Amid anniversary celebrations, Fatah torn between diplomacy and armed struggle

Abbas attempts to sell West Bank on ‘political struggle’ but Fatah’s Armed Movements vow to remove the Zionist entity

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinians celebrate Fatah's 48th anniversary in Rafah, the Gaza Strip, December 31, 2012 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians celebrate Fatah's 48th anniversary in Rafah, the Gaza Strip, December 31, 2012 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

As Fatah celebrates the 48th anniversary of its first armed attack against Israel on Friday, the Palestinian movement finds itself in a dilemma: to continue its diplomatic drive for international recognition, or return to the armed struggle against Israel.

In Gaza, thousands of Fatah supporters gathered Thursday night ahead of the movement’s first rally in Gaza in years, a sign of burgeoning reconciliation with Hamas, which advocates armed struggle against Israel.

But in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads Fatah, is decidedly leaning toward the diplomatic track.

On Thursday, Abbas held a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s highest decision-making organ, the Executive Committee, which recommended promptly turning to the UN Security Council and demanding a binding resolution against Israeli settlement activity. Fatah is the largest movement within the PLO umbrella movement.

Abbas’s team even coined a new term for the diplomatic drive: “political struggle”; a counterbalance to the alternative scenario — tossed around ever more frequently in the West Bank these days — of armed struggle.

But Abbas’s diplomacy seems uninspiring even to the most moderate of voices within the Palestinian leadership.

In an op-ed published Thursday in Al-Quds, the daily of choice for the Palestinian elite, former information minister Nabil Amr bemoaned the political stagnation in the West Bank and criticized the leadership in the face of accelerated Israeli settlement activity.

“We view the land of our nascent observer state nearly dying of concern when monitoring news of incessant settlement expansion, with no response on our part other than — God knows,” wrote Amr.

Amr’s apprehension, however, pales in comparison to the harsh resolve in a statement issued on Friday by the Joint Media Center of Fatah’s Armed Movements, which has remained active even as Abbas has publicly called for peaceful diplomacy.

If Abbas publicly argues that the use of weapons against Israel during the Second Intifada has backfired, his movement’s military activists insist they will remain “the liberators of all the nation’s land; not dropping our weapons before liberation and independence.”

“The Zionist entity is a hostile one,” the communique reads, “and we will fight [it] until it is removed from Palestine.”

In raising its weapons, Fatah’s armed wing may find a brother in arms in its Islamist rival Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Three weeks ago, Hamas was allowed to hold a rally in the Fatah-ruled West Bank. Now it is Hamas’s turn to return the favor, and the conducting of peaceful festivities in Gaza on Friday could mark movement toward Palestinian political reconciliation.

On Thursday evening, thousands of Fatah supporters gathered in Gaza’s Saraya Square downtown, sleeping on the street, to save a spot for Friday’s celebrations; the first to take place in the Strip in five years.

Fatah official Nabil Shaath negotiated the final details with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday, making sure everything goes smoothly and Fatah does not suffer another humiliation by its Islamist nemesis.

“The citizens insisted on remaining in the venue until day despite the cold night weather,” PA mouthpiece Al-Ayyam waxed poetic. “Private and public vehicles bearing Palestinian flags and Fatah banners circled the streets of Gaza.”

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