Mideast Media Sampler 08/30/2013: When bad things happen to bad people
The three terrorist groups Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah have all fallen on hard times. Though their problems differ, none of them are ascendant now (or at least not in regards to Israel). To be sure, each still presents a challenge and a threat to Israel, but all three are the weakest that they’ve been in a long time.
Fatah, the main constituent party in the Palestinian Authority, has at least formally rejected terrorism. However there are still terrorists (Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) associated with it, and its moderate leader still promotes terror against Israel as a laudable activity.
Writing at the Times of Israel, Robert Nicholson reminds us of what Fatah was twenty years ago at the signing of the Oslo Accords:
Let’s assume for a moment that the critical account is correct and that the Palestinians had unequal power at Oslo. Should anyone be surprised? When Rabin and Arafat shook hands in 1993, Rabin ran a sovereign state with a recognized territory, a democratic population, and a representative government. Arafat, on the other hand, ran a muddled and murderous revolutionary movement based in Tunisia. The PLO was no nascent state; it was a loose coalition of terrorist factions, a nominal bureaucracy, and a loud-mouthed press office. It held no land, no democratic mandate, and no presence in the territories it claimed to represent.
Of that last sentence, really the only thing that’s changed is its presence. The PLO (of which Fatah was the largest group) was a terrorist organization that was legitimized because it accepted two principles: the rejection of violence and the acceptance of negotiations. Under Yasser Arafat, Fatah was still involved in terror. Under Mahmoud Abbas it has eschewed direct negotiations with Israel in favor of international pressure. In other words, Fatah has failed to live up to the commitments from which it derived its legitimacy. Regardless, few in the diplomatic arena seem willing to to hold Fatah to its commitments (whether its these basic ones or subsequent ones) so Fatah’s not going away.
Fatah’s lack of legitimacy – amplified by its failure to hold elections – isn’t its main weakness. Fatah’s weakness derives from its posture. Here’s an analysis from Robert Danin that passes for conventional wisdom.
Abbas’ main political opposition, Hamas, has denounced the talks. Palestinians fear that Israel wants open ended negotiations, and that their political standing will fall without rapid and tangible results from talks. This both constrains Abbas’ ability to be flexible while pressuring him to obtain quick results from Israel.
Abbas will claim that he can’t compromise because of Hamas, or because of the justice because of what the Palestinian people are owed. But the Palestinians have adopted their victimhood as their identity. It’s harder to present national aspirations when you aspire to have others do for you.
Whether it is a demand that Israel release prisoners or cede land; or that the international community give aid and sanction or pressure Israel. It’s never about governing or providing for citizens. Victimhood may be an effective way of gaining national recognition. It is not an effective way to forge a national ethos or viable polity.
Recently, Richard Behar wrote a cover story for Forbes, Peace through Profits, which documented how private efforts were helping to create a vibrant Palestinian tech sector. For anyone interested in peace and coexistence, this would seem to be good news. Now, just a few weeks later, nearly every Palestinian he interviewed is upset with his portrayal. Apparently hostility towards Israel is valued more than self-sufficiency. Behar writes about one of his subjects, Sam Husseini:
Sadly, Husseini is experiencing what he maintains are repercussions from my articles. “I got a call from a friend in Dubai this morning who reads FORBES. And he said, ‘Sam, is this real? Are you collaborating with Israelis? Is this you?’ I said, ‘No! We’re using Israeli trainers to train Palestinians so that they can get up to par — so we can do globalization.” Husseini says he endured another upsetting moment when a friend in the U.S. posted ‘Well done, Sam’ on his Facebook page. “I said within seconds, ‘Remove it.’ Because if it’s posted there, and my [other] friends see it, I’m done. The problem is, it’s FORBES. So how can you keep it a secret?”
If a Palestinian tech sector develops independent of the Palestinian Authority, that would threaten the PA’s political power. If Israelis and Palestinians cooperate outside of politics, how important is the political organization that doesn’t share or cede power?
Salam Fayyad was an exception. However, he was unique and, so, had no political support. “Fayyadism,” as Thomas Friedman called it, was an effective way to govern perhaps; but it wasn’t an effective way to be a Palestinian politician. Certainly not if only one person in a bloated bureaucracy was committed to it. Twenty years after Oslo, the Palestinian still do not have a fully sovereign state because its political leadership has been more interested in being Israel’s victim than in building a nation. All that aid pays for a large personal fortune, if it isn’t used as a means to govern.
— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) August 24, 2013
If not for Secretary of State John Kerry’s odd obsession with the peace process while the rest of the Middle East is consumed in a war process, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority would be irrelevant right now.
Hamas, too, has fallen on hard times. Through a combination of bad bets and bad luck it finds itself isolated as never before. First it bet Syria to quell the uprising. Then when it became untenable to continue supporting the wholesale slaughter of Sunnis by Shi’ites, it changed directions. The problem was that Iran, its funder, was on the side of Assad. Hamas, then lost a base in Syria and funds from Iran.
That was significant, but not as crippling as losing a friendly regime in Egypt next door. When the Muslim Brotherhood lost Egypt; Hamas lost the open tunnel policy it had enjoyed. This limited the goods and arms that it could smuggle in. More significantly, with a reduced flow of goods into Gaza, Hamas lost the tax revenues it had been collecting from the smuggling traffic. It also lost the direct aid of wealthier member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since Egypt’s interim government saw Hamas as an ally of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood and a threat, it has been hostile to Gaza’s rulers. Last November newspapers reported on the “historic” visit of the Emir of Qatar to Gaza; a sign of the esteem in which Hamas was held. (It also was a harbinger of a substantial donation.) However, a few weeks ago, when Turkey’s Erdogan wanted to show his support for Gaza, the Egyptian government would not issue him a visa to travel through Egypt to get to Gaza.
Hamas right now is isolated politically and financially.
Hamas crackdown on Tamarod group reflects panic, analysts say http://t.co/Q5sDOvrkF5
— Jackson Diehl (@JacksonDiehl) August 22, 2013
Hezbollah is doing pretty well … in Syria. For now, its allies in the Syrian government have won a number of battles and currently appear to have the upper hand in the civil war against the rebels. However at home in Lebanon, a bomb two weeks ago killed over 20 people in Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut. Hezbollah’s efforts in Syria have left itself vulnerable on its home turf to sectarian violence.
By aligning itself with non-Arab, Shi’ite Iran, Hezbollah has made itself an anathema in the mostly Sunni, Arab world. Its participation in the bloody Syrian civil war was cited as a factor in the European Union’s decision to label the organization’s “military wing” a terrorist organization.
These perceptions are exacerbated by the fact that Hezbollah has not engaged Israel since 2006. If its priority is defending the Assad regime, it makes its boast of being part of the “backbone of resistance” empty bluster. It can’t credibly claim to be fighting Zionists, when most of its victims are Sunni.
In addition to having its “resistance” credentials hopelessly compromised, Hezbollah is probably too invested in Syria right now to threaten Israel much.
Book Excerpt #2: Tough Times for Hezbollah http://t.co/E2B4eM3Ogc
— Matthew Levitt (@Levitt_Matt) August 29, 2013