Israel Resource Review 28th November, 2008


The Role of Fatah
Interview with Jonathan Schanzer, Author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine.
Jamie Glazov
Managing Editor: Front Page Magazine

Frontpage Interview's guest today is Jonathan Schanzer, director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center.

He has served as a counterterrorism analyst at the U.S. Department of Treasury and as a research fellow at Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author of the new book, Daniel Pipes wrote the foreword to the book and some of the research was undertaken at Pipes' Middle East Forum.

FP: Jonathan Schanzer, good to have you back. Schanzer: Good to be back, Jamie.

FP: I'd like to talk to you today about Fatah's role in the Palestinian civil war. But first, for our readers, describe the thesis of your new book.

Schanzer: The book is about the power struggle between the Palestinian Fatah faction and its Islamist rival, Hamas. The struggle between these two violent organizations dates back to 1988, in the early days of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, when Hamas began to compete openly with Fatah and the PLO, which were both controlled by Yasir Arafat. What began as a political struggle has since evolved into a violent conflict for control of what are commonly regarded as the Palestinian territories the West Bank and Gaza Strip. What is hard for readers to understand is that there really may not be a "good guy" and a "bad guy" in this struggle. In fact, radio personality Michael Medved likes to joke that this struggle is not unlike the movie, "Alien vs. Predator."

FP: This is an important point. What exactly is the background of the Fatah organization?

Schanzer: Fatah was formed in 1958 as a socialist, revolutionary guerrilla group with the intent to destroy Israel. Fatah was actually founded by a number of practicing Muslims, some with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, including Yasir Arafat. The group's original name was Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filastiniya (Palestinian Liberation Movement), with an acronym that should have read "HATAF." However, the group elected to reverse the order of the letters to give it a Quranic meaning; FATAH means "conquest" or "victory." Thus began the Fatah tradition of adopting Islamist words and symbols when convenient.

By 1960, Fatah began to publish a magazine called Filastinuna: Nida' al-Hayat (Our Palestine: The Call to Life), which left the impression that there was an active Palestinian underground. Then, in 1965, Fatah launched a series of attacks against Israel from Syrian, Egyptian, and Jordanian territory. Nearly all of them failed. By 1966 and 1967, however, Arafat's terrorist group was responsible for dozens of attacks, some successful.

After the June 1967 Six-Day War when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza, Arab regimes were disgraced. Perhaps the only Arab personality to emerge with more power was Arafat, who captured the imagination of the Arab world as a Palestinian "freedom fighter."

In 1968, Arafat took control of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was originally created by the Arab League. When Arafat and Fatah infiltrated the PLO, it soon became synonymous with shocking acts of terrorism around the world.

FP: Please describe those acts of terror.

Schanzer: The spate of violence carried out by Yasir Arafat's Fatah-backed PLO against civilians in the 1960s and 1970s was unprecedented. Beginning in 1968, Palestinian terrorists initiated 35 airplane hijackings. Other acts of terror included the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic games; the 1973 attack on the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, that led to the murder of the U.S. embassy's chief of mission; and the 1985 attack on the cruise ship Achille Lauro, in which a wheelchair-bound American Jew was shot dead and dumped into the ocean.

FP: Were Jews and Israelis the only victims?

Schanzer: No. The mere presence of Arafat's Fatah and PLO produced death and destruction in nearly every territory they inhabited.

In the early 1970s, for example, the Fatah-backed PLO attempted to hijack the kingdom of Jordan. The result was Black September, a bloody war that resulted in thousands of Palestinian and Jordanian casualties, and the eventual ouster of the PLO.

Fatah and the PLO then attempted to create a mini-state inside Lebanon in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which contributed to a brutal civil war. Unable to control the violence launched against it from the north, Israel invaded Lebanon and the Palestinians were forced to flee once again, leaving a decimated Lebanon in their wake.

Finally, following a decade of exile in Tunisia, the PLO descended on the West Bank and Gaza after the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993. Since then, the two territories have plummeted into utter disarray, culminating in the 2007 civil war and the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Thus, with the exception of Tunisia, every home base of the PLO has been destroyed by the tragic blight of the Palestinian mini-state.

FP: So why is Fatah commonly referred to as the "good guy" in the mainstream media?

Schanzer: Arafat worked with Israel and the United States in the name of Middle East peace from 1988 to 2000. However, he was also responsible for attacks during that time against Israel. Then, in the year 2000, when peace talks broke down, Arafat launched a war against Israel known as the al-Aqsa Intifada. He called upon Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to join forces with Fatah to "march on Jerusalem." The intifada resulted in more than 1,000 Israeli civilian and military deaths and perhaps 5,000 Palestinian deaths.

FP: What about this recent flare up in violence with Hamas? Is Fatah the good guy there?

Schanzer: Fatah is commonly viewed as the less aggressive of the two primary Palestinian factions. This is misleading. After the 2007 Hamas coup that toppled Gaza, Fatah set out to get even with its Hamas rivals in the West Bank. Fatah rounded up hundreds of known Hamas activists throughout the West Bank. Scores of other acts of violence were reported around the West Bank. Fatah's leadership was undeniably responsible for dismantling a number of Hamas-controlled city councils, along with charities and businesses tied to Hamas in the West Bank. Some Hamas political offices were set ablaze. In less than one year, hundreds of Hamas charities were shut down.

By the fall of 2007, rights groups were reporting that Fatah was using "the same practices on Hamas detainees that Hamas is using on Fatah detainees in Gaza." According to one report, 600 suspected Hamas members were arrested in the West Bank between June and October 2007. Amnesty International claimed the figure was closer to 1,000. As arrests continued into 2008, Palestinians wondered whether Fatah was any less brutal than Hamas.

Just like Hamas in Gaza, Fatah also engaged in heavy-handed press restrictions. Fatah arrested several journalists sympathetic to Hamas. Indeed, Fatah arrested the director of the Amal television channel, which is not affiliated with Hamas, but had aired a speech by Hamas' political leader in Gaza, Ismael Haniyeh, which the police said was "illegal."

FP: Did Israel approve of these crackdowns?

Schanzer: In some cases, Israel helped Fatah round up Hamas terrorists. But, for the Israelis, Fatah's successes were bittersweet. For years, Fatah leaders had claimed that the very presence of Israeli forces in the West Bank made it impossible to detain Palestinians linked to terrorist attacks. All the while, Hamas, PIJ, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades carried out suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli civilians.

Finally, with a clear interest in neutralizing Hamas, Fatah has accomplished what it always insisted it could not: a clampdown on Hamas operatives within its jurisdiction.

FP: So, what exactly are the differences between Hamas and Fatah?

Schanzer: The main difference is that Fatah has a faction within that appears to be interested in negotiating peace with Israel, while Hamas is unanimous in its refusal to engage.

Still, there are fewer differences than the mainstream media would have us believe. The charters of both Hamas and Fatah both openly call for the destruction of Israel. Both groups have been consistently responsible for terrorist attacks against Israel. And both appear to be willing to let the Palestinian people suffer as the struggle continues for control of the Palestinian territories.

FP: Jonathan Schanzer, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

Schanzer: Thanks again for having me, Jamie. It has been a pleasure.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz's Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev's Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at

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Former Defense Minister and Former Foreign Minister of Israel

Incongruously named Beit Hashalom (House of Peace), that building on the road from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron has become a source of confrontation and altercations between the Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces, on the one hand, and the local settlers and their supporters, on the other.

What is this all about? Is it about the right of Jews to have access to one of the holiest sites of Judaism, or is it about the IDF's duty to prevent the occupation by settlers of a building that, it is claimed, has been purchased from its Arab owner under legally questionable circumstances?

Since under the military law prevailing in Judea and Samaria, the acquisition of real estate there requires the approval of the commanding general of the area - in other words, of the minister of defense - and since that approval has not been granted at this point, the purchase, even if it was properly executed, is not considered legal. Hence, the government considers the Jewish occupants of the building as being in violation of the law and has declared its intention of forcibly expelling them from it.

The first question that arises, then, is what is the government's policy regarding access of Jews to the Cave of the Patriarchs (or Machpelah, in Hebrew), and what is the reason for the defense minister's not having approved the purchase of Beit Hashalom?

Next to Jerusalem, Hebron, the city of our forefathers, is the city to which Jews have the greatest historical and religious attachment. Next to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron is Judaism's holiest site. Nevertheless, following the massacre of the Jewish community in Hebron in 1929, Jewish access to the city was severely limited, and from then until the end of the British Mandate, Jews were denied entry to the Cave and were not permitted to ascend beyond the seventh step on the stairs leading to it. During the days of Jordanian occupation the city was closed to Jews altogether.

Only after the Six-Day War could Jews pray again at the Cave of the Patriarchs, and the Jewish Quarter in Hebron was reestablished. Were it not for the presence of Jewish settlers in the city, in the Jewish Quarter and in nearby Kiryat Arba, access for Jews to the Cave would probably not have been possible in recent years.

In other words, Jewish access to the Cave of the Patriarchs is dependent on the presence of the settlers in the Hebron area. This will probably be true in future years as well, regardless of any agreements that might be reached with the Palestinians or the Jordanians. Seen in this light, the acquisition of Beit Hashalom, on the road leading to the Machpelah, is a significant contribution to that end. If it is the government's policy to assure the right of Jews to pray in the Cave, the defense minister should have instructed the commanding general to grant approval of the purchase of the building.

In the absence of such an instruction, the impression is created that the defense minister and presumably the government in general have no interest in assuring this access. On the contrary, it seems they would like the settlers to leave the area, and are reconciled to Jews in the future being denied access to the Cave of the Patriarchs and the city of Hebron in general.

If that is the government's intention, then its tactics in recent days are certainly succeeding. Provocative statements, daily threats of imminent forcible evacuation, and the use of invectives like a "cancerous growth" to describe the settlers are provoking the expected reaction. The fringe element of youngsters from the settlement movement are drawn to the site, engage in acts of hooliganism, and promote antagonism to the settlement movement that is likely to provide support for a forcible evacuation of Beit Shalom in the days to come.

The government has to make a clear decision on whether it considers Jewish access to the Cave of the Patriarchs an inherent and legitimate right of the Jewish people, one that the State of Israel must guarantee now and in the future, or whether it considers it to be of no particular importance and is prepared to take steps that will lead to conditions that will make it difficult to exercise this right. That is the real issue in Hebron today.

This piece ran in HaAretz on November 25, 2008

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Arlene Kushner
Senior Policy Analyst for the Center for Near East Policy Research

The Ambassador hotel in Jerusalem was the setting, on Wednesday, November 26, for a press conference called under UN auspices to announce the launching of the "2009 Consolidated Appeal," a fund-raiser with a goal of bringing in $462 million for UN and NGO humanitarian assistance programs in the "occupied Palestinian territories" (by which is meant Judea and Samaria, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem). While 159 projects are expected to benefit, $275 million is earmarked for UNRWA the UN Relief and Works Agency, responsible for Palestinian Arab refugees.

Presentations by Maxwell Gaylard, UN Humanitarian Coordinator; Philippe Lazzarin, Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and Filippo Grandi, Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA . focused on the hardship endured by the "oPt" residents as a result of Israeli practices.

Of primary concern was the Israeli closure of Gaza: Gaylard reported that the Israeli position is to keep crossings into Gaza closed as long as rockets [shot from Gaza into Israel] continue, with humanitarian goods permitted to go in if the rockets stop. But, he said, with crossings frequently shut down, even basic supplies are not reaching the people.

In any event, he declared, "we want more than this." While allowing that the rockets attacks are to be condemned, he explained that the UN wants the crossings opened more fully, with imports and exports moving in and out. What's happening now, he stated, is "collective punishment." When queried by a journalist as to whether he was demanding that Israel open the crossings fully even if the rockets kept flying, he skirted the question.

Lazzarin made it clear that from a UN perspective there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Gaylord concurred, indicating it was so severe that the closure represented an "assault on every human right."

A brief discussion was held regarding the growing number of blackouts in Gaza caused by failure of an electric transmitter, either because fuel or parts for repair were not available.

Grande lamented the fact that during the truce [the last five months of relative calm] there has been only a disappointing 20% increase in the transport of goods into Gaza, so that UNRWA still has not been able to bring in sufficient humanitarian supplies. He noted that 12 UNRWA trucks bearing supplies were expected to be allowed through that day.

A subsequent interview with Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, provided a perspective vastly at odds with that presented at the press conference. In some instances, Dror directly refuted statements made by the UN representatives:

Most significantly, he stated that it is absolutely not Israeli policy to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza only when the rockets stop. While a broader opening of the crossings is keyed to a cessation of rocket attacks, humanitarian supplies are permitted in whenever it is possible to open a crossing. Evidence of this is provided by the fact that trucks went into Gaza on November 29, the day of the press conference, even though rockets had been launched that day, and for three days prior. Grande referred to 12 UNRWA trucks, but there are also other agencies at work. In total that day, 40 trucks went through.

The point ignored by UNRWA, when it complains about closed crossings, is that the crossings themselves are often under attack by bombs and shootings, and the Israeli operating personnel endangered. What UNRWA officials are actually demanding is that Israelis risk their lives so that goods can move through.

Yet, never, said Dror, has he heard a word regarding Hamas culpability. Never has there been a demand by the UN that terrorists stop targeting the crossings, because this makes it impossible for Israel to open them.

It is a mark of Israeli intentions that funds were spent revamping the Keren Shalom crossing to permit passage of a greater number of trucks.

Dror explained that sometimes when there is a lull in rocket launchings into Israel, the crossings are still targeted and must stay closed. But even then Gazans seeking medical help are allowed into Israel. And water and electric power supplied to Gaza by Israel continue to flow without stop. (As Israel supplies 70% of Gaza's electric power, and Egypt another 5%, it makes little sense to talk about blackouts because a generator isn't working.)

Dror categorically denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. There are dozens of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, and every sort of material imaginable moves into Gaza, with the exception of generator fuel.

"Even cows are brought through the tunnels."

Last January, when the fence at Rafah was breached and Gazans by the thousands moved into the Sinai, it was said these were people suffering a lack of essential goods. But, said Dror, many were seen bringing back TVs and satellite dishes.


Arlene Kushner, senior policy analyst for the Center for Near East Policy Research, writes extensively on UNRWA. Her most recent report, just completed, is "UNRWA: Overview and Policy Critique."

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