Sixth Fatah Congress: The Myth of Moderation

The media has long promoted Fatah — in contrast to Hamas — as the party of Palestinian political moderates seeking peace with Israel, while glossing over evidence to the contrary. (See “Is Fatah Moderate?“) An example of this was coverage by some media outlets of the Sixth Fatah General Congress, the first such conference in twenty years, which has officially concluded on August 13, 2009.

The goal of the conference (Aug. 4-13), which drew some 2200 delegates from around the world, was to elect new leaders, reinvigorate its platform and revive Fatah’s image as the leading party against its rival Hamas. The Congress demonstrated the deep Palestinian divide between Fatah and Hamas (hundreds of Gazan delegates were barred by the ruling Hamas party from attending the conference), as well as broad internal divisions among Fatah’s own delegates who nearly came to blows at the conference. (As a result of numerous disputes, the conference was extended several times from its original three-day schedule).

Fatah has not changed to its internal charter calling for the “complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence” through violence.” (Article 12).  Other articles which still stand include:

Article 17, which states: “Armed public revolution is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.”

Article 19, which states that “armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated.”
In addition, Fatah:
  • Still refuses to accept Israel as a Jewish state and insist on the right to resettle millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants within Israel’s pre-67 borders.

  • Denies Israel’s Jewish history, condemning its “falsification” of  history, calls for “the return of Palestinian sovereignty over the whole of the soil the city of Jerusalem” and insists on the evacuation of Jewish communities in Jerusalem.

  • Adheres to the option of waging armed attacks against Israel if peace negotiations do not yield what the leaders want.

  • Continues to endorse the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade – responsible for numerous suicide bombings and terrorist attacks– as its armed wing.

  • Continues to glorify terrorists and vilify Israel.

Many media outlets ignored the conference, and all too many who did cover the event did not report or minimized the glorification of terrorism, the rigid pre-conditions to peace negotiations set by Fatah, the demonization of Israel, and  the willingness to turn to “armed struggle.” Instead, much of the coverage focused on internecine Palestinian battles and emphasized strategic statements by Fatah leaders seeking to maintain international legitimacy. Many news outlets continued to portray Fatah as the hope for peace, while contrasting it with Israel’s supposed intransigence for criticizing Fatah. And when Fatah’s militancy was mentioned, it was often excused as a result of the failure of peace negotiations.

At the Congress

Glorification of Terrorists and Terrorism Against Israel

* The hall was plastered with images of Palestinian “martyrs” (those who had been killed in the process of carrying out violent attacks against Israelis) with such slogans as “The right to resistance is a legitimate right” and “The right of return is a sacred right which will not be ceded.”

* Opening the conference, former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Alaa), whom an online BBC profile describes as “a moderate and a pragmatist,”warmly hailed the Fatah terrorists who perpetrated the1978 Coastal Road Massacre which killed 38 civilians (including 13 children and an American photographer) and wounded 71. Dalal Al-Mughrabi, the female leader of the attack — who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers after murdering civilians on and near the Tel Aviv beach, then hijacking a bus of vacationers — was applauded as a heroic martyr and role model, while surviving terrorist Khaled Abu Isba (released in a prisoner exchange deal) was warmly welcomed as an honored guest. (A video of this introduction, uploaded and translated by Palestinian Media Watch——can be seen below.)

* In his opening speech, Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recalled Fatah’s violent attacks against Israel, which he praised as a method that forced the “whole world to hear the voice of Palestine.”

Declaring “Armed Struggle” a Legitimate Right of the Palestinians

From Fatah Chief and Palestinian National Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ opening remarks to declarations by other Fatah speakers to a culminating official resolution, it was clear that Fatah had no intention of abandoning their founding principle of armed struggle against Israel.

* Mahmoud Abbas made his position clear on the first day of the conference – a position that was officially adopted by the Congress. He proclaimed his commitment to peace negotiations using alternate methods, at least temporarily, while at the same time refusing to rule out the option of turning to armed “resistance” against Israel at some future date. He declared:

When we stress that we espouse the option of peace and negotiations based on the U.N. resolutions, we retain our fundamental right to legitimate resistance guaranteed by international law. This right is also linked to our perception and to the national consensus, which is what must determine the appropriate forms of the struggle and the proper timing for [each]…. (As translated by MEMRI)

Abbas was definite in his insistence that he views Palestinian “resistance” as a legitimate right and “reject[s] stigmatizing [the Palestinian] legitimate struggle as terrorism.”

This statement echoed earlier statements by Abbas supporting the tactical option of armed struggle — at the right time:

When Fatah was established, it was accused of treason and we were chased in every place. But with the will and determination of its sons, Fatah has and will continue. We will not give up our principles and we have said that rifles should be directed against the occupation. ” (Abbas addressing Fatah rally celebrating anniversary of the founding, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 11, 2007)

At this present juncture, I am opposed to armed struggle because we cannot succeed in it, but maybe in the future things will be different.” (al-Dustur (Jordan), as reported in Jerusalem Post, Feb. 28, 2008)

* The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that Conference Spokesman Nabil Amr reiterated the right of Palestinians to “resist” if Israel builds settlements and “occupies Palestinian land.” (8/6)

*On August 8, Tayyib Abdul-Rahim declared to the Congress that Fatah remains a “liberation movement” which has “not yet achieved its goals” (as its founding constitution declares) and threatened violence “if peace efforts are thwarted” (8/8)

* Fatah approved a resolution defining it as a “national liberation movement whose goal is to remove and defeat the occupation.” and approved a political platform that emphasizes the Palestinians’ right “to resist occupation in all forms.” (8/8)

Vows to Resort to Violence Unless Certain Conditions Are Met

* The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported that Tayyib Abdul-Rahim vowed to continue with “resistance” until Palestinian “inalienable rights” were restored.

The declared preconditions to a peace agreement with Israel include:

  • the release of all Palestinian prisoners

  • opening up of Gaza borders to Israel

  • the resettlement of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Israel

  • the handover of Jerusalem to Palestinians and

  • the removal of Jewish residents from Jerusalem.

Like Abbas, Abdul-Rahim made clear that periodic assessments would be made to ascertain whether things are progressing according to Fatah’s wishes, and if not, violent tactics would be used.

“We will continue to assess the situation from time to time and consult our institutions — the Revolutionary Council, the Central Committee, the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestine Liberation Organization” and “If peace efforts are thwarted, there will be no security, nor stability in the region.” he declared. (Ma’an News Agency 8/9)

* Israel Radio and the Jerusalem Post both reported that Fatah adopted a position paper demanding Palestinian sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, including outlying villages. There was no distinction between the eastern and western parts of the city. The paper calls for violent tactics until Jerusalem is relinquished to Palestinian control:

Fatah will continue to sacrifice victims until Jerusalem will be returned [to the Palestinians], clean(void) of settlements and settler.

Demonizing Israel

* The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency and Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper both reported that Fatah delegates accepted a proposal introduced by the chairman of the Arafat Institute blaming Israel for assassinating Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat( 8/6)

Whitewashing the Record

Associated Press (AP)

From August 3-11, the AP continued to whitewash Fatah’s record while boosting the theme of Fatah as moderate peace negotiators — sometimes even lumping Hamas and Israel together as the obstacles to peace in contrast to Fatah. For example:

A) Boosting the theme of Fatah as peacemakers:

Aug. 3: The proposed new platform of the Palestinians’ moderate Fatah party marginalizes the once central theme of “armed struggle” against Israel, but demands a complete Israeli settlement freeze before talks for a final peace deal can take place…

…Fatah remains the West’s only hope on the Palestinian side for a Mideast peace deal. The new political program, if adopted, gives Abbas detailed marching orders for negotiations with Israel…

In the 1989 Fatah program, the call to “armed struggle” against Israel still played a central role. In the new draft program it is marginalized….(Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Fatah commits to Israel peace talks in party draft)

Aug. 4:  Palestinian President Mahmoud on Tuesday urged members of his aging and rivalry-ridden Fatah movement meeting for the first time in two decades to give peace talks with Israel a chance, despite many setbacks and few achievements.

Abbas hopes formal endorsement of his policies by Fatah will strengthen his hand against his Islamic militant Hamas rivals and Israel’s hardline prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu… (Karin Laub, “Abbas asks Fatah to give peace talks a chance”)

Aug. 5: Fatah is the Palestinians’ main advocate of a peace deal with Israel. (Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Angry arguments erupt at Fatah convention”)

Aug. 8: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was re-elected to lead his Fatah movement Saturday at its first convention in two decades, giving him a new mandate for peace talks with Israel, if he can also heal divisions among his people. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was re-elected to lead his Fatah movement Saturday at its first convention in two decades, giving him a new mandate for peace talks with Israel, if he can also heal divisions among his people. (Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Fatah reappoints Palestinian president as its head”)

Aug. 11: The Palestinian Fatah movement elected a group of younger leaders to its top council on Tuesday, bolstering its credent ials as the West’s best hope for Mideast peace, according to preliminary voting results. (Steve Gutkin, Ben Hubbard, “New faces elected in historic Palestinian vote”)

Aug. 11: Fatah has elected a rejuvenated leadership that will likely bring the mainstream Palestinian movement more in line with President Barack Obama’s vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, according to unofficial results released Tuesday. But a reluctant Israel and militant Islamic Hamas stranglehold on the Gaza Strip pose formidable obstacles on the road toward a peace accord. (Mohammed Daraghmeh, “New Fatah leadership boosts Mideast peace efforts”)

Photo captions similarly tried to boost Fatah as moderates who shared U.S. President Obama’s views on a solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict. For example,  many photo captions included following line:

Unofficial results indicate that the mainstream Palestinian movement Fatah has elected a rejuvenated leadership that will likely bring it more into line with President Barack Obama’s vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

B) Ignored, minimized or whitewashed:

  • There was no mention of publicly glorifying the perpetrators of the Coastal Road terrorist attacks.

  • No mention of Abbas praising Fatah’s history of violence against Israel

  • No mention of the allegation that Israel was behind the assassination of Arafat

  • No mention of the vow to resort to violence unless Israel evacuates Jews from Jerusalem

The banners glorifying terrorists and terrorist acts were minimized as follows:

A banner in the conference showed a boy in a military uniform and a Kalashnikov assault rifle, with the slogan, “Resistance is a legitimate right of our people.”

However, the political program presented this week for convention approval marginalizes that idea, and instead emphasizes negotiations and civil disobedience as the path to statehood. (Aug. 3)

Abbas’s refusal to abandon armed “struggle” against Israel was whitewashed as follows:

Abbas said the Palestinians have a right to resist Israeli occupation but suggested that this does not include taking up arms. Resistance is embodied by the weekly marches and stone-throwing protests in West Bank villages that have lost hundreds of acres to Israel’s separation barrier, he said. (Aug. 4)

Even at the end of the conference, when confronted with Fatah’s repeated and clear statements about their commitment to wage “armed struggle” against Israel if their preconditions are not met, AP journalists attempted to minimize both the vow to resort to arms and the pre-conditions by stating:

Some Israelis criticized the conference for failing to renounce violence, but Fatah’s proposed platform seemed to bring the movement in line with Obama’s anticipated peace plan. The 2,300 delegates endorsed the concept of a Palestinian state alongside Israel achieved through peaceful negotiations. However, the delegates conditioned future talks on a complete halt to Israeli settlement construction on land earmarked for a future Palestinian state.(Aug. 11)

Washington Post

The Washington Post coverage was minimal and superficial and reported nothing that would contradict the image of Fatah as moderate peacemakers.

  • There was no mention on Fatah’s glorification of terrorists.

  • No mention of the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state

  • No mention of Fatah’s hardline conditions for a peace agreement

  • No mention of the threats of violence should these conditions not be met

  • No mention of the vilification of Israel as Arafat’s murderers

  • No mention of Fatah’s adherence to the principle of “armed struggle” against Israel.

In fact, coverage suggested quite the opposite:  In the one independent article published by the Post, reporter Linda Gradstein sought to assure readers that Abbas’ reference to a “right of resistance” really meant “nonviolent protests rather than armed confrontation.” To that end, she ignored Ahmed Qureia’s hailing of the Coastal Road Massacre perpetrators as heroes, the banners glorifying terrorists and calling for resistance, and President Mahmoud Abbas’ own praise of Fatah’s violent tactics.

Agence France Presse (AFP)

Far from covering Fatah’s glorification of terrorists, much of AFP’s coverage suggested that Fatah had moderated its stance and that any move toward militancy was due to failure of peace negotiations. For example, many articles about the Fatah Congress included the following statement:

Over the years, Fatah has moved away from its pledge to eradicate Israel and its armed struggle but has been losing credibility as peace efforts have failed to produce tangible results.

Even while AFP covered Fatah’s insistence on the “right of resistance in all its forms,” and Israel’s anger over that position, the news organization nevertheless sought to portray Fatah as a party of peacemakers blocked by Israel. For example:

In a document obtained by AFP, Fatah expresses its determination to regain the initiative in peace efforts. But it also reiterates the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to resume peace talks until Israel halts settlement building in occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The document stresses that under international law, the Palestinians have the right to resist occupation, “including through armed struggle” and reaffirms Fatah’s refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.(Aug. 4)

The Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has adopted a new charter which expresses commitment to the peace process but which also reserves the right to resistance….The right-leaning government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu has rejected even Abbas’s minimum demand for a resumption of peace talks — a freeze on settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. (Aug. 9)

New York Times

The New York Times, while not concealing Fatah’s agenda, nevertheles s whitewashed the extent of the radicalism and intransigence displayed. There was no mention of the public glorification of terrorists and the more radical statements by Fatah members were glossed over as “militant” messages necessary to “head off the challenge from Hamas, the Islamic group that is Fatah’s rival.”

The coverage, which consisted of five articles by Isabel Kershner, focused on Fatah as “a mainstream, nationalist organization” playing a “delicate balancing act” between peaceful and militant messages. At the same time, criticism from Israel’s foreign minister was dismissed as predictably “hard line” judgement from a “hawkish” minister.

Ultimately, Fatah’s militancy was blamed on Israel:

Some explained the militant overtones at the conference as natural, reflecting respect for Fatah’s revolutionary past. Others pointed to the harder line of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a conservative who only recently, and grudgingly, endorsed the notion of a limited Palestinian state. (Aug. 11)

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