The decision by Fatah's Sixth Congress that the movement is sticking to negotiations as a means of achieving independence, statehood and peace is an admission that the use of arms during the second intifada was disastrous. That is a difficult admission for a movement founded on the sanctification of the armed struggle. And despite being tacit, it is a brave admission for Fatah at a time when most Palestinians are convinced that Israel does not want peace.
Nevertheless, the decision has sparked a few questions from the side of the occupied.
The first question is whether Fatah's courage will hold firm if another uprising against the occupation erupts. Or, in other words, whether Fatah is capable of leading an uprising without falling into the trap of the fantasy known as "armed struggle."
The second question relates to the negotiations. The conditions that the congress said must be met before talks can resume reflect criticism of the complacent way in which Palestinian representatives have conducted negotiations. Indeed, the authors of the congress' platform beat their breasts over the negligence that caused the first negotiators to omit from the Oslo accords the demand that settlement construction be stopped, the goal of statehood and any mention of the state's borders. But even if Fatah's veteran negotiators wise up and change their negotiating tactics, is it not too late? No new negotiations will be enough on their own to remove the facts on the ground that Israel has created.
It is only natural that people subject to foreign domination seek other means of achieving independence in the spectrum between armed struggle and peace talks. Therefore, it is logical that Fatah declared at its congress that it is not giving up other legitimate forms of struggle (boycotts, acts of popular resistance against the settlements) alongside the negotiations. The question this begs is whether this can become more than mere words.
After all, this is the same Fatah that entrenched itself so deeply in its status as the ruling party, and the attendant minor perks, that even during the most frustrating of the Oslo years, it refrained from developing the option of mass civil disobedience. This is the same Fatah that still sees the establishment of the Palestinian Authority - i.e. the establishment of governmental institutions that are, by nature, crippled - as a huge achievement.
Neither the Palestinian Authority, which is an institution concerned with maintaining its existence, nor Fatah, which is concerned with maintaining its huge achievement, have dared to expand the popular protests against the separation fence, of which they boast, into a real popular revolt. The PA is more concerned with recruiting masses of young men into its police forces, whose goal is to suppress "disturbances" (and impose order on Palestinian cities, where the chief disturbers of the peace were Fatah's own frustrated and quarrelsome armed men). Their foreign trainers are not preparing them to confront armed Israeli soldiers with bare chests.
Masses of Palestinians tried this during the first intifada, and the early days of the second as well. And the Israel Defense Forces showed them that in its view, like that of many Israelis, a popular uprising by Palestinians is a no less legitimate target for suppression than the use of live fire - as is proven by its lethal dispersal of demonstrations against the fence and its nighttime raids and arrests of demonstrators and organizers.
The popular revolt at the beginning of the second intifada was killed off by the decision to use weapons, which senior Fatah officials either encouraged or were dragged into when the number of Palestinian casualties mounted. But those who opted for weapons misinterpreted both Israel's intentions and its might. Granted, even without suicide bombings, Israel did and is still doing everything in its power to annex West Bank lands. But the indiscriminate use of weapons, against soldiers and civilians alike, gave it a pretext for erecting the fence, making disproportionate use of lethal weaponry and dictating to the PA.
If the results have been so disastrous, why are they not discussed openly? It is hard to hold a debate on the weapons fantasy when thousands of families have lost loved ones because of it. It is hard to hold such a debate when thousands of Palestinians have paid with their freedom, including many who never held a gun. It is hard to hold such a debate when people who participated in this fantasy have been elected to Fatah's central committee. Moreover, such a debate might have addressed the way senior Fatah members used the "armed struggle" to divert public criticism of the PA and its failures, and salvage Fatah's prestige as a liberation movement.
The schizophrenia of being both a government and a liberation movement (as it defines itself) is one of Fatah's most salient characteristics. Can Fatah, which sees the PA as a huge achievement, manage to pick up the gauntlet of popular resistance that it itself threw down?
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