Text size

Among Palestinians, the Fatah movement is known as a "supermarket" - a mix of ideologies, with a variety of social and behavioral movements. Left and right, religious and secular, with those who support the right of return and those who gave it up, fabulously rich and desperately poor, sycophants and self-critics, senior officials who still refer to Israel as "the Zionist entity" and believe in the one-state solution (in which the Jews are a tolerated minority) and those who are friends with Zionists and dream of two states living side by side with excellent relations between the two countries. As long as the common goal is achieving independence, say Fatah members, this messy business can continue existing. But when it comes to the liberty some members of the movement take unto themselves with the use of weapons, that already goes beyond the charming folklore of ideological chaos.

The murder of five Israeli civilians in Kibbutz Metzer by a member of the military wing of the Fatah once again proved how the senior and mid-level echelons of the Fatah don't have real control over those who pick up a gun in the name of Fatah. As opposed to the centralized decision-making processes in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement any three youngsters can join together, decide they are a military cell, and conduct this or that "operation" sometimes "responding" to a call by their leaders not to go over the Green Line, and sometimes going over the line. Maybe they get a green light from this or that Fatah official in their neighborhood, but they allow themselves to take action that blatantly contradicts the logic and common sense of the Palestinian Authority's diplomatic campaign to win active Western support for a solution leading to the Israeli withdrawal from the territories captured in 1967. On the one hand they allow themselves to threaten those who criticize Arafat, and on the other to kidnap suspected collaborators out of the hands of the Palestinian police and murder them.

Many well-known Fatah activists are disgusted by the criminal behavior in the guise of the national struggle of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. In the last two days, those who tried speaking out against the attack heard the well-worn counterarguments: Aren't our children murdered in their beds? Does it matter they were killed by a shell or bomb and not by a rifle? Don't the Israeli bombs leave widows and orphans on our side? Wasn't it the Israelis who began the shooting on September 29, 2000 before Fatah began striking back at their civilians? And does anyone notice our suffering at the checkpoints? The humiliations by the soldiers?

Apparently the criminal and infantile characteristics in the behavior of the armed youths of Fatah in the Tanzim is balanced out in the eyes of the Palestinian public by the fact they are perceived as people who are responding with their weapons to the collective pain. But the military arms of Hamas and Islamic Jihad do it better - because their leadership sets a clear policy and openly encourages mass attacks on Israeli civilians. Thus, the Fatah youths and their field commanders find themselves in an internal competition with the other Palestinian movements. The competition determines their "decisions" about using weapons more than the declared policies of their leader, Arafat.

There is no Palestinian who disagrees with the well-known arguments from other national liberation struggles in the Third World that a fighter jet dropping bombs is the real terror. But there are enough activists in Fatah - who kept their jobs in the civilian and security apparatuses of the PA - who are convinced the national liberation struggle cannot be based only on the motive of revenge, but that it must be wise enough to take into account external and not only internal factors. But apparently the failure of the utilitarian reasoning doesn't even allow the moral reasoning to be heard.

Academic researchers will no doubt come up with many answers why those activists allowed the armed groups to act in their name and dictate such a disastrous agenda. It's impossible, after all, to blame it only on Arafat's personality and the quality of his volatile leadership. One of the answers was provided recently by a senior Fatah man in Gaza, who personally benefited from the creature comforts devolving to him and his entire class through their support of the Oslo agreements; "Thanks to the Al Aqsa martyrs, they don't kill us," he admitted with frank honesty. "Thanks to their existence, we stay alive."

It was an indirect reference to the failure of Oslo's promise. In other words, the Fatah leadership failed to create a clear and logical plan for an independence campaign when it became clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Israeli occupation was not coming to an end through pleasantries, because the PA found it difficult to give up the benefits of being a ruling movement under the auspices of Oslo. The Fatah leadership did not dare demand obedience of its people in the national liberation movement and prohibit methods that were "popular" because of their vengeance, but damaging in the long run, because Fatah's failure as a government disappointed most of the Palestinian people.