Marwan Barghouti is serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for his crimes as head of Fatah’s Tanzim terrorist group and founder of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. He “led, operated, assisted, incited and participated in acts of terror carried out by field commanders and terror activists who were subordinate to them, and thus willfully caused the deaths of hundreds of Israelis,” the 2002 court ruling stated. Yet liberal Israeli politicians clamor for his release, because he is a “moderate.”
Abu Maher Ghneim is “an unrepentant hardliner, an open opponent of the Oslo agreements,” according to Barry Rubin, who directs the Global Research in International Affairs Center. He was a close associate of former Fatah leader Yasser Arafat, fighting alongside him as a terrorist in the 1960s before being barred from the region because of his terrorist activity. Ghneim was one of the founders of the “moderate” Fatah movement.
“We do not demand that the Hamas movement recognize Israel,” said Mohammed Dahlan, a top adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in March. “On the contrary, we demand of the Hamas movement not to recognize Israel, because the Fatah movement does not recognize Israel, even today.” YnetNews called Dahlan one of Fatah’s “most moderate figures.”
Aside from being “moderate,” what these men have in common is that they are some of the most popular leaders in Fatah. On August 11, all three were voted onto Fatah’s 21-strong Central Committee, the party’s most powerful decision-making body. Ghneim, who returned to the West Bank at the end of July, received two thirds of the vote, and many see him as a likely successor to Abbas. “Watch this man,” says Rubin. “He is the future of the Palestinian movement.”
It’s hardly surprising that these men are popular. Recent surveys suggest that 52 percent of Palestinians support armed attacks against civilians inside Israel. “[T]he desire for popular support has not moderated Hamas, but has radicalized Fatah,” wrote David Schenker in Foreign Policy (August 4).
The Middle East definition of moderation, it seems, is merely, “not a member of Hamas.” In truth, however, Fatah is one of Israel’s most dangerous enemies.
A Historic Conference
From August 4 to 11, over 2,000 Fatah members gathered for their first conference in 20 years to discuss the group’s future. Right at the start of the conference—in the opening line of the opening speech—President Abbas praised the “martyrs” who had died in terror attacks against Israel.
The conclusions of the conference were far from moderate. Fatah endorsed the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades—which has killed or helped kill over 100 Israelis in terror attacks since 2001—as its official security force. It accused Israel of murdering Yasser Arafat. It adopted a new platform that declared Jerusalem the “eternal capital of Palestine.” The platform stated that “Fatah will continue to sacrifice victims until Jerusalem returns [to the Palestinians], devoid of settlements and settlers.” In its revised platform, Fatah made the obligatory nods toward negotiation to keep the West happy, but made it clear that violence remains very much an option.
“The fact is that in hopes of drawing support away from Hamas, Fatah is increasingly and publicly drawn to its radical roots,” the Washington-based Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs said in response to the platform. “And the reality for American and European policy-makers who think they have the answer to the conflict is that Fatah, no less than Hamas, believes in Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea and ‘void’ of Jews.”
Fatah’s relationship with Iran was also on the congress’s agenda. A draft leaked before the conference stated, “We must work toward opening a strategic channel to Iran.” In July, the Palestinian Authority and Iran held their first-ever high-level meeting. Fatah’s Jerusalem affairs liaison openly called for a stronger relationship with Iran three days before the Fatah conference in comments to Ma’an News Agency.
Iran and Fatah already cooperate, but an open “strategic” dialogue would bring their relationship to a new level. Fatah could soon become another Iranian proxy, just like Hamas and Hezbollah. An Iranian-backed Fatah could be even more dangerous than the other groups, as it operates right in the heart of Israel.
Fatah wants to work more closely with a nation whose stated aim is to wipe Israel off the map: hardly the position of a moderate party.
To the north, Hezbollah is getting stronger. The Iranian-created and -sponsored terrorist organization reportedly has up to 40,000 rockets and is training fighters to use ground-to-ground missiles that can reach as far as Tel Aviv. It is gaining more control over both Lebanon’s military and government.
These developments pose an enormous threat to Israel. Iran could encourage Hamas and Fatah to put aside their differences and focus on uniting to fight Israel. With Hezbollah threatening from the north, enhanced cooperation between Iran and Fatah would leave Israel surrounded and put Iran right on the doorstep of Jerusalem.
Watch closely. All it will take is for Iran to kick down that door, and the world will become a very different place.
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