Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

The Hamas-Fatah Two-Step

Disturbed by the diplomatic deadlock over negotiations with the Palestinians, many Westerners, and some Israelis themselves, have focused on the need to accommodate the demands of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA). For, they suggest, the alternative would be much worse: namely, being forced to deal with the chronic and openly violent rejectionism of Hamas, the terrorist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. Whatever the merits of this analysis—one might argue that it actually removes any onus on Fatah to meet Israel half-way—this may be a good time to remind ourselves what divides the two rival Palestinian movements, and what difference that division makes.

Relevant Links
Palestinian Power Politics  Noelle Janka, Crown-Belfer Seminar. According to the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, both Fatah and Hamas have priorities that trump the goal of reconciliation.
How Does Hamas Stay in Power?  Ehud Yaari, Eyal Ofer, Washington Institute. Answer: with a lot of help from the Palestinian Authority banking system, and with funds contributed by international and intended to sustain the general population.

Fatah was founded in the 1950s with the straightforward, nonsectarian goal of destroying Israel via "armed struggle"—this, at a time when Arabs themselves fully controlled the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem. Under the mercurial Yasir Arafat, Fatah came to dominate Palestinian politics. In 1993, abandoning the immediate armed liberation of Palestine for a nebulous alternative strategy, Arafat signed the Oslo Accords, which collapsed in bloodshed seven years later. The strategy of today's Fatah, led by Abbas, is if anything more opaque than Arafat's.

No such opacity afflicts Hamas, however. An offshoot of the virulently rejectionist and anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas came into its own in 1987. Considering Palestine a Muslim trust, it saw and still sees Islam as engaged in a zero-sum religious war with the Jews. Hamas viewed with contempt Arafat's duplicities, his rumored personal decadence, and the Palestinian Authority's endemic corruption. It is crystal-clear on its intention to eliminate the state of Israel.

In January 2006, a year after Arafat's death, Hamas overwhelmingly defeated Fatah in the Palestinian Authority elections. As a stopgap measure, the Saudis engineered a unity government, an experiment that crashed and burned when Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in June 2007 and set up its own regime there. Since then, it has persecuted Fatah followers in Gaza, while Fatah has continued to arrest Hamas men in the West Bank.

If the divisions between the two groups are unmistakable, down to their opposing patrons—Fatah relies on the ostensible moderate Arab states, while Hamas gets its main backing from Shi'ite Iran—there are also areas of seeming similarity, and some of the differences themselves are matters of degree rather than of essence.

Thus, both camps suffer from fairly severe internal schisms. Fearing a putsch, Mahmoud Abbas expelled his former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan from the West Bank. For its part, Hamas inside Gaza is at odds with the movement's Damascus-based leadership; and even within Gaza itself, "Prime Minister" Ismail Haniyeh holds little sway over the Izzad-Din al-Qassam gunmen, a group even more unalterably intransigent than he.  

As in Gaza under Hamas, moreover, Fatah-dominated media in the West Bank and the Fatah-directed curriculum of PA schools ceaselessly teach the illegitimacy of Israel and celebrate "resistance" through "martyrdom." As for Abbas's own mulish refusal to negotiate with Israel or to recognize it as a Jewish state, it sometimes resembles only a paler and dodgier version of Hamas's sweeping rejectionism.

In the end, though, and nuances aside, there is no denying the reality or the crippling effect of the divisions in the Palestinian polity, just as there is no denying the spoiler role played by Hamas—or Abbas's genuine fear of overthrow by that organization should talks with Israel lead to a genuine peace. Rank-and-file Palestinians, who hold both factions jointly responsible for the split, know there can be no "Palestine" without reconciliation. And there have indeed been episodic if superficial and unconvincing signs of rapprochement, with intermediaries continuing to work toward a meeting between senior figures in the opposing camps.

What would such a rapprochement produce, however? As things stand now, the price of burying the hatchet would likely be an even more obdurate policy on Israel, if now a unified one. But the greater likelihood is that the hatchet will remain unburied, and that the Hamas-Fatah divide will last for a very long time. And for good reason: the real question, both for Palestinian society and for the future of the conflict with Israel, remains who is going to lead the Palestinian people, and to where. Until that question is resolved, within and between the feuding parties, little else can be accomplished.

This is a singularly inconvenient but intractable truth. By ignoring it, by industriously campaigning instead for will-o'-the-wisp ideas like unilateral Palestinian statehood or an imposed solution to the Arab-Israel conflict, by skewering practically any internal Israeli measure, from the mundane to the imprudent, as heralding the death knell of the two-state solution, "peace-loving" Westerners and Israelis alike serve only to encourage the most extreme among the real enemies of peace.

Tags: , , , , ,


Kenneth Besig, Israel on January 14, 2011 at 7:50 am (Reply)
Let's get real, the Palestinians will never ever sign a peace settlement with Israel. Their goal, both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, is Israel's destruction and the genocide of the Jews.
Hamas states this publicly and openly, advertises it in its newspapers, on its TV and radio stations, and teaches it in its schools and mosques. The PA is slightly less public in its propaganda demanding Israel's destruction but just as plain in its advertising in its newspapers, TV and radio stations, and in its schools and mosques.
This has always been the real deal breaker in the Israeli Palestinian peace negotiations, the Israelis want peace and will pay a high price for a settlement, not a suicidal price however. The only settlement the Palestinians want is a one state solution, called Palestine, which totally eliminates Israel and all the Jews.
Jeff Gilbert on January 14, 2011 at 8:01 am (Reply)
A really concise and lucid explanation of the current situation between Hamas and Fatah.
Eric Schneider on January 14, 2011 at 8:11 am (Reply)
Jager says Abbas isn't ready to meet israel half-way, but the opposite is the case - Abbas asks for no part of "Israel proper," just the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, while Netanyahu wants all of Israel proper, of course, PLUS all of East Jerusalem and at least a large portion of the West Bank. Furthermore, Abbas does not demand that Israel demilitarize or give up control of its airspace and borders, while Netanyahu demands all that from Palestine. So who's being "mulish"?
Kenneth Besig, Israel on January 14, 2011 at 8:21 am (Reply)
By the way Eric Schneider, Israel wants to get rid of as much of the Disputed Territories as it safely can, but the Palestinians demand that every one of their so called refugees be allowed by the millions to "return" to Israel proper. This by the way, Eric, is a non negotiable Palestinian demand according to them, so now you tell me who is really being "mullish?"
The Palestinians thus want their "state" and Israel too.
So tell us Eric Schneider, just what part of the non negotiable Palestinian demand of the "sacred right of return of all the Palestinian refugees to Israel" do you not understand?
Or is it that your pro Palestinian and anti Israel ideology doesn't allow you to understand?
Howard Weber on January 14, 2011 at 10:04 am (Reply)
Whenever I engage in a conversation with a Palestinian, in the US or in Israel, I always begin with the question, "Do you recognize the right of a Jewish State to exist?" Without exception, the answer is always, "No." That's also a conversation stopper because discussion about borders,right of return, settlements and the like are irrelevant when one party doesn't recognize the right of the other to exist. Jager's analysis, while disturbing to those who wish to sing 'Kumbaya", is deadly accurate.
Ron Broxted on January 14, 2011 at 10:17 am (Reply)
Quite a "hard line" article. My own thoughts? Draw a line down the map, Israel one side Palestine the other.
Larry Snider on January 15, 2011 at 8:07 am (Reply)
It is not unwise to look at the challenges facing the State of Israel directly and clearly. However, as Mr. Jager alludes there are many facets to the Palestinian people and their leadership. It is possible to make progress on both the security and economic fronts with the Abbas/Fayyad government and this continues to happen. During the beginnings of "the nebulous alternative," of the Oslo Accord a majority of Palestinians actually believed that peace was possible and in effect put the most virulent strains of Palestinian society including Hammas largely back in the bottle. Unfortunately the moment passed even as Rabin was killed and the dark forces on all sides claimed more territory including hearts and minds. It is not an exaggeration today to say that neither the majority of Palestinians or Israelis believes that peace is achievable in the near future. But it is necessary to find a way to achieve it before extremists and naysayers lead Israelis, Palestinians and the entire Middle East into a blood bath based on the ever increasing military capacity of both state and non-state powers in the region.
Dixon Webb on January 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm (Reply)
I remember when there was no state of Israel. The desert Arabs, almost all of them, had been on the wrong side of the WWII conflict - and they lost the war. The allies divided the eastern desert territories without considering the vanquished enemy Arabs. They got what they deserved. Nothing.

The holocaust disgusted the WW II allied victors and led to widespread support for a Jewish homeland. The wartime cry "next year in Jerusalem" echoed loudly - and the tiny area of Israel was carved from the huge eastern Meditereanian territory. At the time there was no nation of Palestine.

Palestine was a broad term for the large land area inhabited by itinerant and nomadic Arabs. When the Israeli state was defined and established, the entire Arab world declared their own Holy War on it.

Many declared themselves to be "Palestinians" and claimed their religion (Islam) required that Israel and it's people be eliminated from the earth. At no time did they admit losing the war and therefore title to any land area, and at no time did they welcome the state of Israel imposed upon them.

Today's (so called) Palestinians insist on self destructing. They have earned only the disgust of civilization. They have absolutely no claim on the land of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu is right. Give them nothing. Ever.
Gary B. on January 16, 2011 at 3:35 am (Reply)
It seems to me the dance between the good cop and bad cop roles of Fatah and Hamas is really for the West, not for negotiations with Israel. It is the peace-pursuing West which showers these "leaders" with huge sums of money. As one saw with Arafat's $100K per month wife and child in Paris, I imagine a nice tidy sum is siphoned off each and every time to offshore accounts. If the subsidies stopped coming, the Palestinians would play are far different game, probably involving compromise. For my view, it is the West which continues to foment Fatah and Hamas as peace candidates who refuse to recognize that "Zionist entity." As long as the money flows, this game will continue.
Ron Broxted on January 16, 2011 at 4:54 am (Reply)
Dear Dixon We had hardliners like you in Northern Ireland. They got a lot of people killed.
Dixon Webb on January 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm (Reply)
Mr. Broxted . . . I'm not convinced that a comparison, Northern Ireland and Israel, is particularly valid but certainly your comment is worthy of examination. My problem has been, for quite a long time, what is the alternative? If the fractured Israeli government adopts any kind of potential compromise, or shows any kind of weakness, the Palestinians reaction is to bomb some more.

It's time that the entire world finally admits that the Palestinian collection of impoverished tribal clans does not have the ability to create a reasonable civil government to represent them. As long as this remains true, and as long as the religion of Islam continues to promote and teach extreme militant violations of humanity toward Israel and all other non-believers, these people will remain enemies of the civilized world.

At this historical time the Palestinians are focussed on the destruction of the Israel and it's people. Should Israel trade their legitimate claim to the land to obtain peace? They've tried that and failed. Should they pay billions of dollars in tribute in exchange for peace? They've tried that too - and failed. Should they fight terrorism tooth by tooth, an eye for an eye? They have been doing this since long before Israel was established - and it hasn't worked at all.

As you say Sir, a lot of people have died and I think it was not because of "hardliners" like me. The blame more properly should be assigned to the irrational, ungovernable, impoverished, millions of Islamic followers that are taught that terrorism and militant actions will open the gates of paradise.

So with respect and understanding I submit that line is drawn at the borders of Israel and should be protected and not bargained away.

Ron Broxted on January 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm (Reply)
Dear Dixon, Thank you for your reply. Islam has much beauty and knowledge to impart, if some folks either part of the Umma or not, choose to pick bits from the Qu'ran out of context then that is not an accurate reflection on the teachings of Mohammed (SAAW). If it were up to me I'd draw a line on a map, divide it, one side Israel, one side Palestine. Then, get on with it. Israel has a right to exist. So does Palestine. By the age of 5 I'd worked out that there were good and bad Jews, nice and nasty Arabs. In order to protect borders one must have a border with somewhere. Buying peace? You may have a point. There will always be those who hate Jews no matter what the agreement is. Ignore the scum buckets and move forward. Protect one's borders certainly. Regards, Ron.
Gary B. on January 19, 2011 at 3:29 am (Reply)
An amusing exchange which culminates with "Ignore the scum buckets and move forward."

Given that worldwide attacks on Jews (and Christians) is ongoing in many more nations than just the Middle East, and given the fact that Hamas and Iran's client Hizbollah have overtly declared there can be no peace with Israel, it seems to me that the pie-in-the-sky "ignore the scum buckets" is at best wishful thinking. "Moving forward" is an incomplete clause for the logic of "moving forward" implies answering the question, "to where?" Where is "forward?"

If the "scum buckets" which head significant Palestinian militant and political groups are ignored, the "to where" becomes a significant question radically ignored by those who would argue "peace at all costs."

When the stakes are so very high, peace at all costs and its nuanced variants become illogical.

As to the "border" of Palestine, some sixty years have gone by and the only border I have seen tagentially suggested by Palestinians includes all of Israel. Is there some Palestinian drawn-on-the-map border proposed by Palestinians of which I am unaware? If so, I would be interested in knowing of it.

Else the "scum buckets" can continue their game of crying for borders while delaring none except the entire state of Israel. Forward to where?
Ron Broxted on January 19, 2011 at 4:38 am (Reply)
Unless one lives on an island all borders are fluid. "Greater Israel", you want half of Asia? Cool. By the way, yes, there is hatred towards Jews & Christians in many places, as there is Islamophobia in many places. Do I have an answer? Two state solution? Oh well, worth a try.
Gary B. on January 19, 2011 at 8:24 am (Reply)
"Unless one lives on an island, all borders are fluid." Is that the answer you propose? If so, I think there is someone living on an island named Delusion. When all borders are fluid, then there will be also fluidity amongst lands, definitions, terms, economics and ownership, identity and all the goals of the old-fashioned cultural Marxist will have finally come to be.

What are these fluid borders, then? No borders at all or borders without regulation? Borders without tariffs? Borders without definition? Maybe borders without borders, if one stretches the image far enough to snap.

The problem with "worth a try" is that ongoing inquiry is so much more easy when someone steps out with some solution. "Fluid borders" is such a solution? I suspect not. But it was a clever "try."

I wonder how Hamas and Hizbollah will react to fluid borders. Probably they will all sit 'round the campfire and sing Israeli songs in a show of tolerance.... That's "fluid."
Howard Weber on January 19, 2011 at 11:11 am (Reply)
Hey, a two-state solution! That novel approach hasn't been tried since 1948 when the Arabs rejected the concept...
Ron Broxted on January 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm (Reply)
Guys, guys. At present we cannot even agree on "Who is a Jew?" Then look at Arabs, invented nationalism, a few generations ago nobody said they were Libyan or Jordanian. Arab rejection in 1948 may not be the same in 2018. We had Sunningdale in 1973 and a ceasefire in 1994 with the same conditions. It is called being a slow learner.
Gary B. on January 19, 2011 at 4:01 pm (Reply)
"Guys, guys." And the point is....

If "we" cannot agree on defining a Jew and Judaism, Arabs and nationalism, or fluid borders, what's all the commenting about then?

Mr. Broxted, your original comparison was to Northern Ireland, in order to somehow complain or condemn "hardliners" who "got a lot of people killed." You also offered to "Draw a line down the map, Israel one side Palestine the other," while complaining that Mr. Jager's article was "hard line."

Fluid borders, drawing a line down the map AND suggetsing that words we are using cannot be adequately defined? I'd say this pretty much sums up the effects of the Frankfurt School, moving forward a century. Their game was to see the West collapse but confusion of terminology and clutter in critical thinking. I consider Israel a part of the West in its democracy, dedication to tolerance of minorities which one does not see in the Hamas-Fatah Two Step tango, and its enormous contributions to freedom in an area wherein freedom is in otherwise short supply.

I'd say Mr. Jager's article is not hard line at all, but merely hard compared to the evasive and fluid arguments you have been making herein. His observation that we deal with a "singularly inconvenient but intractable truth" is not hard line. It is clearly stated and very true.

If Arab rejection is, as you say, "a slow learner," you assume it -- Arab rejection -- has learned something. Pray tell, then, what?
Ron Broxted on January 20, 2011 at 6:13 am (Reply)
Gazza B! Whoa there. Dedication to minorities? The IDF is constantly being criticised for its actions against Arabs. Freedom? What is that? Answers please on a post card to Mordechai Vanunu. It seems to me many commentators think Arab=bad and that is it. I am merely positing that not ALL Arabs are bad.
fred kass on January 20, 2011 at 10:04 am (Reply)
Mr. Jager's analysis is upside down as Alice in Wonderland peaking through the looking glass.

The 1967 borders is the worst of the ideas. It is a formally specifically developed for the sole purpose of total genocide against the Jews in Israel. The border is indefensible. It rapes the Jewish people of our history and psychological and emotional basis of survival. It makes Israel an irrelevant neo outpost of Europoeanism cosmopolitism with its nightclubs and shopping malls. It strips Israel of its special reason for being.

Most countries are ruled by a minority within the country. Even if the Jews had only 60% of the population, it is easier to develop your political system further than to ignite an internal civil war and economi disaster by attempting to evict and relocate Jews from their homes and farms and businesses. How ironic. The Nazis came and said, we are resettling you to new settlements for your own safety.

The secularists and surrenders are trying to say to their fellow Jews, we are forcably evicting you from the places (which Jews have every right to live in), for your own safety and peace, to live in this valley.

This siege mentality will make us complicit in our own genocide. We are doing the dirty work for those who wish our annhilation.

The writer's analysis is part of this pathology of self destruction and suicidal policies that will be our undoing.

Fred Kass
Gary B. on January 20, 2011 at 10:46 am (Reply)
Mr. Broxted asks, "Dedication to minorities?" Arabs sit in elected positions in the Knesset. I'd call that a minority being included. Name Jews who sit in any elected positions in Gaza and the West Bank, please?

Broxted adds, "Freedom? What is that?" Why ask such a question? Are we unsure of the word's meaning?

We remain with "ignore the scum buckets and move forward?" But the question remains? Where is forward, when Hamas declares Israel has no right to exist and Fatah's leadership again reiterates that the Holocaust is a fraud? Mr. Kass suggests "secularists and surrender[er]s are trying to say to their fellow Jews" some version of "move forward," but there may not be a way forward in this time. There seem a great many firm, dedicated and very real enemies of the tiny state of Israel.

The article poses the question "where" and Mr. Kass rightly asks also "where?" Forward to where exactly?
For my take, forward to any future in which there is freedom assured for Jews, as well as others within a society.
Dixon Webb on January 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm (Reply)
Gary B. . . . I'm disturbed. Maybe even distressed. Israelis came from everywhere. In 1948 there were few born and raised there and Israel was founded with few assets at hand. It was immediately subjected to a trial by terror yet pulled itself up by it's bootstraps despite overwhelming odds of failure. Israel thus became the destination for immigrants (as was early America) and they came and settled in the midst of threatening neighbors. So it has become a modern nation of immigrants. The citizens, coming from many different places on the globe, argue among themselves about damn near everything - except their hard won right to the land within their borders.


What have the surrounding millions of desert Arabs contributed to peaceful co-existance, development of their land, creation of a government, improving their dreadful poverty, and gradually promoting their culture on the road to joining modern civilization?

To their everlasting shame they have done nothing. Yet most of these people that now live in the area they call Palestine are decent, friendly, and family oriented - and most want to live in harmony with their neighbors. I can't help but think that most would prefer a peaceful life for their children.

The western press portrays all Palestinian Arabs as a bloody and corrupted society of unreasonable and militant ISLAMIC terrorists. I submit that does not describe ALL of them. If there was a land (the size of Israel?) that could be scribed from the area with borders (by a community of friendly nations) and given a Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and provided by a powerful military to keep the peace and protect the property - I suspect that many families of desert Arabs who follow the peaceful teachings of the Qu'ran would come to make their homes. The expense of such an undertaking would be huge - but not as expensive as the ongoing conflict.

Gary B. on January 20, 2011 at 1:45 pm (Reply)
Dixon, this is a sincere and applauded notion to which you have given voice. I have worked with a few Muslims in my time, and never crossed the proverbial sword with them except in moderate and civil debate.

It is a great wonder to imagine "the lion and the lamb" together, but the steps to such a wonder are mighty -- at the minimum. Which "families of desert Arabs" do you see ready to make such a commitment? Until leadership voices arise within the Palestinian ranks which can utter such as have you written, I too shall be distressed as you have confessed to be.

The simple problem is that for two to make peace, both must be willing to make peace. Repetitious, I know, but the point of the article is that this so-called "two-step" is not a dance of peacemaking, and no spears are being turned into pruning hooks by the current leadership.

One reads sound advice, "Even on the threshold of war, we are bidden to begin with peace." The steps which are clearly waiting to be taken involve those Muslims who can say as you have said. But where are these voices today, in this moment? Fatah seems not to be, and Hamas is outspoken in its view to see Israel destroyed. Who then shall lead the "families of desert Arabs" you envision? Perhaps next year....
Ron Broxted on January 20, 2011 at 2:23 pm (Reply)
The freedom question takes us away from Israel and Palestine. In Britain freedom is the freedom not to have your DNA on file for no reason (2 million citizens at the last count) the freedom not to be held without charge (great for mopping up Muslims) and if you are like Mr Tomlinson the freedom not to be beaten to death when walking away from a peaceful demonstration. Hey maybe Israel is not so bad after all!

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham