Fatah’s sudden volte-face

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas adresses journalists as he meets with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on July 22, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after he prayed for the Palestinians who were killed during the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: AFP-Abbas Momani)

By: Orouba Othman

Published Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Resistance factions have pulled the rug from under the feet of the Palestinian Authority, having demonstrated their real weight and impact during the current assault on Gaza. Ramallah has sensed that the Resistance’s popularity is soaring, specifically for the benefit of its arch-rival Hamas, while its own popularity has plummeted to new lows a week after several adverse developments.

Gaza – One look at the events in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank is enough to see why the leaders of the Palestinian Authority have been forced to make an about-face on many of their previous positions. There have been two demonstrations in the city: the first was attended by thousands in support of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, while the other was attended by a few dozen in support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Faced with this new reality created by the Resistance factions, the Palestinian Authority had two options: retreat to the confines of the peace process and denounce the Resistance, but become a pariah in the street in the process; or change its usual tone on the Resistance to contain popular anger and be involved in any agreement concluded between the Resistance and Israel – which would help the Palestinian Authority resolve the crisis of confidence it has with the Palestinian public and end its marginalization, especially at the level of initiatives for de-escalation involving Arab and regional parties.

Until Tuesday, it seemed that the Palestinian Authority was inclined to take the second option.

But it is also important to pay attention to other ulterior motives, because some Palestinian Authority members are no doubt fixated on who will succeed Abbas after he goes. This has prompted them to adopt a discourse that is close to the Resistance and that emotionally engages the Palestinian public. It is worth nothing, however, that Palestinian Authority figures did not gradually move away from criticizing or downplaying Resistance factions, as much as they made a sudden shift from one extreme to another.

This shift appeared in the clear reversal in their political discourse, with the Palestinian Authority adopting a rhetoric that is radically different from previous attitudes voiced throughout its existence. Even Palestinian Authority figures known for their extreme hostility to Hamas have toned down their statements criticizing the Islamic Resistance Movement and its agenda.

What’s more, it would be inaccurate to describe this about-face as an individual phenomenon. To be sure, it is clear that it is the result of a joint decision agreed upon by the leaderships of the Palestinian Authority in meetings behind closed doors, perhaps out of fear of full-scale unrest in the occupied West Bank that would go out of control on account of the Authority’s weak attitudes regarding the assault on Gaza in the first week of the war, specifically prior to the massacre in al-Shujayeh.

In that week, the Palestinian Authority was still blaming Hamas for the escalation while defending the Israeli enemy’s “right to self-defense,” as the foreign minister in the reconciliation government Riad Malki suggested. Secretary-general of the presidency, Tayeb Abdul-Rahim, also made an appearance on Al-Awda TV last week and lambasted Hamas. Abdul Rahim said, “Opening a front to fight Israel is designed to score [political] points against the president,” adding that “Hamas’s military escalation intends to embarrass the Palestinian Authority as well as Egypt.”

When the Resistance made up its mind and rejected the Egyptian-Israeli ceasefire initiative, some leaders in Ramallah railed against Hamas again, blaming it for the bloodshed in Gaza. But after those leaders realized that the Resistance was standing on solid ground, and defending from a position of strength, the Palestinian Authority began to sense its weakness and proceeded to appease the public with a rhetoric praising the Resistance.

This new direction has been led by one of the chief normalizers with the enemy, Secretary of the Executive Committee of the PLO Yasser Abed Rabbo, who has appeared on Palestine TV multiple times with a discourse that is reconciliatory toward the aspirations and objectives of the Resistance. On Monday, Abed Rabbo said, “Gaza does not sponsor terrorism. It is an enduring shield against Israeli occupation…woe to us Palestinians if Gaza is defeated.”

He continued, “Gaza’s demands to lift the siege is the demand of the entire Palestinian people, and not just one particular faction,” stressing that neither Hamas nor its weapons should be blamed for what is happening, but that “criminal Israel” must be blamed instead.

Even the president’s adviser for religious affairs Mahmoud Habash, who had consistently poured scorn on Hamas and accused it of being subservient to the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda, got on the pro-Resistance bandwagon, proclaiming, “All the Resistance’s demands are legitimate.” He also said, “The rockets have now reached Tel Aviv, and Israel should expect more.”

On the other hand, Fatah Central Committee member Jamal Muheisen denies this interpretation for Fatah’s duplicitous discourse. Speaking to Al-Akhbar, he said, “Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s position is unambiguous. From the outset, we denounced the assault on Gaza and held the Occupation responsible for the escalation that began in Hebron.”

He added, “There is no change in our discourse, but each phase has its own circumstances and messages, requiring different battles fought through either armed or popular resistance. Now, specifically, there is no alternative to supporting rocket launching to stop the aggression.”

Muheisen continued, “Gaza has united us all in the same trench, because our entire people are caught in the Israeli guillotine, which requires unifying the discourse of the Palestinian Authority and all factions toward defending Gaza and exposing the occupation.”

However, one cannot ignore in this context the fact that the Palestinian Authority has not called for an intifada in the West Bank, and instead continues its security coordination with Israel and prevents demonstrators from reaching the settlements. Political analyst Adel Samara explained this by saying that the change in the discourse led by Abed Rabbo “is only an attempt to take advantage of the situation and lead the confrontation, though the Palestinian Authority is not a party to it.”

He continued, “Abed Rabbo specifically is opposed to the national movement, but it seems that this leadership senses it is in deep trouble, with all people rallying around the Resistance; so a decision was made to preserve some standing and improve odds to succeed Abbas in power.”

What about the ambition of these leaderships who want to become major players in any truce agreements? Samara said, “The Palestinian Authority wants a stake in a new agreement without any real effort or role, but this is political opportunism that we have become accustomed to; so much so that it has become a school with its own roots and rules in Palestine.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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