are no sanctions whatsoever against the West Bank, which Fatah rules. Thus, Fatah is at war with Israel while Israel, despite periodic raids against individuals directly involved in terrorism, treats Fatah as a partner and urges countries to give it financial aid.
But there’s more. Fatah is essentially coming to the aid of a Hamas regime which threw it out of Gaza, killed Fatah members, sometimes in cold blood, and represses its own people. Why? Because Fatah and the PA are competing for Palestinian popular support in the Gaza Strip and the way that one does this is to murder Israeli civilians. This is a very telling definition of Palestinian politics, ideology, and public opinion.
4. PA/Fatah attitude towards terrorism. The other terrorist killed was initially claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a radical Arab nationalist group, which also tried to kill Israeli civilians on that day. Recently, the founder and long-time head of the PFLP, George Habash, died. Habash was a veteran terrorist who practically invented airplane hijacking and international terrorism. Habash was lauded by the PA and Fatah at his funeral as a great hero of the movement.
Riyad al-Malki, the PA’s Minister of Information and Foreign Affairs of the “moderate” PA is a PFLP member and ran the organization on the West Bank for many years. So when Western politicians and diplomats deal with the “moderate” PA they are talking directly to a man who played a leading role in a terrorist group which continues to make–and proudly claim responsibility for–terrorist attacks.
Arab members of Israel’s parliament went to the funeral and joined in the accolades for a terrorist whose group continues to murder their fellow citizens.
5. Israeli attitude toward Arabs. When the second terrorist fell as a result of the first explosion, Israeli medical personnel did not hesitate from rushing to help a man they thought was an Arab victim of the attack. Then the nurse saw the explosives belt and realized the man she was trying to save was about to murder her. She had to run for her life, pulling along another wounded person, and yell for help from the police.
To summarize: Fatah acts as a terrorist group; the PA facilitates terrorism and includes people leading terrorist groups; Fatah views itself as an ally of a group that attacks it and murders its own members; the West aids Fatah and the PA with no attempt to discourage their behavior; Israeli Arab politicians side with terrorism; and Israelis, at the risk of their lives, try to save Arab lives, and would like to have a two-state solution if the other side is ever able to make and implement such a deal.
Oh, yes, and guess who much of the world blames for the conflict. As I said, uniquely bizarre.
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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).