The Demise of the Fatah Movement

This was destined to happen. The Fatah movement (nobody knows when it was founded and Lebanese writer Michel Abu Jawdah found, when interviewing the founders, that they gave different dates as to when it was actually founded–sometimes in late 1950s), was destined to fall. It was so closely linked to the personality and leadership of Arafat; it fell with him, it seems. Arafat did not want a movement that would institutionalize Palestinian struggle for independence, or to husband their popular resources. Instead, he institutionalized corruption through the PLO and Fatah structures.

I never ever admired Fatah as a movement, or its rhetoric, particularly its rhetoric, not to mention what it did under Arafat, who ordered the murder of a cartoonist, Naji Al-Ali, I shall never forget, and who agreed to the humiliating conditions of Oslo, and who, with Sadat and Saudi Arabia did the most to undermine Palestinian struggle for liberation.

But there were many decent and honest members of Fatah that I liked and admired. One of them remains a friend to this day. He tried to recruit me back when I was in high school: he recruited a few at my high school, and he was frustrated at my strong opposition to Fatah. He now lives in the US, and maintained a friendship. He was a clean Fatah member, and not like the dirty Dahlan, Rajjub, and Abu Mazen.

In Lebanon, we would refer to Fatah as a collection of dakakin (shops); you would find many shops in Fatah under `Arafat: a Soviet Marxist shop (headed by Abu Salih); a Saudi shop (headed by Al-Hasan brothers); a Maoist shop (headed by Munir Shafiq-he now is a Muslim fundamentalist); a Ba`thist shop (headed by Faruq Al-Qaddumi); a Muslim Brotherhood Shop (headed by Abu Jihad); an Iraqi regime shop (headed until his defection by Abu Nidal); a Jordanian mukhabarat shop (headed by Abu Az-Za`im); an American shop (headed by Abu Hasan Salamah); and on and on. Abu Mazin did not have a shop of his own; he just did not command a following to warrant a shop. He was close to the Saudi shop though. He just followed Arafat, took orders, and got money from Gulf countries. Arafat (especially through Khalid Al-Hasan) succeeded in corrupting Fatah, and consequently corrupted the PLO, all for the purspose of preserving his powers.

The infusion of Gulf oil money brought millions to the movement, and Arafat gave monthly stipends to various PLO groups not only to keep them around, but to use them against one another, and to use the leverage of money to get his way. He saved the DFLP (after its defection from PFLP) only to curtail the rising powers of the PFLP at the time.

And within every group, he had his own people, that he controlled with money and with perks: Yasir Abd-Rabbuah in the DFLP; Bassam Abu Sharif in PFLP; Samir Ghawshah in Popular Struggle Front; etc. And he used money to instigate split-offs in several of the groups: Sa’iqah, PFLP, DFLP, Palestinion Liberation Front, Arab Liberation Front, etc.

Arafat did not want to create an effective organization; the organizational (or disorganizational) chaos suited him fine. It facilitated his autocratic style of leadership, and camouflaged his secret dealings. The movement was doomed as a military arm when the first communiqué of Al-Asifah (the military wing of Fatah) contained the lies and exaggerations of Arafat. That was his specialty.

Arafat also rewarded not effectiveness or competence; only loyalty and submission to his will was rewarded. And honest and effective leader or member could easily be punished if they showed the slightest signs of independence or integrity. Those who were not corrupt (like Abu Dawud, Abu Salih, Abu Musa, Abu Khalid Al-Amlah) were punished and marginalized.

The most corrupt and most unsavory characters rose in the movement: in the Lebanon soujourn (Abu Az-Za`im, Hajj Isma`il, Kayid, `Azmi, Abu Hasan, etc); and later in the Palestine sojourn (Jibril Rajjub; Musa `Arafat; Muhammad Dahlan, Abu Mazin, Yasir `Abd-Rabbuh, Nabil `Amru, etc). To be sure, Dahlan and Rajjub later turned on Arafat at the behest of US/Israel, but that was his fault. He empowered those people. He was able to spot the corrupt and the unsavory: people who can execute his will, and follow his orders.

But Arafat did not prepare for the era of the siege in Ramallah, when his powers, and his financial leverage, would be curtailed. This emboldened people like Abu Mazen, Dahlan, and Rajjub. Fatah did not present an ideology: it spoke about “the independence Palestinian decision making” and yet subordinated Palestinian decision making to Saudi interests over the years (in return for millions); it spoke about “all rifles against the Zionist enemy” and yet excelled most in factional fighting; it spoke (borrowing from Mao’s famous booklet) of major versus minor contradictions and yet Arafat excelled in attending to the most minor contradictions, and spent a life time trying (to no avail) to appease US/Israel.

And the dependence on oil money explains why the later shut off of funds by Gulf countries, in response to US wishes, so crippled the movement. This is a movement that Arafat did not want to transform into an effective political organization, and that (among other reasons) allowed for wide penetrations by Israeli and Arab intelligence services. The movement would not last; not after Arafat’s passing.

But there are other factors to explain the demise of Fatah: the class that inherited Fatah had no historical credibility, and they all have a reputation of subservience to US/Israeli interests, and they all are so notoriously corrupt, and so notoriously known for indulgences for luxuries. Those pictures of the inside of the house of Jibril Rajjub (and his famous Jacuzi), and his famous lies, must have sealed his fate, and led to his defeat.

There is also a question of personality: Fatah fielded corrupt people and most unsavory characters as candidates. In fact, see the details of the results. Fatah did far better in the list system (based on proportional representation), than in the single-member-district level of the elections. In the latter system, people were voting for the individuals, and not for the name or heritage of the Fatah movement. Hamas selected individuals who do not have the reputation either for corruption or for subservience to US/Israeli interests that Fatah candidates have. This explains why Nabil Amru (a candidate of UAE really) lost his seat.

This is also true in elections in Lebanon: the Amal movement lost all credibility for the massive corruption of its leaders and candidates for parliament. Hizbullah realized that: and selected candidates who do “case-work” as we call it in American politics. Support for Hizbullah in elections in South Lebanon, I know, is not purely for the ideology of the party-it is for some of course-but for the efficiency and honesty of the candidates of Hizbullah, and they are so carefully selected, one by one. There are alcoholics in South Lebanon who vote for Hizbullah. The personality factor is quite important especially in a single-member-district kind of election.

Hamas has also, unlike Fatah, not been tainted by power and power corruption. There will be time for that, who knows how Hamas leaders fare in power. I have seen people in Lebanese and Palestinian politics get corrupted: I have seen communist and fanatical fundamentalists get corrupted by Saudi and Hariri money. And Hamas is not above reproach when it comes to money from Gulf countries whey they in the past did most fund raising. Notice that Hamas leaders are polite and praising of Saudi leader, by the way. This is not an organization above receiving Saudi cash. That is telling for me.

Did you hear Hamas’ statements after the death of King Fahd? And did you not enjoy the nervous giggle in Bush’s answers to the Hamas questions yesterday? That was quite a show, even for somebody like George W. Bush.

But what will Hamas do, or say? Will they perfect the politics of la`am (yesno) that Arafat was known for? I detected signs in the last few days. Is Hamas for negotiations with Israel or not? Is Hamas for the truce or not? You can never tell listening to Hamas’ officials. If Fatah, it was said, was never serious about diplomacy nor about armed struggle-I think it was serious about capitulationist diplomacy, but never about armed struggle-Hamas does not have a definition of its version of “armed struggle” and nothing about its view of diplomacy.

And Hamas, in its practice and its rhetoric-and its rhetoric (in the charter and publications) is grotesque with its vulgar anti-Jewish references and “citations”-does not appeal to those who believe in one secular state for Muslims, Christians and Jews, and does not appeal to those who wish for a diplomatic mini-Palestinian state. Is Hamas creating a new sector of Palestinian public opinion, or is it trying to appeal to the mood of despair and helplessness among the Palestinians.

And if Hamas has practiced versions of indiscriminate and aimless violence-which I personally reject on principle–, it should be pointed out that Israeli terrorism-in scale and in magnitude–by far exceeds that of Hamas, but nobody has noticed here in the US. Fatah is facing a dilemma, and it does not know how to respond. I saw scenes of Fatah rank-and-file protesting in Gaza and demanding the resignation of Fatah officials. And who did I see in the crowd, yelling with the crowd? The symbol of corruption, thuggery, and capitulation, Muhammad Dahlan (Bush’s favorite Palestinian) himself: he had to utilize his typical demagogic skills to jump on whatever wagon, and address the crowd? That is how Fatah stifles reforms in Fatah. Dahlan for reform? Was this not what brought the collapse of the Fatah ticket?

The idea of Dahlan and Rajjub standing as “the new guards” must have offended not only average Palestinians, but also hard core Fatah advocates who felt insulted. Dahlan was being groomed: you remember that the British government took him to Cambridge last year to tutor him in English, and who knows in what else. Dahlan is the candidate for prime minister for the US and EU, until the elections that is.

I personally believe that elections-under-occupations are meaningless. I believe under occupation, liberation is the priority, not elections or some other gimmicks. That comes later.

But the elections are significant because the very weapons that were intended to be used by Israel and US against their enemies, turned against them. The elections that were intended to empower Abu Mazen, empowered the very enemies of the US who were going to be crushed by a new Fatah government. Those US hopes have alas been dashed. Bush must now cool down his rhetoric on democracy and on voting. That will change.

But then again: the fanaticism of this man, coupled with his deep ignorance of world affairs and geography can take him to new extremes. Who knows: Bush, in addition to his record of Islamic governments in Palestine and Iraq, may also have the chance to install an Islamic government in Syria. Maybe with more chances for the Bush’s doctrine, we may get to see Islamic governments spread–that is the real and actual Bush’s doctrine.

Do you know that the actual number of seats gained by Hamas is something like 80 seats when you count the “independents” who are close to Hamas? One such “independent” is Hamas supporter, Ziyad Abu Amru from Gaza. Al-Quds Al-Arabi mentioned him as a foreign minister in the Hamas government, while a Palestinian newspaper talked about him as a possible prime minister. That does not surprise me. I knew him in my graduate schools years: he never struck me as principled. He posed as a Marxist when it was convenient, and immediately posed as a moderate Islamist when he returned to Gaza. I last saw him when he was trying desperately to sell his collection of Lenin’s works before returning home to Palestine. He offered me the Collected Works of Lenin for $200, I remember. He did not want Lenin to stand in the way of his political ambition.

I was sad to see the small number of seats that the left (including PFLP and Mustafa Barghuti) obtained. But I blame them. They failed, when they had the chance. They failed to push for secularism, and they were meek in challenging Arafat and his shady deals when they had a chance. I felt sad-for the Arab left-and angry when I last saw George Habash in Damascus: he was heaping praise on Hamas and Islamic Jihad in a language that I did not think that a leftist icon like him should use. And when I suggested that the left was responsible for its mistakes, errors, shortcoming, he was more than willing to take blame. Habash is good in that regard, I have to say, unlike all other PLO–or Arab–leaders.

But more was, is, needed. Let us face it: since my Lebanon days, I believed that the Arab oil money not only corrupted the PLO and Fatah: but also every other tiny or not so tiny Palestinian organization. This was a revolution that had potential when it was poor; and lost its effectiveness and potency when was it starte receiving regularly either oil money (directly or indirectly), or ransom money from regimes and airlines (a la Wadi` Hadad, among others).

That does not mean that I am pessimistic about the future of Palestinian struggle: Zionism created its own enemies, and its own enemies will never cease, no matter how powerful the Israeli state is. The Zionist project will not succeed because it can’t succeed, and I am not saying this for emotional reasons. At different levels, the Zionist project has only been imposed by force. You need some consent for success, and there is no iota of consent in Palestinian attitude toward Israel. I don’t have faith in the current spectrum of Palestinian organizations, and have less faith in Hamas’ version of “armed struggle”: more worrisome is the political vision of Hamas, but trust that the Palestinian people will not submit to it.

New forms of struggle will be fashioned, and new organizations will emerge in due time. But until that happens, Israel and US will drag a deadly process (they will call it “peace process” for sure) for years if not more, and Israel will continue what it has not stopped doing since 1948 (and earlier): killing Arabs at will.

ASAD ABU KHALIL can be reached at the Angry Arab.