In a previous post, we documented the extremist rhetoric emanating from Hamas officials in the aftermath of the recent unity deal with Fatah, including their unwillingness to recognise Israel under any circumstance, or adhere to the Quartet’s conditions and renounce violence as a means to pursue their goals. Now it would appear that even within Fatah, officials are making disturbingly similar statements.
Take for example Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi. Only last month, while addressing the crowd at a torch-lighting ceremony in Khan Yunis District (in the Gaza Strip) organised by Fatah’s Forum for Prisoners and Released Prisoners, he declared that the principles of the Fatah movement are not the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, alongside Israel, but rather instead of Israel:
“… Our prisoners’ freedom and your freedom are also near, Allah willing. You will return to the bosom of legitimacy, to the bosom of the homeland, which is represented by [the] Gaza [Strip] and the [West] Bank, by Palestine – all of Palestine, from its [Jordan] River to its [Mediterranean] Sea. This is our goal; this is the lantern that lights our way; these are our principles in the Fatah Movement: Palestine – [the] Gaza [Strip] is part of it; the [West] Bank is part of it; and it is Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, and it is all of Palestine, which will be an independent state for us, Allah willing.”
Earlier he appeared on Hezbollah-controlled al-Manar (2/4/2014) and delivered the same message – unequivocal rejection of the two-state solution, and a call for Israel’s destruction, referring to all pre-67 Israel as “Palestine”:
“I repeat my humble opinion once again: I’m telling you that the two-state solution does not exist. The two-state solution does not exist. The two-state solution is over. We must return to the option of one Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea.”
During negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Tirawi also constantly made similar belligerent public statements (see here). For example, he proclaimed on official Palestinian TV (15/3/2014) that the Palestinians have not given up violent means to promote their interests and that negotiations are just one option and do not replace use of the “rifle”:
“A national enterprise cannot succeed without the National Liberation Movement, Fatah. We in this movement have not cast down the rifle and have not let go of the rifle. The rifle is here! The method of struggle we are adopting now (i.e., negotiations) is [only] one of the methods of struggle. But the rifle is here, and it can burst forth at any moment…”
Tirawi is hardly unique. Perhaps less aggressive, yet even more disturbing, were the comments by another member of the Fatah Central Committee, Azzam al-Ahmad, who is also in charge of the reconciliation with Hamas on behalf of Fatah. In contradiction to other statements by Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, Al-Ahmad insists that Hamas is not required to recognise Israel as part of the unity deal or the new government. But more than this, he argued that in fact, the PA had itself not recognised Israel.
His claim was that since the PA was established as a domestic government, only the PLO could discuss and negotiate on foreign affairs matters. Following this logic, the PA never recognised Israel and the future unity government is under no obligation to do so, as only the PLO could grand such recognition. Al-Ahmad managed to find a rhetorical loophole to allow Hamas to enter into government without recognising Israel. But the loopholes only thinly hide the real problem, which is not technical and bureaucratic but rather ideological: how can any Palestinian institution, including the PLO, negotiate in good faith with Israel when the Palestinian government itself won’t recognise Israel’s existence in any borders?
It would appear that many in Fatah have no desire to negotiate with Israel about a two-state solution. This sentiment was evident in a recent (“Fatah – the Main Page”, 13/5/2014) post on one of Fatah’s official Facebook pages, depicting a “warning” sign to Israelis, courtesy of the Fatah Mobilization and Organization Commission. The sign, written in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, stated: “Warning. This is a land of a Palestinian state and the occupation to leave immediately.” Just to erase any doubts that by “land of a Palestinian state” they might mean the West Bank, the sign also showed a map of “Palestine” that included the West Bank and Gaza, and all of Israel, alongside an assault rifle.
The message of rejection of Israel’s existence, in any borders, is reproduced and reiterated often and incessantly in Palestinian mainstream media, education system and the public sphere in general. It is therefore hardly surprising that it is so dominant in Palestinian political discourse as well, and that moderate voices that might offer some balance are rare and more silent. For example, Fatah leader and PA President Mahmoud Abbas made his unexpected remarks on Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, calling the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era”. Merely a week went by, and the official Palestinian Authority daily al-Hayat al-Jadida (7/5/2014) published an op-ed that also referred to the “the greatest crime known to humanity”, but this time, it was not the Holocaust that was referred to. The “crime” was the creation of Israel, or rather “The occupation of Palestine” by ‘Zionist gangs.’” And the author was not referring to 1967, and Israel gaining control of the West Bank and Gaza, but to 1948:
“Sixty-six years ago, a monstrosity was born, which grew over the ruins of an entire people, which had been expelled from its land and homeland, and its name became Israel… The Zionist gangs invaded the land of Palestine and expelled its residents … This was a crime unprecedented in history… was the greatest crime known to humanity.”
If Abbas says that the Holocaust is the greatest crime against humanity, it seems clearly that many within his own movement would retort that the true sin was the creation of Israel. The rejectionist narrative is widespread, perhaps dominant among Fatah officials, as well as in Hamas, and also seems to have high levels of public support. It reinforces the claims over the entire land, including Israel-proper, and the calls for violence to achieve the goal of its elimination.
It is hard to imagine any real progress towards conflict resolution based on the only feasible and moral option, two states for two peoples, as long as this rejectionist worldview remains widespread even among groups like Fatah. They may be more “moderate” than Hamas, but peace will never come until Palestinians leaders stop competing in extreme rhetoric and telling the Palestinian public that compromise is dishonourable, that violence is glorious, and that the other side are eternal enemies.