Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fatah vs. Hamas: An Analogy

I wrote in my last post: "Fatah now represents the power and prestige of the Palestinian middle class, the dictatorship of its bourgeoisie: growing businesses and banks, women's emancipation, universities, infrastructure and construction projects, regional networks of intellectual capital, a sovereign wealth fund..." This article, from Germany's Der Spiegel, will give you some better idea of what I mean.

The Palestinians hope to receive United Nations approval for an independent state in September, and the chances are good that the world will approve. In the last year and a half, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has brought radical change to the Palestinian Autonomous Authority, at least in the West Bank. Ministries now operate much more effectively than in the past, when they were little more teahouses for the minions of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. A commission is discussing a constitution, and Fayyad has had 2,250 kilometers (1,406 miles) of roads paved and connected villages to the power grid. Unemployment has declined to 17 percent in the West Bank, compared with 37.4 percent in the Gaza Strip. More than 500 new companies have been established in the last few months alone. From the UN to the World Bank, many seem convinced that Palestine is ready for independence.

Ramallah now has a five-star hotel, sushi restaurants and parking meters. A rotating, panoramic restaurant will soon open its doors on the 28th floor of the Palestine Trade Tower, floating above Ramallah like a spaceship. The economy grew by 9.3 percent last year. Samir Abdullah, the former planning minister, current president of the Rotary Club and head of an economic research institute, says: "When we finally have access to our resources and are no longer restricted by the occupation, our economy will be able to grow by 25 percent a year, and then we'll be the new tiger economy."


Fatah's conception of statehood, rooted in an emerging civil society--its spine, a promising private sector, along with its secular freedoms, including cooperation with Israel--is now far more palpable than what Hamas has to offer. The problem, again, is that a promising private sector is not necessarily a sustainable one. Statehood will be stillborn without an end to the occupation, soon, and everybody knows it. The elephant in the room is Israel's control of access of people and goods, as well as occupation of Area C and the closure of Gaza to West Bank businesses.

Fatah offers the state. What Hamas offers is anger and solidarity in the face of this stifling occupation.

THE ANALOGY IS to what the Irgun offered in the late 1940s as compared to the Jewish Agency leadership under Ben-Gurion and Weizmann. The Histadrut and Hevrat Ovdim built up the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine in the 1930 within the British occupation, and founded the Haganah defense force. The Irgun, by contrast, projected the charisma of sacrifice and violent resistance. Its leaders (demagogically) accused Ben-Gurion and his circles of collaborating with the British precisely because building requires cooperation. Blowing something up requires only imagined purity.

If the US hopes to influence Palestinian politics, it must now show ordinary Palestinians that Abbas's leadership of the unity government will indeed lead to statehood. If it follows Netanyahu's lead, and boycotts Abbas's unity government--reinforcing despair of ending the crushing occupation, or ending the settlement project--it will not strengthen Fatah, but play directly into Hamas's hands.

Abbas has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and committed to democratic process. That should be good enough. It will take a generation of sovereignty for an underground movement like Hamas to either disappear or be domesticated into just another political party.

"The appeal to halt our work for some time," Ben-Gurion told the St. James Palace Conference in 1939, "resembles an appeal by happy families, blessed with many children and living in comfort, to a woman after many years of childlessness is about to give birth... When she is overtaken with birth pangs, the neighboring women rebuke her and shout: 'Could you stop this noise so that we can sleep in peace?' The mother cannot stop. It is possible to kill the child or kill the mother; but it is impossible to expect her to cease giving birth."