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The Collapse of Fatah

Legitimacy, Toujours Legitimacy

by WILLIAM S. LIND

Over the past several weeks, another state has failed. In this case it was a proto-state, the Palestinian Authority. Following a Hamas coup in Gaza, the PA has been reduced to the West Bank, while a non-state, Fourth Generation entity now rules in Gaza. Here we see the setting for a head-on clash between states and a non-state force, Hamas. How it turns out may be an important indicator for the development of Fourth Generation War theory.

On the surface, the PA and its governing party, Fatah, seem to hold all the cards. Both Arab governments and the international community have rushed to support Fatah. Money, lots of it, will quickly flow into Fatah’s coffers. The PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, is to meet today in a prestigious regional summit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, and even Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It is clear what side states are on.

Hamas and Gaza, in contrast, are effectively under siege. People cannot get out of Gaza, and most goods, beyond a trickle of food and medicine supplied by NGOs, cannot get in. Fatah is moving to cut off the cash going to Hamas, by requiring all non-governmental groups in its territory to get new operating licenses. It is safe to say Hamas’s application will get lost in the mail.

Steven Erlanger of the New York Times described the states’ strategy in a piece printed in the June 17 Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The idea is to concentrate Western efforts and money on the occupied West Bank, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction control, in an effort to make it the shining model of a new Palestine that somehow will bring Gaza, and the radical Islamic group Hamas, to terms.

To this grand ambition, Fourth Generation theory says, lots of luck.

It may work to some extent in the short term, if the people in the West Bank actually see some improvement in their conditions. Given the corruption of Fatah, that mayor may not happen, however much money states pour in. But in the long run, 4GW theory is betting on Hamas. The reason, as always, is the core of the Fourth Generation phenomenon: legitimacy.

Nothing could do more to de-legitimize Fatah and PA President Abbas than open support from Israel and the United States. Such open support may have played a role in Fatah’s defeat in Gaza. Some months ago, the U.S. publicly announced a major grant, in the millions of dollars, to Fatah’s armed forces. That allowed Hamas to call those forces a "Jew-American army" during the fighting in Gaza. How many Gaza residents, one wonders, wanted to support an army paid by America?

The Bush administration, as usual, refuses to learn. It is now busy undermining Fatah’s legitimacy in the West Bank. According to a piece in the June 20 Plain Dealer by LA Times reporter Paul Richter, describing Israeli Prime Minister’s White House visit last week,

The leaders (Bush and Olmert), appearing before a White House meeting, praised Abbas as a moderate and a democratically elected leader (the last Palestinian election was actually won by Hamas), and said they will work with him against his rivals in the militant Hamas movement. ….

Bushpraised Salam Fayyad, chosen by the Palestinian president this week as prime minister, as a "good fella."

One can almost hear what is left of Fatah’s legitimacy gurgle away into the sands of the desert.

Here we see displayed in all its naked glory what may be the main reason the state cannot stem its crisis of legitimacy: it refuses to perceive it. As Martin van Creveld said to me years ago, "Everyone sees it except the people in the capital cities." By rushing to embrace Abbas and Fatah, with money as well as praise, Bush and Olmert may help them at the physical level of war, but at the moral level, it is the kiss of Judas. The gnostic gospel of Judas suggests that he, too, saw himself as a saint.

Speaking of the course of the Fatah-Hamas struggle to date, Steven Erlanger wrote in the previously-mentioned piece,

Both the United States and Israel are reeling from the rapid and ignominious collapse of Fatah in Gaza in recent days, despite significant injections of U.S. political and military advice and aid.

Until Washington comprehends that Fatah’s defeat was it least in part because of, not despite, that open advice and aid, we should expect to continue to reel, if not in the short term then certainly in the long.


WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.