Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday played down a recent meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Sharm el-Sheikh, wondering what all the fuss was about.
“We saw each other, it was just a regular meeting,” he said in a conversation with a reporter aired on Israel Radio, laughing off a suggestion that there was “normalization between Fatah and Iran…”
[But a senior Palestinian official], speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that it was the first such meeting since the PA was established in 1994.
“They discussed the internal Palestinians situation and the need for successful negotiations between Hamas and Fatah,” he said.
The two also discussed “the need for a balance between Fatah and Hamas, the need for support of dialogue [between the two groups]… regional conditions and how to strike a balance in support between Hamas and Fatah,” he continued.
Fatah and Hamas have big differences. Fatah is nationalist and secular, while Hamas is Islamic fundamentalist. Hamas persecutes Christians and arrests women for ‘immodest’ dress, while the well-known Christian woman Hanan Ashrawi was at one point a member of Fatah. Hamas and Fatah fought brutally when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, and today Fatah holds hundreds of Hamas men in its West Bank jails.
Fatah, the major faction in the PLO, controls the Palestinian Authority (PA). The US supports the PA as the legitimate Palestinian government, pays most of its bills and arms and trains its ‘security’ forces, although it is highly unpopular even on the West Bank. But the Obama Administration — like that of former President Bush — believes that Fatah is a ‘moderate’ force, which can be persuaded to be a partner with Israel in a peaceful two-state solution.
Unfortunately Fatah — the party of Yasser Arafat, which historically has killed more Israelis than Hamas — is moderate only in the minds of some wishfully thinking Western observers. Robert Fulford recently talked to Khaled Abu Toameh, the Jerusalem Post’s Arab Affairs correspondent:
Abu Toameh thinks neither [Fatah nor Hamas] could be called moderate by any sensible Arabic speaker. Fatah makes moderate sounds in English but in Arabic sounds as anti-Semitic and anti-American as Hamas. Abu Toameh sees no moderates on either side. Both factions suppress moderate opinion wherever it raises its head, which is apparently not often.
“This is not a power struggle between good guys and bad guys,” he said in a recent speech. “It is a struggle between bad guys and bad guys.” He wishes they were fighting over what would be best for Palestinians. “But they’re only fighting over money and power.” [my emphasis]
To a certain extent, this is a feature of Palestinian politics. Barry Rubin explains (see: “The peace recess“) that there simply is no percentage for a Palestinian leader in really being a moderate, as opposed to making some English statements designed to score propaganda points in the West. There is no popular support for moderation, and there are plenty of young men with guns — in Fatah as well as Hamas — who would quickly put an end to a moderate movement if there were one.
Present US policy seems to have two goals, one real and immediate and the other longer range and possibly more ‘for show’ than anything else.
The first is to win the approval of Muslim nations which claim to be alienated by our previous support of Israel, the war in Iraq, etc. This is why the Administration has chosen to crudely bludgeon Israel over settlements and construction activity, and to agree with the PA that this is an obstacle to a peace settlement. The Arabs and Iran want to see the US ‘deliver’ Israel and that is the impression given by the settlement dispute.
The second goal is to gain popular support in the US and in Europe, by appearing to promote a peaceful two-state solution — although a peaceful end to the conflict is not possible without a moderate Palestinian partner, which doesn’t exist today. Even if some naive American officials believe that peace is possible in the short term, the important part is the process.
Unfortunately there is a real danger that — with the encouragement and support of Iran — the so-called ‘moderate’ Fatah and Hamas will soon paper over their differences and come together, something which would likely end up with the more vital Hamas gaining power over the PA. Hamas, while ideologically inflexible, acts in a pragmatic way, as is demonstrated by the radical Sunni organization’s alliance of convenience with Shiite Iran.
At this point, the Obama Administration will no longer be able to continue its charade of supporting the PA for the sake of peace, and the impending policy train wreck will occur — maybe along with another Israeli-Palestinian war.