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Media Analyses





Those Intransigent 'Moderates' of Fatah


The announcement of a new Palestinian “unity” pact between Fatah and Hamas late in April compelled news media to differentiate between the two Palestinian movements. Many described a “militant” Hamas and a “moderate” Fatah.

 

In the United Kingdom, The Daily Telegraph (“Palestinians choose Hamas over peace with unity deal, says Netanyahu,” April 24, by Robert Tait and Inna Lazareva), said “leaders of the moderate Fatah and the Islamist Hamas groupings announced that they had cast aside years of differences to conclude a reconciliation pact that would yield a government within five weeks and fresh elections in six months.”

 

The New York Times (“Israel Halts Talks, Citing Palestinian Unity Agreement,” April 25, by Jodi Rudoren) wrote of “the agreement between Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is dominated by the more moderate Fatah party and governs the West Bank ….”

 

Washington Post usage extended this practice:

 

* “Rival Palestinian groups Fatah, Hamas reach accord; Israel, U.S. condemn reconciliation deal as a threat to peace talks” (April 24), by Ruth Eglash of The Post’s Jerusalem bureau and Anne Gearan, the newspaper’s diplomatic reporter, with support from Islam Abdul-Karim in the Gaza Strip, explained that “the deal would reunite the moderate Fatah faction in the West Bank, which has been negotiating with Israel, with the radical Hamas faction, which refuses to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. Hamas is blamed for allowing near-daily rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip territory it controls.”

 

* The lead paragraph of “Israel suspends peace talks over Palestinian groups’ unity deal” (April 25), by Gearan and Eglash, stated that “Israel broke off peace talks with the Palestinians on Thursday, saying that a planned reconciliation between the moderate faction participating in the talks and the militant Islamist group Hamas made negotiation impossible.” Later the article identified “the moderate Fatah party[, which] had announced Wednesday that it will reunite with Hamas, ending a seven-year split.” 

 

* In “ ‘Hard look’ at Mideast peace; Kerry offers first words since latest round of U.S.-backed talks failed” (May 2), Gearan wrote, “Kerry said a surprise Palestinian announcement that the militant faction Hamas would join a unity government with the moderate Fatah faction [all emphases added], which was leading the discussions with Israel, was the last straw.”  
 

The Post’s April 24 article did remind readers that “both the United States and Israel have branded Hamas a terrorist organization and have no direct relations with the group.” The newspaper’s April 25 dispatch provided additional background, noting that “the Iranian-backed Hamas does not recognize Israel as a legitimate country, and Israel accuses the group of harboring extremists who carry out attacks on Israel from inside the Gaza Strip, a territory that Hamas rules.”

 

Opposites or complements?

 

But that struck at least one Post reader as “too gentle.” Letter-writer Mark Disler of suburban Rockville, Md. (“Identifying the role Hamas plays, May 3) stressed that “Hamas does much more” than not recognizing Israel as a legitimate country. “Its charter calls for Israel’s destruction, and it has launched numerous rockets into Israel from Gaza. Any article reporting Israel’s reaction to this unity deal should have included these facts.”

 

Nevertheless, readers of all three Post reports (April 24, 25 and May 2) were reminded that Hamas (the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement) is “Islamist,” “militant,” “harbors extremists” and has been branded “a terrorist organization” by both Israel and the United States. But does Hamas’ behavior make Fatah “moderate”?

 

On April 30, Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV News reported on the funeral of Izz Al-Din Al-Masri, whose remains had been transferred by Israel. On Aug. 9, 2001, during the second intifada, al-Masri blew himself up in Jerusalem’s Sbarro pizza parlor. He murdered 15 Israelis—including seven children and five members of one family—and injured 130.

 

According to Palestinian Media Watch, Hamas TV reported that Al-Masri had been “victorious” and a “martyr” who “has now returned to make those who loved him happy, just as he made them happy on the day he carried out his operation 13 years ago.” But Al-Masri was not reinterred in the Gaza Strip; he was buried in the West Bank, run by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

 

The PA gave him a military funeral. Thousands of people reportedly attended the ceremony, and a PA TV reporter said “the flags of the political parties were raised at this national wedding [the “martyr’s wedding” to 72 virgins in Paradise promised Islamic holy warriors who die in battle], which demonstrates the national unity and cohesion of our people.”

 

Al-Masri’s martyrdom-by-murder was not the only point on which “moderate” Fatah recently echoed “Islamist” Hamas. According to Middle East Media Research Institute, Fatah Central Committee member Abbas Zaki, speaking on PA TV on March 12, explained “those Israelis have no religion and no principles. They are nothing but advanced tools for evil. They talk about the Holocaust and so on. So why are they doing this to us? Therefore, in my view, Allah will gather them so that we can kill them. Every killer is bound to be killed. There is no other option. …”

 

Tawfiq Tirawi, another Fatah Central Committee member, speaking to PA TV on Dec. 19, 2013—when the most-recent U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian talks had an additional four and a-half months to run—explained that the Palestinian side was not committed to non-violence. PMW translated Tirawi as saying negotiations were just one option, and did not preclude use of the “rifle,” which the Palestinian Arabs have never abandoned.

 

Militants shoot, moderates talk and shoot

 

“Not a centimeter of Jerusalem will be liberated unless every grain of Palestinian soil is soaked in the blood of its brave people,” Tirawi stated. “Negotiations will not bring Jerusalem back to us,” he continued, explaining that Palestinian Arabs before “have conducted negotiations, while not laying down the rifle”: 

 

In other words, the shoot-talk-shoot strategy of former Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah chairman and first PA president, Yasser Arafat, still influences the authority.

 

Last week, PMW said “Tirawi had essentially proclaimed the end of the peace process, saying that ‘the two-state solution does not exist.’ He further called for Israel’s destruction, asserting that ‘Palestine is Gaza... the West Bank ... and Haifa, Jaffa, Acre,’ meaning all of Israel is ‘Palestine.’”

 

That Zaki and Tirawi’s statements are not aberrations from a Fatah norm inclined to coexistence with Israel was suggested by a study of PA textbooks used by 250 schools in the Gaza Strip and 100 in the West Bank run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. According to Israel Hayom newspaper (“Study shows Palestinian textbooks rife with incitement,” March 31), “a recent study of 150 new Palestinian Authority textbooks … reveal widespread delegitimization of Israel and continued calls to use violence against Jews in Israel.” 
 

The newspaper said the survey “was conducted by the Near East Policy Research Center and led by Dr. Arnon Groiss,” a professor in Islamic studies and Arab affairs correspondent for Israel Radio. Contrary to UNRWA denials, the center found the textbooks promoted “a call for violent struggle instead of peace.” The books claim “Jews have no rights to Israel, including to Jewish holy sites, and are not considered legitimate residents of the country.” 

The Hamas charter, which declares that “Zionists” have been behind all the great revolutions and wars, calls for the elimination of Israel and destruction of the Jews. The Fatah charter, written in 1964—before Israel had conquered the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem—and amended in 1968 after the Jewish state gained the territories, urges “complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence. … Armed public revolution is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.”

Shades of Arafat

Though Arafat reaped uncritical news coverage for Fatah and the PLO’s ostensible revocation of rejectionist, pro-violence charter provisions both in 1996 and 1998, no new charter subsequently was produced (“Is Fatah Moderate,” CAMERA, Aug. 14, 2007).
 
The Sixth Fatah Congress, which had the opportunity to change the document after the second intifada, did not (“Sixth Fatah Congress: The Myth of Moderation, CAMERA, Aug. 12, 2009) .

Additional examples of “immoderate” words and deeds by Fatah officials and Fatah-dominated agencies can be multiplied. To do so would not be “cherry-picking” but rather highlighting a pattern.

 

When it comes to “moderate” Fatah, media seem to be groping toward—if not slipping away from—pragmatic. As CAMERA pointed out when Mahmoud Abbas followed his long-time boss, Yasser Arafat, as head of Fatah, the PLO and PA, Abbas may seem moderate. That is, he wears suits, not military-style uniforms; rejects anti-Israel violence (as currently unproductive, not necessarily criminal); and does not typically make incendiary speeches.

 

But like Arafat before him, he’s rebuffed opportunities, in 2008 and this year, to make peace with Israel along the lines of a “two-state solution” that ends the conflict. Abbas has refused to negotiate over the Palestinian-claimed “right of return” and refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state coexisting with a new “Palestine” as a Palestinian Arab state. And, like Arafat, he misses few opportunities to honor as heroes Palestinian murders of Israelis and, out of the PA’s internationally-supported budget, grant them pensions.

 

Abbas then may seek the same irredentist outcome—a Middle East without a Jewish state, a “Palestine” in place of Israel—that Arafat did and Hamas does. The difference appears to be in his pursuit of that goal, using indirect, longer-term means to reach it. That would make him and his movement not moderate but pragmatic. In that case, expedient means—playing a diplomatic interlocutor, for example—do not contradict continued incitement and rejection in the service of still-radical ends. Rather, they are complementary. Readers, viewers and listeners would be better informed if news media occasionally said so. 


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